When a woman finds out that she's pregnant, it's one of the biggest and most memorable moments of her life. During those minutes she waits for a double line to appear on that home pregnancy test, a number of thoughts will cross her mind.
Did I do this right? What if it says positive? What if it doesn’t? Will I have trouble getting pregnant? What if I’m ACTUALLY pregnant? Am I really ready for a baby? Is my body ready?
These are just a few thoughts that crossed my mind during those minutes. Leaving the bathroom and returning to see a double line on not one, not two, but three pregnancy tests confirmed that I was pregnant and that I (and my body) was about to endure this magical journey of life.
Staying active during pregnancy was something – even before I became pregnant – I always knew I wanted to do. But, how? After doing some research and speaking with my doctor, I was thrilled to find out that I can essentially do everything I was already doing – with some modifications, of course. Like many newly pregnant women, thoughts crossed my mind. While I was excited to be able to keep up with my regular exercise, I couldn’t help but think:
Will exercising cause me to miscarry? Should I hold off exercise until the first trimester is finished? Will I hurt the baby by exercising?
I’m not the first, and certainly not the last to have such thoughts. It’s completely normal to worry about both yours and your baby’s well being. And while these are completely normal thoughts to have, the best thing I did was trust that my body knew what to do at every stage of pregnancy.
Exercising with confidence during pregnancy is something that many expectant mothers long for, which is why I decided to share my personal experience with you. While I understand that every woman’s body, pregnancy, and physical fitness level varies, living a healthy lifestyle is something you should give to not only yourself but also your growing baby.
So with that, here are 13 important pieces of advice I can give to you when it comes to staying active during pregnancy.
13 Speak To Your Doctor
Although you may not feel like running a marathon, most women will greatly benefit from exercising during pregnancy. During this time, however, you’ll need to first discuss your fitness plans with your doctor early on to make the necessary modifications to your normal exercise routine. Ultimately, your level of exercise will depend on your pre-pregnancy fitness level.
There are many things your doctor will test before giving you the okay. At your first prenatal visit, your doctor may look for:
- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (hypertension)
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- lower back pain
While these are common symptoms of early pregnancy, the level at which a woman may experience these symptoms will vary, and can greatly affect the amount of physical activity she'll accomplish. Above all, speaking to your doctor about your exercise plan and any concerns you may have will give you the comfort to confidently go about your exercise regime during each trimester.
12 Don’t Stop During The First Trimester
While the first trimester may be the most challenging energy-wise, exercising during this time is completely safe. As I mentioned, a shared concern amongst pregnant women is whether exercising will induce a miscarriage. This is a common myth and most of the time, there's not a lot you can do to prevent miscarriage.
Continuing my workouts during my first trimester was one of the best things I did for myself. Not only did it give me the confidence to continue my regime as I began to grow, but getting up and moving around also helped me feel better. Of course, I listened to my body and rested when I needed to rest, but staying active throughout each trimester helped me regulate weight gain, prepared for bearing more weight, assisted in better sleep, and ultimately, kept me strong for childbirth.
11 Create A Schedule
By creating an exercise schedule and pre-planning your workouts, it will make it easier to stick with a routine. It works. Trust me.
During my entire pregnancy – my exercise regimen essentially remained the same as my pre-pregnancy regimen (with a few modifications, of course). I preferred to focus different areas of my body for each day of the week. For example, Monday was legs and lower body; Tuesday was shoulders and back; Wednesday was more cardio focused; Thursdays focused on biceps, chest, and triceps; Friday was a well-earned rest day; Saturday was another cardio day, or a one hour strength training or yoga class; and Sunday was another rest day, before starting it all over again.
It definitely seems daunting, but taking things one day at a time, and picking an exercise that you feel excited about will help you get through the week feeling pumped, healthy and energized.
10 Weight Training For Maintenance
If you’re pregnant, you can still be a hard-bodied, weight-lifting mama. You heard me! Lifting weights during pregnancy is not only a great way to stay fit, but it can also better prepare you for labor.
Lifting weights are one of my favorite things to do and that certainly wasn’t going to change during my pregnancy. What had to change, however, were my goals. Instead of working towards dramatic gains, my weight lifting goals were now geared toward maintenance. I also made sure to take the necessary precautions.
