Antenatal and postnatal exercise; what’s safe and what’s not

Article by Jo Dyson MCSP SRP,

Chartered Physiotherapist and FitBack and Bumps Instructor


Research has shown that only 15% of pregnant women undertake the recommended level of exercise during their pregnancy. It is possible that this lack of exercise contributes to up to 76% women reporting low back pain at some point within their pregnancy. Who do you turn to for advice on exercise during this unique time? Often, many healthcare professionals that you will come into contact with during and after your pregnancy do not have specialist training in this area.  Chartered Physiotherapists with specialist training in women’s health are ideally positioned to advise you on safe exercise during your pregnancy and after the delivery of your baby.

There are many benefits to exercising whilst pregnant; reduced risk of gestational diabetes, prevention/treatment of back and pelvic pain, maintenance of the muscles which support your bowel and bladder, improved sleep and preparation for labour to name but a few.

Pregnancy creates many physical challenges to your body, and the effect on your joints, muscles and connective tissues are enormous. The growing abdomen alters your spinal posture, changes your centre of gravity and weakens the deep tummy muscles which support your back. The hormone relaxin, released to soften the ligaments and enable delivery of your baby affects ALL your ligaments making for joint laxity. Your pelvic floor muscles are also weakened by this hormone, by the weight of the growing baby itself and of course by pushing! Exercise during your pregnancy is a great way to overcome these challenges and make for a quicker postnatal recovery, so you can focus on being a Mum.

Cardiovascular exercise such as walking, swimming and cycling are great ways of maintaining fitness levels.  Pilates-based exercises using a gym ball are a great way of improving your core muscle strength. Contact sports such as skiing, netball and horse riding should be avoided due to their risks in harming the baby. If you are used to running prior to becoming pregnant, then it is safe to continue to run during your pregnancy up until 25 – 30 weeks but always listen to your body and don`t push yourself too hard!


However, you need to know how to exercise safely in pregnancy as it is important not to exercise too much and potentially harm the baby or overstretch muscles which are struggling to adapt to the growing baby.

The recommended level of cardiovascular exercise for women with a low risk pregnancy is 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity on most days of the week. You can measure the intensity by the ‘talk test’. This means that whilst exercising, you should not exert yourself so much that you could not hold a conversation. You need to take care not to overheat whilst exercising, and maintain adequate hydration. You should stop sit-ups after 12-14 weeks as this can over work your superficial tummy muscles. You should never cause pain whilst exercising, and if you are stretching only hold for 10-15 seconds to avoid overstretching your more flexible than usual joints. Exercising flat on your back after 16 weeks should be avoided as this can cause dizziness due to reduced blood pressure.

As always, if you encounter dizziness, bleeding, unusual pain, unusual shortness of breath or uterine contractions stop straight away and seek medical advice.

After you have had your baby, the ligament softening can take 3-6 months to return to normal leading to continued joint laxity. The weakened abdominal and pelvic muscles lead to reduced support for your back and pelvis, and you may be experiencing stress incontinence. All this whilst you are lifting, carrying, and changing nappies repeatedly! Weeks 0-6 post-natally should include low level activities such as walking, core stability exercises and pelvic floor exercises. At 6-12 weeks you can start low impact exercise such as swimming, cycling, gym and continue with core stability/pelvic floor work. You need to build your ‘foundation’ of core muscles and pelvic floor before you return to impact activities.

For a wealth of information as well as short videos on antenatal exercise, treatment of pelvic girdle pain, postnatal exercise, and how to beat stress incontinence, visit

If you are interested in antenatal or postnatal exercise and educational classes led by a Chartered Physiotherapist, then the FitBack and Bumps programme is for you. The 4-week programme is designed specifically for mums to be and new mums and the challenges this brings. The programme focuses on understanding the changes your body goes through, the importance of posture, safe and effective exercise during/after pregnancy and abdominal and pelvic floor muscle exercises. You also learn how to physically prepare yourself for labour and learn the invaluable skill of relaxation. This is more than just a prenatal exercise class!

Because our ante natal classes are run by Chartered Physiotherapists, programme costs may be covered by Medical Cash Plans such as Simply Health and Healthsure and certain Private Medical Insurance Policies. Check your policy for more details. You may need a referral from your GP. Your FitBack & Bumps Instructor can provide you with receipts to claim costs back. Costs of the programmes may vary depending on your location and whether you attend one to one sessions or a class setting.

FitBack and Bumps is running across the UK; look at the website to find your local instructor and contact them for details of classes. Jo Dyson runs classes/one to one sessions in Leighton Buzzard and South Bedfordshire, and now also in Harpenden! Please contact Jo via or on 07748 784420 for dates of classes and costs or with any queries about the benefits FitBack and Bumps can bring you and your baby! Jo also has details of her classes on Facebook; search Fitback and Bumps-LB/Harpenden.


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