Keeping active during pregnancy is always a good idea. It is important to check with a doctor or midwife to make sure there aren’t any particular concerns for your pregnancy, but in most cases, a woman can continue normal exercise routines during pregnancy and even add exercises like walking or swimming to have a fit pregnancy.
During pregnancy, exercise is important to help keep the body moving and flexible and to prepare for the intense workout that is labor. Studies show that moms who are active by walking, swimming, and other gentle forms of movement may have easier deliveries, healthier babies, and recover more quickly.
It is also important to support the body with a nutrient dense diet and supplement it with vitamins & minerals recommended by a doctor or midwife during pregnancy, especially if also exercising regularly, as pregnancy is a time of increased nutrient need and the first priority should be nourishing the mom’s body and the growing baby.
Benefits of a Fit Pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy provides tons of great benefits for both mom (shorter labor and faster weight loss!) and the baby (less colic and greater physical resiliency). Not to mention that for a lot of moms exercising makes them happier, less anxious, and feel more in touch with their growing body. So it makes sense for gestating moms to stay as active as possible.
Exercise is proven to help not just your mood but also increases energy levels to help get you through the day. If possible, focus on exercises you enjoy (especially walking, swimming, stretching, pilates, or other gentle movements). For an added boost, try exercising outside when possible, as the exposure to natural light and the Vitamin D will have added benefits. In fact, there are many benefits to spending time outside during pregnancy.
Exercises for Pregnancy
So what, exactly, can pregnant women do to exercise? Olympic marathoners Kara Goucher and Paula Radcliffe clocked in 60-80 miles per week running during their pregnancies. Olympic curler Kristie Moore competed in the Olympics while 5 months pregnant. And Connie Neal made headlines by playing Division 1 basketball up through her 8th month. I don’t mention these examples to make you feel bad that you’re not perfecting your double-axle while growing adorable little earlobes, but rather to show you that women are a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. After checking with a doctor or midwife, many women find that they can maintain most of their previous activities during pregnancy and that it may even be recommended to increase activity slightly.
Some great exercises that are often recommended during pregnancy are:
Walking is a good exercise since it gives you a good workout at a level you can manage. It also helps increase circulation and aligns the pelvis. My midwife recommended that I walk for at least half an hour a day and I found I actually felt best when I was able to walk for about an hour.
Swimming is an another excellent exercise for pregnancy, as it can help ease discomfort of the baby aches. Swimming also strengthens stomach muscles, may help align the pelvis, and is often recommended to make sure baby is in the correct position for delivery. Make sure if you are not a regular swimmer to take things easy at first. Have a gentle warm up before starting. Swimming is also good because it makes you feel weightless, taking the strain of the weight of baby off you for a while.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises, also called Kegels, are also recommended to help stretch the muscles between your legs that run from the pubic bone to your back. These are the muscles used to start and stop the flow of urine while using the bathroom. To strengthen the muscles, it is often recommended to try squeezing these muscles 10 to 15 times in a row. These exercises may also improve the sensitivity during sex and incontinence.
Squats and Weights
It is important to get clearance from your doctor or midwife before doing more strenuous exercises, but many women are able to do squats, lunges and lift weights during pregnancy. There is some evidence that these types of exercises may help keep the core strong during pregnancy and improve muscle tone during delivery. There are some women who should not do these exercises (especially those with placenta problems, a history of muscle strains, or other issues) so always check with your Dr/midwife before beginning these types of exercises during pregnancy.
Exercises to Avoid
The only exercises that are recommended to avoid during pregnancy are all contact sports or any activity that involves the possibility of falling. It is also important to avoid anything that will put strain on the joints and hips, difficult yoga positions, or jogging on the road without checking with a doctor first.
Exercise By Trimester
Although most exercises are considered fine for pregnancy, many women find that they are limited by how they feel at different points in pregnancy and so must adapt normal workout routines to accommodate their changing hormones and growing bellies.
Known as the undercover trimester, you can hold to your usual workout routine as long as you feel up to it. Your baby is only the size of a lipstick tube by the end of this trimester, so laying on your back, lifting weights, and cardio are all kosher. There’s no physical reason yet to skip that 10k or those stretching inversions. However, just because you can still do it doesn’t mean you’ll want to. I remember with my first pregnancy running laps and stopping to throw up in the gym bathroom. Not fun. You may also have sore breasts, a super sensitive nose, and become insanely tired. Those are your body’s signals to take it easy. Sometimes exercise can help. A brisk walk in the cool air can help with the nausea and give you more energy, but if you’re not feeling good, then skip it and don’t beat yourself up over getting some needed rest.
You’re finally starting to show and while that makes you adorable in your maternity clothes it also means that your uterus is large enough to start putting pressure on your vena cava when you lie on your back. This doesn’t happen for everyone but if it does happen for you, you’ll know it. As soon as you start feeling dizzy, light-headed and/or nauseated, sit up! And you should skip back work for the remainder of your pregnancy. Another fun thing to look out for is “round ligament pain” that happens usually when you twist to the side but can strike even when you’re standing still. It feels like you’re being zapped with an electric cattle prod.
The upside to the second trimester is that the morning sickness is usually gone and you should have more energy. You can keep lifting weights and doing cardio as long as it still feels good. Just take extra care to maintain good form as the hormone relaxin is pumping through the pregnant body and it will loosen up all your joints making it easier to injure yourself. Keep hitting the iron but this is not the time to go for that back squat record.
Things are starting to get serious, you have little feet jammed into your lungs, massive heart burn, swollen feet, and the tiredness is back, and while you may feel like clocking out until the baby is born, staying active will help you both mentally and physically, especially as delivery time approaches. This is the time to really watch your step, however. Your balance may be off, you probably can’t see your feet anymore, and it’s easy to misjudge how far out your belly really does extend so take it easy doing things where you have a risk of falling. Also, while those Olympic ladies I mentioned earlier managed to run through their whole pregnancies I’ve never been able to do that through any of mine. Sometime during the third trimester my hip flexors (the part where your leg attaches to your hip) give out and jogging becomes excruciatingly painful. Plus they say walking helps get labor going!
Wait, fourth trimester? Yes, the baby has to come out eventually, but those first three months after the baby is born ought to be considered their own trimester, since your body is still going through massive hormonal, physical and mental changes. If there was ever a time to be gentle with yourself this is it!
Between sleepless nights, sore nipples, and the post-partum blues, workouts are going to be really hard to fit in. And you know what? The research supports rest! Studies have shown that women who exercise intensely right after having a baby not only don’t lose the weight faster but also up their risk of getting sick. So take it easy and use this time to get to know your new little bundle of joy! Another great post-partum tip is to use a belly wrap (I used this one), as it will help your ab muscles knit back together and will also help support and hold you in.
Last Thoughts on Fitness During Pregnancy
The trick with pregnancy is moderation. So exercise! But not too much. Or too little. Most of all just enjoy this time, as much as you can puking your guts out by the seafood counter in the grocery store, because it really is only nine months out of your whole life.
What’s been your experience with exercise for a healthy pregnancy? Any fitness tips for staying fit? Share below!