Why You Should Definitely Workout During and After Your Pregnancy: The BEST Time in a Woman's Life to Exercise
I have heard a common trend that pregnant women are being advised that if they have not worked out before their pregnancy, they should not make pregnancy the time to start working out or start a specific new type of exercise. I would like to propose the exact opposite!
In my opinion, pregnancy is one of the BEST times in a woman's life to exercise. When else are you going to be able to train with a 10-30 pound weight vest on, knowing that you will be taking that weight vest off almost all at once nine months later? Imagine all the muscular adaptations you will undergo by training with that weight vest on, adding half a pound to it each week. And may I add, NEVER taking it off. So you have the opportunity to create muscular adaptations even when bending down to pick something off the floor, making love, standing all day on your feet, and especially exercising. It is 100% achievable to come out of your pregnancy far stronger and more functional than you were before. Maybe even the strongest and most functional you have ever been in your entire life!
Now of course, you can actually cause damage by going out and doing just any exercise class or routine. I highly recommend hiring a pre and postnatal corrective exercise specialist (like myself) for a minimum of one to three months but best case scenario would be throughout your entire pregnancy and one year postpartum. A good coach should be able to show you how to properly move with correct form, which muscles to engage, which exercises to avoid due to pregnancy changes within the body, and which exercises to add more of into your routine to strengthen your specific muscular imbalance patterns. Short on cash for a private coach? Try to find pregnancy specific group fitness classes in your area. Make sure the instructor has the proper certifications and specializations. If you are in the New Hampshire area, you can find a list of my pre and postnatal classes here.
There are SO many benefits of exercising during pregnancy to not only you, the pregnant woman, but also to your baby - your womb-mate! For one, labor is a stressful event to your baby. Exercise is a stressor as well. Engaging in exercise regularly throughout pregnancy helps babies prepare for other kinds of stressors. Babies are in better condition at the start of labor and are better able to tolerate the stresses of labor throughout. And since babies of exercising moms are better able to tolerate stress, babies are born with increased blood volume, more oxygen present, and normal heart rate reactions. Outside of utero, they are better able to maintain body temperature, regain initial weight loss, and retain blood glucose levels. Studies have shown these women also had the fewest obstetrical complications during labor, less likelihood of cord entanglement, and less meconium present.1 Babies born to exercising moms transition to life outside of utero easier and tend to be more alert and easy to care for and have shown to remain physically and mentally ahead as they age into toddler years and beyond. During pregnancy, exercising moms experience better toxin removal and nutrient delivery to baby via the placenta. In Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Dr. James Clapp’s studies show the placentas of moms who exercise through early and mid pregnancy grow faster and function better than those not exercising (15% more blood vessels and surface area).
Now let’s talk about you! Wanting a natural birth with little to no interventions? Exercise will be a huge part of your pregnancy plan to help you achieve those goals. There is a 35% reduction in the need for pain relief during labor in women who exercise through pregnancy. Exercise and labor use the same pain relieving hormones so if you train those hormones how to elicit more efficiently during exercise, you will do the same during labor. Examples are increased capacity to produce catecholamines (energy boost for mom and baby as baby travels down the birth canal), increased sensitivities to endorphins (induces feelings of pleasure and euphoria), and the efficient production of oxytocin (chemical for love, bonding, orgasm, and trust). There is a 50% decrease for non surgical interventions, 55% reduced chance of episiotomy, and a 75% decrease for operative interventions such as forceps and c-section. Exercise alone reduces a woman's chances of a c-section from one in three to one in twelve! Studies have shown babies of exercising moms are more likely to deliver at full term and on time. And since their is a 75% decrease in exhaustion during labor, exercising moms typically cut their overall labor time by one third! Exercising moms experience less weight gain and fat accumulation and have less pregnancy discomforts such as pelvic pain, low back pain, stretch marks, varicose veins, core dysfunction, weakness, and lack of stamina. Moms have increased immune function, energy, and maintain positive attitudes about themselves, their pregnancies, and their upcoming labor and delivery.
Postnatally, Moms who exercised throughout their pregnancy feel better and burn fat faster! Once cleared to exercise again, this is also going to be a very important time to exercise. You now are constantly holding a roughly seven pound weight that will get bigger every day and is going to cry when you put it down. Again, you have the opportunity to make the best out of your new environment and create new muscular adaptations. Exercising will help in the maintenance and balance of all the important hormones playing a part postpartum such as progesterone, estrogen, prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol, thyroid, vasopressin, relaxin, etc. Exercising equals better hormonal balance which equals lowered chances of postpartum depression. With the presence of relaxin still in the body postpartum, common discomforts such as joint pains, postural strains, and tension headaches will either become more exacerbates by lack of movement or mediated by muscle balance and alignment through proper movement. Moms who exercised through pregnancy and continue to postnatally experience a 55% return to pre-pregnancy weight by six months and a 75% return to pre-pregnancy weight by one year. The weight retention of women who do not exercise is three times as high by the one year mark. Lastly, exercising through pregnancy and after contributes to a stronger core and pelvic floor, reducing chances of incontinence or severe abdominal separation (diastasis recti).
My number one piece of advice is to work with a pre and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Even if functional training is not your jam, you will still learn so much about your body and be able to apply the concepts you learn from your coach to other types of movement you may enjoy better. I work virtually across the globe as well as privately in person across Southern New Hampshire, USA. To see if we are a good fit, you can schedule a complimentary assessment with me here.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of exercise and even more concepts such as mindfulness, nutrition, and stress reduction a great resource is the Prenatal Wellness Course from Fit For Birth. You can use code PWC50Fay for $50 off.
Thank you so much for reading! Comment below if you plan to or have exercised throughout your pregnancy.
Stay healthy -AF
1. See: Fit For Birth Corrective Exercise Specialist Manual, Section 2: Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy, Page 7