Many women think that the moment they find out that they are pregnant, it is an excuse to take a hiatus from exercise for 9 months (in addition to eating for two). There is a common misconception that women can’t exercise during pregnancy because it will harm their developing baby. WRONG! In most cases, exercise is beneficial to pregnant women, but there are those few, high-risk pregnancies where women do, indeed, need to take it easy from physical activity. Usually, if you are healthy and your pregnancy is going well, you should be exercising. Speak with your doctor or other health-care provider to make sure that you’re cleared, and go exercise!
Exercising during pregnancy helps to increase your energy, helps you sleep better, maintains your muscle tone, helps to minimize any discomfort (like lower back pain), reduces stress, helps to ensure a speedy recovery (getting back to your pre-pregnancy shape), and most importantly prepares you for childbirth. Studies have shown that women who exercised throughout their pregnancy (and who had natural births) had faster deliveries than women who did not exercise at all. It makes sense, since childbirth is all about having the stamina, endurance and determination to birth your baby (which is similar to training for a big athletic event, such as a marathon). A previous colleague said to me while I was pregnant, “Melissa, childbirth is like doing intense interval training, but the reward is so much better. You just need to think that every contraction is an interval and once you get through it, you will get to hold your precious baby in your arms.”
When I went into labor, and throughout the entire birth, my colleague’s words resonated through my head and I think it actually helped me get through it. She was right: Childbirth is the biggest athletic event you will ever train for and complete, except the reward is the most beautiful gift of all, the miracle of life.
For me, exercising during my pregnancy was a no-brainer; it is a part of my daily routine. It is hard for me not to exercise or do any kind of physical activity on a daily basis. If I miss a day, I don’t feel my best; I just feel off–and if you can believe it, tired. Working out energizes me and actually helps keep me going throughout my day.
When I became pregnant, I modified my routine, but continued doing 3 days of strength training combined with 20 minutes of cardio intervals, and 2 days of 45 minutes of cardio (elliptical or treadmill). Prior to being pregnant I did high-intensity intervals on the treadmill (alternating between jogging and sprinting), so I immediately changed this to walking and jogging, making sure that my heart rate didn’t exceed 140-145, as directed by my doctor and midwife. For strength training, I continued lifting the same amount and doing the same number of reps (to maintain my muscle tone), but did not increase anything. In addition, I included the exercises that we learned from the Bradley Method: squatting, pelvic rocks and Kegels, to help strengthen my pelvic floor muscles and stretch my perineum. The squat was a wide-base yoga squat that you hold for a few minutes. I would do my Kegel exercises while I squatted. The pelvic rocks helped with any lower back pain that I occasionally had and also helped to move the baby up, so he wasn’t constantly sitting on my bladder (during the last few months). I made sure I did the Bradley exercises religiously, as I wanted to do everything I possibly could to prevent tearing and have a speedy delivery.
I exercised up to the day before Keenan was born. The day he was born, I was feeling very tired, so I decided to stay in bed. From the time my water broke to when he was born, it was a total of 6 and half hours. I didn’t have any tearing and I gave birth naturally, without the use of medication, so I have to credit the daily exercise that I did throughout my pregnancy. I am not sure what my birth would have been like without staying physically active.
With that said, if you are an avid exerciser, keep it up, and modify as you see fit. If you haven’t exercised before, start slowly by taking daily walks or try prenatal yoga. Aim to do something physically active everyday for at least 30 minutes. As always, make sure to check with your doctor or care provider before starting any exercise program, even if you are an avid exerciser. You want to make sure everything (including your developing baby) is ok, and cleared for physical activity.