While some pregnancy books, like The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy by Vicki Iovine, promote that bun in the oven as a Get Out of Gym Free Card, a number of other “experts” (including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) would strongly encourage you otherwise — and for good reason. Dr. Alan Greene suggests “[A] green pregnancy means making the most of what you take into your body… But how you move your body is another powerful green way to make a difference.”
If exercise is good for your un-pregnant body, it would follow that exercise is good for your pregnant body. It helps build strength and stamina, which will be nothing but helpful come time to push (and in helping your postnatal body recover). It can help minimize ankle swelling and back pain. And it helps keep your head in a happy space. I find that taking the time out of my day — whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour — to be present in my body can really help pull me out of an achy, cranky funk.
Walking, yoga, and Pilates are all prenatal friendly exercise programs. I’ve been practicing Pilates for the better part of a decade, and teach it now, too. The practice of Pilates emphasizes core strengthening and centering, breathing, and balance (among other things) which makes it very beneficial to the pregnant body. Here are a few fantastic exercises that specifically address the physical needs of us mamas-to-be:
Note: There are a number of circumstances where exercise may not be appropriate, so please speak with your doctor before you start or continue any new activity while pregnant.
Lie on your side with your head resting on your arm and your knees bent. Keeping your feet and hips stacked, lift your top knee as you exhale. As you lift, imagine you are doing so against a great weight. Do eight on each side. This works your gluteus medius, one of the muscles that helps us stand up over our feet (which is harder than it looks with your center of gravity way out in front of you).
From the clamshell position, straighten your top leg — it should be a straight line from your head to your heel. Flex your foot, making sure your toes are pointing forward. Exhale as you press the leg straight towards the ceiling, keeping your hips stacked and your leg in parallel. Lower the leg halfway on the inhale; repeat 5-8 times. This works your “lateral stabilizers,” which, like your gluteus medius, help you stand over your feet.
Get on your hands and knees, making sure your knees are lined up under your hips and your hands are under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide and try to evenly distribute your weight to all 10 fingers; press into the heels of your hands and imagine your shoulder blades spreading wide until you feel very active across your back and under your armpits. To activate your transversus, exhale and draw your belly button towards your spine without rounding your back. Gently release on the inhale. Repeat three times. Next, try to keep your belly button glued to your spine even as you inhale. Do this by sending your breath to your lower back and the sides of your torso; with every exhale reaffirm the belly button to your spine. See if you can keep this deep abdominal engagement for 10 counts. Try working up to three sets of 10 counts. During pregnancy a strong transversus can act like a sling, helping to support the weight of your growing belly, which can take some strain off your lower back. And, during delivery a strong transversus can help push the baby out.
Start in the same hands-and-knees “table top” position outlined above. As you exhale tuck your tail under, visualizing the front of your pelvis curling towards your nose. On the inhale, release back to neutral. Repeat five to eight times. This exercise works the transversus, but also works your pelvic floor which gets super stretched out under the weight of your ever-expanding uterus. Keeping your pelvic floor strong will help prevent pre- and postnatal incontinence.
From your hands and knees push your hips back into the air as you straighten your legs so that your body forms a triangle (with your tail at the apex). Press into your hands, sliding your shoulder blades down your back and shifting your weight back over your legs. Bend your right knee slightly, as your left heel reaches for the floor to stretch out your hamstring. Hold for a few seconds and then switch legs. To come down safely, bend your knees to the floor and sit back into “child’s pose”: Bring your big toes together, separate your knees to make way for the bump, place your forehead to the floor and let your arms stretch out in front of you. Take a deep breath. Feels good, huh?