I am passionate about prenatal fitness. I could talk, and have, all day about everything there is to know about the topic. But, I recently gave a lecture about pregnancy and health and I knew I only had about 30 minutes to tell a group of first-time pregnant moms everything about prenatal fitness. So after stressing out, I just thought; “what are the 5 things I want these women to leave knowing?”
And here they are!
Strong muscles support your pregnancy. As your weight increases, strong legs support a heavier body, strong backs support your growing belly and breast and help prevent back pain.
Delivery is an athletic event, the stronger you are going into it, the more prepared you’ll be. Imagine running a marathon without training! Also, studies show that fit women have a higher pain threshold and perceive labor to be less difficult.
Being a mom required muscles! Have you seen all the stuff new moms have to schlep?? The stronger you are, the more easily you can hoist that stroller, diaper bag, camera, car seat, not to mention the baby, in and out of your car all day long.
Exercises to Focus On: Squats and lunges, rowing-type exercises and arm exercises for lifting.
Continue to Train Your Abdominals and Core
It is not only safe, but imperative, to continue to train your entire core during your pregnancy. Strong abdominals act like a support belt during your pregnancy and delivery. Also, fit ab muscles recover more quickly after delivery. The deep transverse abdominal (TVA) muscles are a mother’s best friend and safe abdominal work during pregnancy is all based on the ability to stabilize your core with your TVA muscles.
You should pay attention to a separation in your abdominal wall called a Diastasis Recti. It is very common, occurs in many pregnancies, usually in the third trimester. Physical Therapists now believe, targeted TVA work early in pregnancy (and before) can prevent Diastasis all together.
Post partum (maybe by years) and still can’t loose that ‘pooch’ no matter how much cardio you do? Many experts agree this may be an unhealed Diastasis.
Exercises to Focus On: “Hug the Baby” -Try to sit tall in a chair and draw your belly button towards your spine without holding your breath or tilting your pelvis. If you can do 30 without losing the integrity of the exercise, try doing them on all fours then progress to a modified plank position (like a ‘girl’ push up position). You can also do this exercise postpartum (whether that is 2 months or 2 years for you) to help heal any left over abdominal issues you may be having.
Pay Attention to Changes in Your Joints
Relaxin is a hormone that is released to allow your body to open and change during pregnancy and delivery. Relaxin also makes a pregnant woman more unstable and more prone to injury. Be extra cautious when on unstable surfaces like hiking trails, or step aerobic classes. Avoid fast changing movements with excessive lateral moves, like tennis.
Relaxin may also be the culprit for a decrease in Synovial Fluid, the cushioning between your joints. Pregnant woman need more time to get an adequate warm up.
Posture is KEY
Focusing on posture during pregnancy and the newborn time may be the single best thing you can do for your overall health during this time. Good posture allows you to carry the baby (both when he is inside your belly and outside!) more efficiently and with less physical discomfort. Slouching causes your pregnant belly to extend further out, putting more strain on your lower back. Slouching also can increase abdominal separation by putting more pressure on an already weakened abdominal wall. Try it yourself, pregnant or not, stand sideways in front of a mirror. Stand tall, pull your shoulders back and engage your abdominals. Now slouch, roll your shoulders forward and let your stomach bulge out. Your 7th grade PE teacher was right; standing up straight does make you look leaner.
Exercises to Focus On: Shoulder squeeze-backs (scapular retractions), hug the baby (described above) and think “tail bone down”
Pay special attention to posture during baby care; feeding, diaper changing, playing, stroller pushing, carrying the car seat; all put moms in a compromised posture position. Take the time to get yourself set up before you engage in baby care.
Use Exercise to Mitigate Common Aliments
Exercise has been clinically and anecdotally shown to reduce many common aliments of pregnancy. Morning sickness, carpal tunnel, sciatica, pubic symphsis and constipation can all be prevented or mitigated with exercise. Find something that you enjoy and feels good; a walk, swimming, or yoga may feel good, even if you don’t. And if you are feeling good, pay attention to your body and modify when necessary, you can continue doing many of your favorite activities all they way through your pregnancy!