Pregnancy, delivery, and the post-partum months put your body to the test. It’s a workout – and just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, exercise is key to help you prepare for and recover from giving birth.
According to the America College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), regular exercise during pregnancy:
- Reduces back pain
- Eases constipation
- May descrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery
- Promotes healthy weight gain
- Improves your overall general fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels
After your baby is born, exercise may help prevent postpartum depression and relieve stress, as well as strengthen and tone abdominal muscles. Of course, it will also help lose the extra weight that you may have gained during pregnancy.
Consider Musculoskeletal Changes
If you are already active, you may be tempted to simply maintain your exercise program during and after pregnancy. It is important to remember, however, that your body is going through major changes and your exercise program needs to change with it.
As your belly expands, your abdominal muscles stretch, and the back muscles shorten. Hormones relax your joints and the linea alba — the connective tissue that runs from pelvis to your chest at the front of your abdomen — thins and separates. Your center of gravity shifts to offset the extra weight in the front of your body, often placing more pressure on the back. Even your breathing changes as your rib cage and lungs accommodate your growing fetus.
An effective exercise program needs to be tailored to your changing body. Generally, you will want to avoid jerky or high-impact motions that are hard on your joints, as well as exercise that requires great balance or intensive oxygen use.
General Exercise Tips
The ACOG recommends these exercises as safest for pregnant women:
- Walking — Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles.
- Swimming and water workouts — Water workouts use many of the body’s muscles. The water supports your weight, so you avoid injury and muscle strain.
- Stationary bicycling — Because your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls, riding a standard bicycle during pregnancy can be risky. Cycling on a stationary bike is a better choice.
- Modified yoga and modified Pilates — Yoga reduces stress, improves flexibility, and encourages stretching and focused breathing. There are prenatal yoga and Pilates classes designed for pregnant women. These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance. You also should avoid poses that require you to be still or lie on your back for long periods.
The ACOG says that if you are an experienced runner, jogger, or racquet-sports player, you may be able to keep doing these activities during pregnancy, but the organization urges you to discuss these activities with your physician first.
After such a momentous event as giving birth, your body is going to be changed. For about one in three American mothers, that change may be diastasis recti (when the linea alba does not come back together after giving birth), which can lead to chronic back pain, difficulty lifting objects and more. About the same proportion of women will experience a pelvic floor disorder, such as incontinence or prolapse.
If you need help coping with some of the physical changes brought about by pregnancy or childbirth, you may want to see a Certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist. These specialists are trained in physical therapy specifically designed for women before and after giving birth. Stacie Towle, a Certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist with Apple Therapy, says that corrective exercise can support pregnant and postpartum clients by:
- Assessing posture and breathing to prescribe the best optimization exercises
- Identifying pelvic floor dysfunction to provide exercises and release techniques to address issues
- Creating individualized exercise program prescriptions for diastasis recti healing
- Recommending exercises that are safe during each trimester of pregnancy and modifications to decrease strain on the abdominal wall and pelvic floor
- Setting safe timelines for return to exercise postpartum
- Addressing low back, Si joint and pelvic pain during pregnancy and postpartum
When Stacie was pregnant, she realized how little information was provided about proper exercise before and after giving birth. She decided to become a certified specialist to support women at a time in which their body is going through so many changes. Stacie is available at our Nashua office.