Prenatal Exercise – Practicing what I preach!!

prego_picI became certified in personal training and pre & post natal exercise in 2007, and just recently in Pilates.   During my studies, I have been especially fascinated by the “process” of pregnancy…by all of the changes that naturally occur in a pregnant woman’s body.  At the same time, its been exciting to learn of the countless positive health effects, both for mommy & baby, that exercising during pregnancy can have.  Upon graduation from PT school, I could not wait to get out there and help build stronger mommies and ultimately stronger, healthier babies.  I became a huge supporter of prenatal exercise despite some of the “old-school” mentalities out there suggesting that pregos “take it easy”.  I have continued to share the facts and my developing opinions with friends, family and clientele hoping to educate and in some cases create positive change.  To further spread this great news, listed below are a few facts about the benefits – for mom & baby –  of prenatal exercise.  Keep in mind, it is best if you have already been exercising before pregnancy, but starting once you become pregnant (at a lower level of intensity) still offers great benefits.

During pregnancy:

  1. Look better – keep weight in check & retain less body fat
  2. Feel better physically & emotionally – it helps to reduce body aches and pains typically associated with pregnancy – low back, pelvic, circulation/joint swelling AND offers higher level of confidence regarding pregnancy
  3. Quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight

Labor & Delivery:

  1. Improved chances of on-time deliveries
  2. Shorter & less complicated deliveries – significantly decreases need for medical intervention – induction, pain relief, c-section, etc
  3. More fit to handle the delivery – better stamina!

A healthier baby?? YES!!!

  1. Leaner, lighter baby – babies of exercising mommies are born weighing less and with less body fat
  2. “Fit” babies often have a stronger cardiovascular function and are more capable of handling the stress of delivery

Pretty awesome, right??!! Why wouldn’t every woman WANT to exercise during pregnancy?  The burning question…now that I am pregnant, has my perspective changed?

ABSOLUTELY…Pregnancy has been eye-opening!  After 35 weeks of pregnant bliss, I have realized that keeping active throughout the entire pregnancy can be a huge challenge; and I feel far more prepared to work with prenatal clients and have certainly become more sympathetic!  One thing hasn’t changed…I still feel strongly that exercise is a must to get though pregnancy feeling and looking good and most importantly staying healthy.

That being said, here are a few helpful exercise tips I always recommend to my prenatal clients… and also myself!

  1. Always stay VERY hydrated
  2. Wear supportive yet comfortable clothing
  3. Explore prenatal fitness groups – prenatal Pilates, prenatal yoga, or create your own group!  The support you get from your pregnant peers is fun and informative.
  4. Don’t overdo it!!!  Keep your heart rate (HR) at a comfortable level.  While exercising, use the BORG scale – Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  Some sources will suggest keeping HRs under 140, but I do not believe that is the most safe & effective way.  We are all different and thus 140 bpm could be too high for some and really low for others.  The Borg scale is a great way to monitor HR based on how one feels, taking into consideration sensations and feelings of physical stress, effort, and fatigue.  Keep your RPE at or under a 13.  Click here to view BORG scale: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/measuring/exertion.html
  5. Be mindful of stability and balance.  It can become an issue during pregnancy with the ligaments loosening in preparation for delivery.  Do exercises sitting down, standing on both feet, or for a challenge – use a stability ball. Stay “in the box” – centered…make Joe Pilates proud!!
  6. During 2nd & 3rd trimesters: avoid laying on your back for extended periods of time (>2-5 minutes).  This is recommended in order to prevent your circulation from being cut-off. You can still perform exercises while lying on your back; however, take breaks in between exercises or sets and turn to your side or lift into a bridge.  If at any point you feel dizzy or light-headed, discontinue the exercise.  Additionally, avoid inverted exercises (upside down) as your increased blood volume can cause you to become faint or lose balance; avoid too much abdominal flexion (sit ups, roll ups, etc), which can cause diastasis recti – separation of your abs; and avoid exercises that involve twisting.

