Exercising During Pregnancy: What To Know
Everyone should check with their provider before starting a new exercise routine during pregnancy, but for the most part, exercise is not only safe, but encouraged during pregnancy. For healthy women, 30 minutes of moderate exercise on all or most days is recommended during your whole pregnancy. My favorite way to raise your heart rate, reduce stress, and reap the benefits of movement during pregnancy is walking–parks, greenways or neighborhoods are wonderful options get out and moving for some exercise. It’s also a great opportunity to get fresh air and talk with a friend or listen to your favorite podcast!
Regular exercise during pregnancy has been shown to be safe for both the expectant mom and the baby she is carrying. In addition to reducing rates of cesarean births, exercise is also beneficial in achieving appropriate maternal and fetal weight gain, and managing gestational diabetes. Walking, in particular, helps to tone and lengthen the muscles in the abdomen and pelvic floor to create space for baby, both during the pregnancy and in preparation for delivery.
Daily Movement Habits
Your daily movement habits are also something to keep in mind as you progress through your pregnancy. These may not be what you think about when someone mentions exercise, but these regular movements will either help or hinder the muscles and ligaments in your body as they get ready for childbirth. The first “movement” to think about is how you sit. Most of us spend a large portion of the day sitting, so how your muscles are working as you sit is important. While you are pregnant there are two important parts to sitting:
Sit on your “sitz bones,” not on your tail bone. Sitting upright on the bones your body is made to use for sitting helps to strengthen and stretch your pelvic floor. As you progress through your pregnancy, this seated posture also helps baby get into a good position for birth.
When your daily habit is to tuck your pelvis and lean back on your tailbone, your pelvic floor muscles are not getting stretched like they should and can become tight, which can make it more difficult for baby to pass through the birth canal during delivery. Sitting back also puts unnecessary pressure on your tailbone/sacrum, which can strain all of your pelvic bones and connective tissues, leading to sacroiliac or symphysis-pubic pain during pregnancy.
Sit in different positions throughout the day. Other than sitting on your sitz bones, there is no one right way to sit, so take regular breaks and vary your position every hour or so. Sitting on the floor, wide-leg sitting, side sitting, on a birth/exercise ball, etc. are all great options for how to sit.
Another daily movement to consider is how you pick things up off the floor. Do your best to bend at the hips and knees, and not to hunch your back as you pick something up. Just like the sitting positions, this is one that most of us do several times a day—from picking up toys and pens to emptying the dishwasher.
Keeping your back straight and bending at the hips helps to stretch our pelvic floor while engaging our back and core. Creating good habits in these small daily movements will help build a strong core system that will support a healthy pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
In general, pregnant people need to avoid the following:
- Activities that have them lying on their back for more than a couple of minutes (or at all if it makes you feel lightheaded or uncomfortable).
- Anything that makes your pelvic floor feel heavy or like you have pressure in your bottom.
- Activities that make you lose control of your bladder.
- Anything that hurts.
Most people can continue doing any exercise program they were doing before they got pregnant, but they will also need to make modifications as their baby and belly grows. Listening to your body is so important while you are exercising! Anything that causes pain or discomfort needs modification or elimination. Most people find they are able to reduce the movement to find something that feels ok, but some activities, such as running, may become too uncomfortable beyond the 5th or 6th month of pregnancy. Talk to your health provider about any new or changing symptoms to come up with a personalized exercise plan.
One big difference between everyday exercise and exercise during pregnancy is what the goal is for each one. Everyone’s goals are slightly different in everyday exercise – maybe you want to run a marathon or get a new PR, but during pregnancy the goal of exercise is to make sure that during this time of major body changes, your muscles support you during functional tasks. When not pregnant, most of us don’t think about if our core will activate when we pick up a heavy object, those muscles just do what they’re supposed to!
But a pregnancy rearranges our abdominal muscles and organs and so our muscles need a little help in figuring out how to keep doing their job. If you have a regular exercise routine, you will find that as you progress through your pregnancy, it takes a little more thought to do the same movements that you’ve been doing for months. This is normal!
Every exercise should be done in a mindful way to help your core engage when needed and release when the job is done. I think yoga is a great prenatal program, if for no other reason than because each pose is intentional, being mindful of engaging the supporting muscles and relaxing the opposite muscle sets.
While yoga is a great prenatal program to follow, we hope everyone will find an exercise routine that works for them. Daily walks for 30 minutes are another great way to stay healthy and active. I have also found that doing hip circles on an exercise ball, pelvic tilts, and calf & hamstring stretches are good daily additions to any exercise routine. These simple, daily activities will help your body to adapt to the changes of pregnancy while also preparing for the work of birth and postpartum.
About the Author
Rebekah Mustaleski is a Certified Professional Midwife with Roots & Wings Midwifery in Knoxville, TN, where Rebekah promotes evidence-based maternity care for families seeking an out of hospital delivery. She is working to improve maternal outcomes during the childbearing year and to promote a sustainable business model for midwifery practices across the country. Rebekah is co-owner of Roots & Wings Midwifery, LLC as well as Treasurer for the Tennessee Midwives Association.
All content published on the Motif Medical site is credited for information purposes only. This information should not substitute as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor or qualified health professional with any questions regarding the health of you or your baby.