What if I told you the power you have over your pregnancy lies heavily in exercise? Or that one of the first important decisions regarding the health of you and your baby is about how much you move? What if instead of looking at it as a chore or something feared, we embraced
exercise as the powerful tool it is? Hear me out…
Awareness around the importance of prenatal exercise is increasing, and moms-to-be are encouraged more than ever before to stay active during pregnancy. Gone are the days where you hear, “put your feet up, you’re pregnant”, or that you shouldn’t start an exercise program if
you weren’t exercising pre-pregnancy. Health and Exercise organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine clearly state that in most adults the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks.
In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have identified the following
benefits associated with prenatal exercise:
Higher incidence of:
● vaginal deliveries
● Quicker postpartum recovery
Lower incidence of:
● excessive weight gain
● gestational diabetes
● Preeclampsia (one of the most preventable causes of maternal death)
● preterm birth
● low birth weight babies
Let’s not forget about mental health benefits, with moms having reduced risk of prenatal anxiety and depression. If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, it’s time to embrace moving more. Although exercise can serve as a tool for all mamas-to-be, it becomes even more powerful in communities that experience these complications disproportionately. Exercise is your power during pregnancy. The 2020 ACSM guidelines recommend accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. If you’re new to exercise, don’t get caught
up in the numbers, take the simple approach to prenatal exercise. If you prefer structure, make a plan and stick to it. Either way, exercise is meant to benefit your health and shouldn’t be a source of stress, so try this uncomplicated approach:
● Walk for aerobic exercise: It can be as simple as going for short walks whenever you can and longer ones when you feel good. Consider just taking an extra 5-minute walk after parking your car at your destination. If you prefer structure, commit to a 30-minute walk every day after dinner.
● Address muscle stiffness: Again, it can be as simple as recognizing where you’re feeling tight and committing to moving and stretching those areas between meetings or when you wake in the morning. You can also follow something more structured like a prenatal yoga routine. Keep in mind you may feel more stiff due to fluid retention so other strategies beyond moving could be helpful.
● Strength training is key. It’s still possible to take an uncomplicated approach, but this is an area where you want to be intentional, aiming for two strength sessions per week. You can perform bodyweight exercises or use equipment like dumbbells, bands, or suspension trainers. If you’re new to exercise or short on energy and time, start with the muscles most impacted by pregnancy: core (diaphragm to pelvic floor), glutes, and upper back/shoulders. Again, if you prefer structure, follow a full-body strength routine that’s designed for pregnancy. It’s true many people can continue with their pre-pregnancy routine, but your body has new needs so to make the most of your routine, it makes sense to train to meet those changes.
● Learn how to engage your pelvic floor: The simple approach is what you’ll usually find in a Google search, to kegel when you’re brushing your teeth or sitting in the car. For a more integrative approach, you can incorporate pelvic floor training into your strength routine by using breath and intentional contractions during specific exercises. Either way, remember relaxing the muscle is just as important as contracting.
In my experience as an Exercise Physiologist working with pregnant and postpartum moms, strength training is where people get held up, specifically core training. It’s usually a matter of not knowing what’s safe or what’s the most beneficial. There are no “best exercises for pregnancy” which is why it can be confusing. You really have to find what’s right for you. If I had to give you one general tip it would be: learn how to engage your transverse abdominal muscles with breath. These are your stabilizing muscles and you can draw on their support during exercise. Being able to engage these muscles is also a good indicator of whether an abdominal exercise is appropriate for you. The question of planks often comes up during pregnancy. If you’re able to hold the tension in your abs, while continuing to breathe, without
any bulging or doming in your abdomen or feeling pressure in your pelvic floor, then the exercise is probably a safe choice. Crunches and sit-ups are the only absolute “no”.
Other tips if you choose the power of prenatal exercise include:
● Drink plenty of water
● Eat a snack before exercise so that you have energy (calories) to use
● Wear supportive shoes and bras (so important for posture and pain)
● Avoid risky activities (risk of impact to your belly or falling)
● Avoid overheating (exercising in a hot environment, and wear breathable clothes)
Lastly, keep in mind there is no one size fits all approach. Exercise should make you feel good. It should make you feel empowered. Choose what’s best for you and your baby. If you have access to a fitness professional specializing in prenatal exercise, I highly recommend consulting for a personalized program.
If you’re a mommi-to-be looking for more structured workout
guidance, you can access a FREE TRIAL of a Prenatal Core, Function & Fitness Training Plan here.