You just found out you are pregnant! Congratulations!
And now comes the deluge of information. And the hormones. And the morning sickness. And the pregnancy brain. And the fatigue.
With all this coming at a woman, it’s no wonder that most women opt out of exercising while pregnant. According to a University of North Carolina study, only 1 in 4 women meets the nationally recommended amount of physical activity per week! Most women are certainly aware of the benefits of prenatal exercise. But . . . “What if I just don’t feel like it?” “I have no energy.” “I feel nauseous.” “My back aches.” These are common excuses I hear from the pregnant mom.
And, really, who is going to argue with a pregnant woman?
A logical conclusion, based on observing general population physical activity statistics, is that the small percentage of women who are exercising regularly during pregnancy were likely active before pregnancy.
So the question is, how to motivate the mama who knows she should exercise, but feels too overwhelmed by pregnancy’s demands on her body, mind and emotions.
Over the past 12 years of experiencing firsthand with 3 pregnancies and leading small group personal training sessions with pregnant women, I have evolved an approach that nurtures self-awareness and independent self-care during pregnancy. The program I created, Power of Pregnancy, teaches the signature 5 Simple Exercises to Ease Your Pregnancy. The intention is for these exercises to serve as a primer to motivate more regular physical activity during pregnancy.
In my groups, women report that they are actually using the exercises during the day. The goal is to present a series of exercises that would be easy to weave into the work day, so that fatigue and time could never enter into the conversation as an excuse for not doing them.
The 5 Simple Exercises to Ease Your Pregnancy
1. Drink water often and take a DEEP BREATH each time you sip. When we breathe deeply the brain receives a signal to calm down and slow down, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Recent fetal brain research indicates that stress hormones (cortisol) can have a negative effect on baby’s brain development. For instructions on how to perform the deep belly breath listen to this guided breathing recording.
2. Mountain Pose: (pictured right) A body in alignment moves and functions more efficiently. Try taking a deep breath while you slump in a chair. Difficult, right? In pregnancy, many women surrender to gravity and its disproportionate effect on physical alignment. Practice Mountain Pose often throughout your day to familiarize your nervous system with this posture. Over time, your posture will improve.
- Lift and spread your toes.
- Lengthen through the legs but don’t lock the knees.
- Gently engage the glutes and lift tall through the waist.
- Draw shoulders back and open the heart.
- Reach the crown of the head towards the sky.
3. Squat: (pictured right) Could there be a more perfect exercise to do during pregnancy? Let’s count the benefits.
i. Squats stretch the pelvic floor
ii. And tone it, too.
iii. Build glute strength for back pain prevention
iv. And get you ready for all the squatting you will do as a mom.
Strive for 50-100 squats per day.
Notes on Form
Watch your feet. If your feet turn out, widen your stance. Keeping the toes straight ahead maximizes the pelvic opening, which is desirable in preparation for birth.
What if I experience pain? First try reducing the range of motion of your squat and perform a Baby Hug (description below) as you squat. If pain persists, check with a certified fitness professional or physical therapist.
4. Child’s Pose with Kegel: If you are familiar with the Kegel exercise, you know how difficult it can be to isolate the pelvic floor. In Child’s Pose, it is harder to squeeze your glutes and abdominals, so it is the perfect position to better isolate the pelvic floor. If urinary incontinence or pelvic pain exist, consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist to make sure Kegels are suitable for you.
There are two types of Kegels. Perform both.
|Quick Flicks||Target: superficial muscles||Contract 1 second/Relax 2 seconds||10-20 times||2-3 x/day|
|Sustained Hold||Target: Deeper muscles||Contract 10 seconds/Relax 20 seconds||5 times||2-3 x/day|
5. Baby Hugs: Some women express concern about squeezing their babies while doing abdominal exercises. The uterine wall is thick and engaging the core presents no risk of harming the baby. The baby hug is a safe way of keeping the abdominal wall toned without straining the muscles. These can be done safely throughout your pregnancy and can even be initiated shortly after giving birth. Due to the risk of
To Perform: Sit with your back supported. While seated, place your fingers just inside the hip bones. Inhale and on the exhale say “ha”. Feel how the muscles under your fingers tense up.
Now try to tighten the same muscles without the “ha”. Relax.
Next, breathe in and expand the belly. Exhale and engage your core as you did when saying “ha” or hug the baby. Continue holding the muscles taut for 30 seconds. MAKE SURE YOU BREATHE. Sing a song or count out loud for 30 seconds. Relax and end with a belly breath, bringing your navel towards the spine as you exhale. Perform up to 20 reps.
IMPORTANT: Keep the shoulders, back and legs relaxed when doing these. Place your hand on your low back. If you don’t feel your back brace itself, say “ha” and engage the deep core. This exercise is safe to do all 9 months of pregnancy.
While there is certainly no magic formula for an easy pregnancy, labor, and birth, these exercises can’t hurt to try. No matter how fatigued, sick or uncomfortable you feel, you can always do some drink water and do Deep Belly Breathing. Stay engaged with yourself. Learn to listen to your body and your body will work with you.
Gina Fontaine has spent over 20 years pursuing her career in fitness as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, yoga teacher, and group exercise instructor. She is the creator of the Power of Pregnancy Pre and Postnatal Education program for fitness professionals. In 2016, she brought Power of Pregnancy to the employee wellness marketplace, beginning with the largest school district in Colorado. With funding support from Kaiser Permanente, she is able to teach Power of Pregnancy to district staff members completely free of charge. Gina envisions continuing to build partnerships to expand the Power of Pregnancy to become a nationwide insurance funded wellness support for ALL pregnant women.