It goes without saying that pregnancy is a time of major change in a woman’s body. The female body is a wonder in that it can make enough space to create a brand-new human while still allowing a woman to go about her daily routine. However, pregnancy requires a deeper level of self-care. Depending on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy and what her exercise routine looked like before motherhood, there are plenty of exercises that are considered safe and beneficial to both mom and baby.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, appropriate exercise during pregnancy is a great way to lower a soon-to-be-mom’s chances of preterm birth, cesarean delivery, excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and a low–birth weight baby. Exercising can also help moms-to-be manage stress, reduce possible anxiety and depression, and help to ease pregnancy’s physical symptoms. But before we continue, we want to say that it’s best to get a doctor’s OK before beginning any new exercise program— especially if you’re pregnant.
In the first trimester, fatigue and nausea may make exercise difficult, but any movement helps. For those who feel queasy, gentle prenatal yoga sessions can relax and strengthen you. Walking, swimming, and other gentle cardio activities combat fatigue. If you’re looking to add movement into your daily home routine, try squats, pliés (while holding onto a chair for balance), and other leg-strengthening exercises. Bicep curls and planks can help keep arms and shoulders in tone. And getting down onto all fours and alternating raising a leg and opposing arm can help you to maintain strength in your back and core.
The second trimester is generally a time of smooth sailing for many women, especially if you felt tired and cranky during the first three months. Most women have more energy during this time in a pregnancy, so continue with all of the exercises mentioned above. If you love stretching or yoga, though, be cautious with your joints and ligaments, as these can easily be injured during pregnancy due to the presence of the hormone relaxin. (Yes, that’s a real thing.) Cardio can continue but slow down or stop if something doesn’t feel right. A lot of women say water aerobics feel great, especially near the end of the second trimester.
The last three months is the home stretch of pregnancy. Fatigue will most likely return, followed by aches and pains as your belly continues to expand. Although movement and exercise are still safe, it’s imperative to balance workouts with rest. Trust your instincts. If something feels like it’s too much, stop. Some helpful exercises that can aid the body in getting ready for labor include prenatal yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, squats (and other leg strengtheners), and walking. Movement that has little impact on joints and helps maintain strength and flexibility is key.
The “fourth trimester,” or postpartum, is a very important time for physical recovery. Often, this part of pregnancy becomes glossed over because mothers are busy trying to cope with parenting. However, if you can manage some gentle and targeted movements, you can go a long way in reducing any long-term physical effects of pregnancy, labor, and birth.
Postnatal yoga is becoming more popular in studios across the country. With movements dedicated to healing the postpartum body, this tool can be helpful in gaining back core strength and overall stamina as well as helping with insomnia, anxiety, or depression. Walking is another great form of safe exercise shortly after giving birth. Kegels, the conscious tightening and relaxing of the pelvic floor muscles, are another necessary ingredient in postnatal recovery. As in pregnancy, make sure to listen to your body and get plenty of rest when you can!
Pregnancy and birth are miracles, yes, but they are also marathons. At Hancock Regional Hospital’s Andis Maternity Ward, we offer various resources for pregnancy, including a Maternity Care Coordinator (link to blog) and wellness education. It’s our passion to make sure that women feel physically and emotionally empowered and informed during their pregnancies and beyond.