One thing I feel I should note is to definitely avoid lying flat on your back. After the first trimester, lying on your back can put pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, diminishing blood flow to your brain and uterus. An easy modification that worked for me was to tilt the bench I was laying on to a 45-degree incline.
9 Yes To Abdominal Exercises
There’s no question that your ab muscles go through quite the journey during pregnancy, so it’s normal to wonder if it’s safe to perform abdominal exercises while pregnant – I certainly did! After doing my own research and speaking with my doctor, I learned that abdominal exercises (with certain modifications) are totally safe.
While pregnancy isn’t a time to achieve the chiseled core you've always dreamed of, you can certainly take a few safe steps to maintain your fitness and keep your core strong. In fact, you should. Building your core strength during this 40-week duration is one of the best things you can do to prepare for not only labor, but also the postpartum recovery process.
A strong core can help support your pelvic organs and increase your sense of control during labor. It can also alleviate the pressure your growing belly puts on your back. Plus, your strong core will only help you recover more quickly after giving birth. Muscles remember, so when the uterus begins to contract, you’ll begin to see your muscle tone reappear.
During my pregnancy, many of the abdominal exercises I performed were while laying on my side. It’s important (especially in the second and third trimester) to avoid lying on your back. As mentioned, lying on the back can pressure on major veins. Side crunches, front and side planks, standing crunches, and pelvic tilts are all great options to maintain a strong, pregnant core.
8 Do Your Kegels
If you’ve gone through the laboring process, you’ll know that pushing your baby through your pelvis is demanding on its muscles. During pregnancy, and certainly during those laboring hours, your pelvic floor takes a beating; they have to stretch to proportions previously unimaginable. That’s why – even if you’ve never thought much about them – performing Kegels during pregnancy is essential.
Not only do Kegels play an important role in aiding the pelvic floor during labor and delivery, but strengthening it will also lead to a faster post-birth recovery. How? When you finally go into labor, these muscles will be stretched out, even more, to make room for your baby to pass through. If the muscles – much like other muscles in the body – are stronger, they can recover faster and with less issue.
I’ll admit, Kegels weren’t a pre-pregnancy exercise I practiced regularly, but after speaking with my doctor and reading about the benefits, I definitely incorporated them into my daily routine. The great thing about Kegels is that they are super easy to perform and can be done anywhere – without anyone even knowing you’re doing them. So, really, there are no excuses not to! It’s a win, win situation if you ask me.
7 Spin, Spin, Spin
Some of you may be thinking, “Spin class while pregnant? No way!” Though spinning is a high-intensity workout, it’s perfectly safe (and beneficial) to perform while pregnant. Why? It’s gentle on the joints, which become looser throughout pregnancy. Plus, it’s easier to maintain your balance on a stationary bike that can be adjusted, as your bump grows.
My pregnancy exercise regimen always consisted of at least one spin class a week. Not only do I love a good sweat, but the energy boost I received after (yes after) each and every class felt great on my body. Another amazing benefit of taking a spin class is that you can go at your own pace. While it may seem like the instructor is intense (a good spinning instructor should be), they are merely there to guide and motivate you, not to compete with you. So, if you feel like you need to take it down a notch and work at your own pace, you totally can.
6 Use Resistance Bands
Even before I became pregnant, resistance bands were a great option for building and maintaining muscle tone, but I didn’t realize how great they really were until I became pregnant. My pre-pregnancy workouts consisted of both resistance band training and weight training. When I became pregnant, I didn’t want to lose the muscle I built, but I also didn’t want to injure myself by lifting heavy weights. This is where resistance bands became so helpful for me. I began to research more exercises (both lower and upper body) that incorporate resistance bands. Unsure how to use resistance bands? I found many amazing circuits both through Instagram and YouTube.
The use of resistance bands during pregnancy is so beneficial because the hormone relaxin loosens up the connective tissues during pregnancy so quick, uncontrolled movements are risky. By introducing resistance bands as part of your pregnancy workout – you’ll find they work for different muscle groups effectively and will ensure that you make slower, more controlled movements. Additionally, strength training with resistance bands throughout each trimester will not only help to maintain your muscle tone, but it will also help speed your recovery after delivery, especially if you decide to get back to the gym right after your 6-week postpartum exam.