During my pregnancy, I have consistently exercised but not to the level I did pre-pregnancy. I am a runner and thought for sure I would be that girl running until 7-8 months pregnant; but just a few months into my pregnancy, the loose ligaments were a bad combination for me and I had to stop.  It is safe to run pregnant, but it just didn’t work for me.  Most of my pregnancy, I have been doing a lot of Pilates (modified for pregnancy) and walking; and so far I have managed to keep the aches, pains and swelling almost non-existent and keep my weight gain under control -25 lbs to date, 5 weeks to go!   In the last few weeks, due to a higher number of preterm contractions, I’ve had to slow it down even more!  I am still staying fairly active, BUT I am listening to my body and resting more often.  My best advice is to keep on a consistent exercise regime and rest when needed or modify if necessary.  If you HAVE to rest, do kegels in bed…do breathing exercises that tone your core!  There is always something!!

No matter what, exercise WILL make you feel better and as you can see will make for a healthier, happier pregnancy and baby!  I for one am eager to see how my delivery goes – hopefully its nice and short and fairly painless…HA!

Questions?? Email me: longleanmama@gmail.com

Comments?? Bring it on!

Recommended reading: Exercising through Your Pregnancy, James F Clapp III MD

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6 thoughts on “Prenatal Exercise – Practicing what I preach!!

  1. Hey Jill! I’m a huge fan of prenatal exercise, too! If it wasn’t for walking and some light pilates, I would have literally gone crazy by now. And I’m right there with you, thinking that I would keep running throughout my pregnancy but totally stopped at the end of the first trimester. For me, my body felt ok but it just made me so nauseous. Can’t wait to start up again asap!

  2. Thank you to all who responded to this post. I received feedback on Facebook re: this post and I thought I would share some thoughts. The person who responded was disappointed in the blog…felt it placed pressure on expectant mothers to have lean babies.

    Here was my response…I didn’t take Dr. Clapp’s findings on the effects of exercise and baby weight as pressure to have a lean baby…rather a leaner baby, which is why I shared the information. One thing that most people don’t know is that human beings develop the majority of their fat cells by the time they’re 2 1/2 yrs old…Fat cells that NEVER go away…they only grow and shrink. So, if expectant mothers can help to develop “leaner” babies by eating right and exercising during pregnancy then I believe that’s great news; we can potentially get our children off to a healthier start. That being said, not all babies will respond the same way…there are a bunch of others factors that will play in on the size of a newborn. I am simply hoping to share information/research that I personally find interesting and hopefully helpful.

    Outside of the one point discussing baby weight in my blog, there are many more helpful and informative findings and suggestions regarding the benefits of prenatal exercise. I am SUPER passionate about health & exercise, especially pre/post natal as its my profession and now my life as I am expecting.

  3. Hi – I am really enjoying your blog!! I too am a certified Pilates Instructor and pregnant with my first child. I am 24 weeks and staying consistently active. I truly believe the active pregnancy is helping me feel better and control my weight. Recently, I have been doing a ton of research on pre-natal pilates (that’s how I found your blog!!) because I am going to be teaching a pre-natal class starting in May at the studio I work at. I would like to take my knowledge up a notch and attend a cont. ed. course/workshop. Do you have any suggestions (I’m having a difficult time finding one out there) regarding this? If you don’t mind me asking, what route did you take to further your training in pre-natal pilates. Any additional info would be helpful! Thanks!!

    • Hi there! Not sure how I missed this comment! So sorry for the delayed response. Where do you live? I know of some good workshops in NYC, one of which is through Kinected. There are also a few good books out there. “Pilates Workbook for Pregnancy”, by Michael King and “Maternal Fitness”, by Julie Tupler. I became a certified Personal Trainer and Pre/Post Natal exercise specialist prior to going through my Pilates certification. I might also suggest taking a few privates with a teacher who specializes in working with pregnancy population, which will be very helpful in designing your plan! Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts. Thanks for the comment and good luck with your soon to arrive bundle of joy!!

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