Staying active during pregnancy is very important for our growing bodies and babies, as well as, our strength during labor and our recovery after birth.
It is often stated that whatever you were doing before you got pregnant is safe to continue during your pregnancy. While I agree to an extent with this, there are certainly some exercises that are more beneficial during pregnancy and some that while yes, they may be “safe,” are not necessarily doing your growing body any favors when it comes to preparing for a smooth birth.
There is no, 100% perfect, hard and fast rule that says if you do these exercises, you will have a smooth birth, but doing so certainly increases your chances by setting up your body for success.
3 Great General Exercises During Pregnancy
- Prenatal Yoga
- Yoga is a wonderful way to calm, center and help balance your growing belly and baby. It is gentle on your joints and doesn’t spike your cortisol (stress hormone) levels like many forms of exercise do.
- It helps your body to stretch and strengthen while also fueling your body emotionally and mentally.
- Yoga Body and Daily Burn both have great prenatal yoga programs that you can do right from the comfort of your own home.
- Peaceful walks are a wonderful way of getting exercise that won’t spike your cortisol (stress hormone) levels and will allow you to reflect and reduce stress, while also keeping your body in healthy motion.
- Walking can also aid in your digestion and help you to keep healthy motion within your spine.
- Taking walks by yourself or with your kiddos, fur babies or hubby are all great ways to enjoy this special time in your life.
- Swimming during pregnancy is a wonderful way to take the pressure off of your growing belly, and many mamas report that it makes them feel weightless, like they aren’t even pregnant.
- Swimming reduces the pressure on your legs and pelvis and allows for healthy motion within your joints and ligaments.
- The water can also relieve pressure from swollen feet and ankles.
In addition to the above, I also recommend doing the following 6 exercises, which are specifically designed to strengthen and prepare the muscles you will use to give birth.
6 Specific Exercises Important for Giving Birth
- Sitting Criss Cross Applesauce, AKA Tailor Sitting, AKA Indian Style
- This encourages your uterus to move forward, increasing circulation and stretching the inner thigh muscles.
- Make sure you maintain good posture while sitting on the floor in this position (belly button facing straight forward) and switch your legs often.
- The more you sit this way the better.
- Squatting is an excellent exercise for strengthening your leg muscles and preparing your perineum for birth.
- I am not talking about what you may think of when you hear “squatting” in the fitness world, but instead slow, deep and controlled squats with just your body weight where you actually “hang out” a bit at the bottom of the squat. Have you ever seen a small child squatting on the ground, playing with a toy, or just comfortably hanging out? That’s more along the lines of what we’re talking about here.
- Avoid bending over to pick things up throughout the day, and squat down to do so instead. This is not just better for your body, but will also help strengthening important muscles for labor.
- Gentle Cat and Cow, AKA Pelvic Rocking
- This exercise is HUGELY beneficial and tones and conditions both muscles in the back and abdomen.
- Letting your belly hang down under you relieves pressure on your low back, uterus, bladder and major blood vessels in your body.
- This helps to decrease tension, improves digestion and increases circulation.
- Get on your hands and knees and gently relax your lower back, allowing your belly and pelvis to tilt forward and then slowing and rhythmically level and tuck your hips under (creating a very slight arch in your back). Repeat several times.
- You should feel a nice stretch and relief, no pain.
- This exercise targets your abductor muscles, can relieve discomfort and helps prepare your body and legs for labor.
- Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together and your knees open, pointed away from each other toward the sides.
- Maintain your posture and gently lean forward slightly to increase the stretch. You should feel a nice stretch, not pain.
- Pulling your feet in closer to you and gently pressing down on your knees will also increase the stretch.
- As a woman these should be a part of our daily routine, pregnant or not, but they are especially important during pregnancy and help us prepare for birth and recovery following.
- These help maintain proper tone in the pelvic floor muscles. Poor tone may cause incontinence (peeing your pants when sneezing or coughing), increased discomfort, pain and prolonged labor and decreased sensation during sex.
- These should be performed numerous times per day. Someone recently recommended doing them every time you are at a red light, or try finding a daily activity that will trigger your mind to do them regularly.
- Side Laying and Relaxation
- During pregnancy, resting and sleeping on your side is recommended. This is also a safe, comfortable and beneficial position during labor.
- This position increases circulation and allows the bed to support your baby’s weight.
- Listen to your body, as it will tell you what’s most comfortable, but many women find maintaining a slight bend in their knees and placing a pillow between their legs to give the most relief.
You should not experience any pain during any of these exercises. If you do, stop and chat with your midwife about it at your next visit.
Remember this is a special time, and while staying in motion is important, pushing your body hard is not ideal. Enjoy this time with your growing baby and body, and nurture your growing belly.