5 Intimacy Is Exercise, Too!
Like most expectant mothers will tell you, my first intimate encounter during pregnancy was a little nerve-wracking. Seriously, though. Doing it during pregnancy comes with a fair share of baggage. You may have worries about hurting the baby, or even yourself during this time your body endures drastic physical changes. Whatever the case, there are plenty of reasons to keep the fires going up until your delivery date.
It improves the grand finale: The increased blood flow to your genital area will likely intensify your desire.
Burns calories: It's the most fun way to stay fit, and it's a fun way to exercise with your partner.
Improves sleep for mama and baby: It's relaxing. Relaxed mamas will sleep better. Trust me, you'll want a good night's sleep.
Boosts happiness: 'Finishing' releases endorphins, which make both you and baby happier and more relaxed.
Speeds up postpartum recovery: 'Finishing' during pregnancy prepares the pelvic floor for childbirth, which in turn speeds postpartum recovery.
4 No Gym? No Problem
No gym membership is no excuse to not be fit. While I love going to the gym, there were some days during my pregnancy where home workouts were a better option. Being pregnant in the summer gave me the option to exercise in my backyard (if it wasn't too hot), but even on rainy days, an in-home workout was easily accomplished by doing the following exercises:
- bodyweight squats
- push ups
- wall sits
- static lunges
- side crunches
- jumping jacks
- calf raises
- burpees (avoid these in the third trimester as your belly grows)
To get the most out of your workout, perform 10-20 reps of each exercise and repeat 3-4 times. If you start with 10 reps of each, work towards increasing the number of reps for your next workout.
Another great no-gym option is outdoor walking (avoid walking in hot temperatures). Walking keeps you healthy and fit, and pregnancy is the best time to experience the many benefits it can provide. Walking is safe throughout the pregnancy period as long as you do not overdo it and your doctor has given approval.
3 Don’t Forget To Stretch
The benefits of stretching can (and should) be enjoyed throughout your pregnancy. Even if you’re not a regular gym-goer, stretching should (at the very least) be performed. Stretching during pregnancy can help keep you fit and can help relieve many strains on the body associated with pregnancy.
For me, stretching was vital. Even if it meant spending an extra fifteen minutes at the gym, I made it a priority to stretch post workout. Failing to stretch during pregnancy can reduce your joint range of motion. In addition, not stretching during pregnancy will make your muscles short and tight, and will function less efficiently.
So, if you’re pregnant, stretch! Here are some benefits to stretching that you can enjoy while waiting for your baby to arrive:
- helps to relax the muscles
- helps to reduce stress
- helps to loosen stiff or sore muscles
- helps to keep you in tune with your quickly changing body
2 Always Listen To The Mommy Bod
Although exercising during pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your baby, the body may not always allow it. The most important rule is to pay attention to what's going on physically. There were many days where I had planned to exercise, but my body said no. It’s important to listen to your body’s cues, so if you’re too tired or feeling sick, stay home and rest up. There’s always tomorrow. Focus on doing what’s best for your body today, so that it can feel better tomorrow.
Additionally, if for whatever reason you're feeling muscle strain or excessive fatigue during or after your workouts, take that as a cue to modify the moves you're doing and/or reduce the frequency of your workouts. Pregnancy isn't the time to push yourself to your limits or to reach a new personal record.
1 Do It For Yourself (And The Baby)
For many women, falling off the exercise wagon happens – even more so when they find out they’re pregnant. Instead of making exercise a chore during pregnancy, why not use it to your advantage? Why not take this opportunity to share an uplifting experience with your baby in utero? Exercise during pregnancy will help you become more in tune with your body, which can be an amazing bonding experience for you and your growing baby. And because exercise improves your mood, you’ll essentially have a happier and healthier pregnancy.
While every pregnancy is different, I truly believe that staying active during my pregnancy helped me embrace my changing body – both mentally and physically. It was truly an experience I’ll never forget. Every day I felt like I woke up with a renewed body, mind and soul. This kept my regimen fresh, fun and enjoyable. Moving around with my baby boy in my tummy was a magical experience; it was challenging, motivating, and uplifting all at once. No matter where I decided to practice, whether it was at the gym, in my home, or at a local park, I would take each exercise as an opportunity to strengthen my lifelong relationship with movement.
Sources: fitpregnancy.com, whattoexpect.com, thebump.com, popsugar.com, babycenter.com