If diapers and bottles are in your not-so-distant future, then you might be wondering how to stay as fit as possible before your baby comes. Women’s bodies go through a huge amount of change during the roughly nine months of carrying a baby; and, contrary to popular belief, a consistent exercise regimen is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby during this time. Exercising safely is always important but perhaps never more so than while pregnant. Here is your go-to guide to exercising safely during pregnancy that will have you feeling your best both before and after your bundle of joy arrives.
Morning sickness may have already begun to rock your world, and you are all too aware of the rapid changes happening to your body. In your first trimester, your hormone levels change significantly, your uterus begins to grow alongside the placenta and fetus, your body adds to its blood supply to carry oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby, and your heart rate increases. These changes accompany many of the pregnancy symptoms, such as fatigue, morning sickness, headaches, and constipation. In the second trimester, most of your early pregnancy symptoms should fade, and you will likely feel much more energetic. Weight gain should ramp up during this time and your belly will begin to appear pregnant as your uterus, baby and placenta continue growing. Finally, in your third trimester, the weight gain tends to be the most rapid as both you and your baby gain necessary weight before birth. Your belly is likely growing larger than you had originally imagined and is, frankly, a nuisance at this point.
Throughout this entire amazing process you will feel like you are glowing some days, crummy on others, and, by the end, literally ready to pop. Though until recent decades it was commonly believed that women should not exercise during pregnancy, it is now highly recommended that pregnant women maintain a safe fitness regimen throughout their pregnancy. But before beginning any fitness regimen, be sure to check with your doctor that you are in good enough health to do so.
There are an abundance of benefits to exercising during pregnancy including symptom relief, increased energy, and weight gain management. While you should typically not consider beginning an intense fitness regimen at the onset of pregnancy, it is generally considered safe to continue any activity you were already doing prior to pregnancy. Most women gain 25-35 pounds in a full-term pregnancy but always follow the guidelines of your doctor on appropriate weight gain for you. Consistent exercise is a great way to ensure that you gain only the weight necessary for a healthy pregnancy and avoid falling into the “eating for two” trap resulting in excess fat gain.
A quality prenatal fitness regimen has also been shown to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, shorten labor time and reduce the amount of time it takes to get back to your pre-baby body.
Let’s break it down by trimester:
Let’s be honest, if you are one of the 3 in 4 women who suffer from the storm of early pregnancy symptoms, then going a full day without getting physically ill is mission accomplished. Add to that a quality workout, and you’re already Superstar Mom!
During the first trimester your fitness regimen should focus on symptom relief and energy production. At least 4 times a week you should be getting light to moderate cardio like walking, light jogging, swimming, or stationary bike riding. These exercises can significantly help with the nausea associated with early pregnancy and help improve your energy levels.
Now is also a great time to work on core strength before a baby belly makes this kind of exercise significantly more difficult. The plank is one of the safest exercises to perform both pre and postnatally and is one the most effective at increasing overall core strength. Try performing a total of 3 minutes of plank exercises every other day even if broken into several 20-30 second sessions.
Many moms also find that practicing yoga during pregnancy can help ease the quease. Keep in mind, however, that your body is now producing extra relaxin, a hormone that aids in loosening the joints for childbirth. Relaxin is indiscriminate in which joints it works its magic on which can make your joints vulnerable to hyperextension and injury. Only practice yoga moves that do not overstretch your joints, promote muscle strength, and leave you feeling relaxed.
Most women describe their second trimester as being the most fun part of pregnancy. Typically your symptoms fade considerably, your baby bump makes an exciting appearance, and you feel a major boost in energy levels. Your fitness regimen should focus on taking advantage of your renewed vigor and maintaining control of your weight gain.
Strength training is a fantastic way to keep your weight gain in check and keep you feeling fit and strong. Because you typically feel the best and have the most range of motion during the second trimester, it’s the perfect time to add some muscle. Try performing simple weight lifting moves like bicep curls, squats, and calf raises using a moderate amount of weight. Strength training can also be accomplished with no equipment at all with exercises like push ups, lunges, and squats.
Here is a simple routine that can be done at home or at a gym:
- Squats. 3 sets of 10.
- Pushups. 3 sets of 8.
- Dips. 2 sets of 8.
- Bicep Curls. 2 sets of 10.
- Calf raise. 2 sets of 12.
- Plank. 1 set of 40 seconds.
Incorporate 1-3 strength training workouts per week in addition to continuing regular cardio. Don’t forget to feed your body and your baby properly for your activity level. You may not be actually “eating for two” but you should be consuming approximately 300 more calories per day just by nature of being pregnant. On your workout days, it’s safe to assume you’ll be a little extra hungry, so prepare healthful snacks like whole fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
In your third trimester, you might see some of those pesky early pregnancy symptoms resurface. Your balance is likely feeling a little off as your belly expands, your weight distribution changes, and your hip joints begin to stretch. For these reasons, it’s best to return to some of the lower impact exercises of the first trimester.
If you haven’t been practicing prenatal yoga throughout your pregnancy, then now is a great time to start. Yoga is a fantastic way to prepare your body for childbirth and relax your anxious mind.
Continue your light to moderate cardio to the best of your abilities. Your growing belly can make performing most exercises difficult and dangerous. Stick to exercises you are already comfortable performing and never let yourself exercise to a feeling of exhaustion.
The most important thing to remember is that every person and every pregnancy is different. The amount of exercise you get is between you, your baby and your doctor, so choose a regimen that makes you feel your best and keeps you at peak health during this amazing time of life.