Choosing the wrong workout during pregnancy can be like when you chose to watch Twilight for the first time. You start out thinking that it will probably be pretty good, but by the end, you are wishing you could go back in time and make a different choice to begin with.
One of the things I hate seeing is women engaging in activities that they expect to be nourishing but end up being damaging.
Unfortunately, exercising during pregnancy can be helpful or damaging depending on how it is done.
Most of the advice floating around out there about exercising during pregnancy falls completely short. Almost none of it will mention anything about the need to protect your pelvic floor and abdominals.
Did you know that 2 out of 3 women will suffer from separated abs by the end of their second pregnancy?
This can result in having to push longer during labor, back pain, and peeing when you sneeze!
Though these are common symptoms of pregnancy, there is a reason some women experience them and some don’t. More importantly, changing the way you exercise can lead to vast improvements in all these areas.
Exercise when done properly during pregnancy is good. You need strength and stamina during birth. You want a body that can move, a body that can sustain intense activity and a body that can push a baby out.
Staying healthy with nourishing foods and a sustainable exercise routine also lowers your risk for preeclampsia, restless leg syndrome and can help you sleep better.
Here are some common misconceptions about exercising when pregnant that ultimately leave you vulnerable.
Myth 1: If you were doing it before pregnancy you are fine to continue it.
There are women who are perfectly safe lifting weights, running, even competing during pregnancy. However, even if your doctor has given you the okay to continue your exercise routine, take a moment to consider the extra impact your normal routine is placing on your pelvic floor and your linea alba, the muscle fiber that runs down the front of your stomach and connects your abs together.
Just because your routine is safe for baby, doesn’t mean it is the best routine for you.
A good rule of thumb is that if an exercise is making your boobs bounce, it is making your pelvic floor bounce as well.
‘Running puts three times your body weight on your pelvic floor which, if it’s already weak, can lead to a prolapse of the vagina, bladder and/or bowel – where the organ drops down, often into the passage beneath it – months, if not years later,’
High impact exercising including running and jumping put extra pressure on your pelvic floor. If you are not moving functionally, you will likely damage or increase the damage done to your body if you continue during pregnancy.
Myth 2: Crunches are the best way to strengthen your core
Nothing could be further from the truth!!
Crunches only work one part of your abdominals, the rectus abdominis which runs from your rib cage to your pubic bones. This is where you would see a 6-pack, and while we love strong abs, you need to think deep when it comes to exercise.
Every time you do a crunch you put extra stress on the space between your abs. I promise you, it is not worth it!
You can strengthen your abs during pregnancy. Look for exercises that strengthen your obliques and your transversus abdominis which is the deepest abdominal muscle running horizontally across the torso.
Why do you want to make sure you don’t separate you abs?
Your abs hold and support your organs, if they become too weak your organs will put extra pressure on your pelvic floor. It is possible that if this persists it can even cause a tipped uterus and put you at increased risk for needing a c-section.
When you do abdominal work, you want to make sure that the exercises you do are focused on knitting your abs together and working the deep abdominals mentioned above.
Here is what expert prenatal yoga teacher Blair Fillingham says about core work:
“Simply having the intention to move, with attention on the subtle feelings in your glutes and lower back, while keeping your ribs knitted in, will do more to knit your core together than thousands of sit-ups.”
Sometimes, intentionally doing less is doing more.
Myth 3: Do all the kegals you can
We know you want to have confidence to be able to laugh, cry and sneeze without fear of peeing a little bit. To stop incontinence, many pregnant women turn to kegals.
But the answer to preventing and healing these problems are not more kegals. In fact according to a Seattle based pelvic floor therapist, 40% of women do kegals incorrectly to begin with!
When you cough, sneeze, jump, poop, pee and push a baby out, you want all your abdominals to be working together, functionally. If this is happening, you won’t pee your pants, not even a little bit.
If your abdominals are not properly supporting your organs, then extra weight is placed on your pelvic floor. No amount of kegals will make your pelvic floor strong enough to do two jobs instead of one.
You will not regret the time you invest in your body as it will make many of your pregnancy discomforts vanish and even help you push your baby out more effectively.
Another cool bonus: when your muscles work functionally you could even reduce your risk of tearing!
It’s a win win-win to pay attention to your pelvic floor health first!
How do you know if you have diastasis recti or pelvic floor prolapse?
If you think you have a pelvic floor prolapse or diastasis recti, you may want to see a physical therapist for an evaluation. You will not regret the investment you make into your body to return it to proper function.
These are symptoms you may need to see a professional:
You pee a little when you sneeze or pee
You have to pee wayyyy more often than you expected, even during pregnancy
It is painful when you have sex
You have a physical bulge in your vagina that you can feel
You feel constant pressure or discomfort on your pelvic floor.
Your low back is aching
You have lots of reflux
You feel a separation of your abs, you can place a finger or two or more between your abdominal muscles
After pregnancy you have a ‘mommy tummy’ though you aren’t pregnant anymore, your tummy still hangs looser and fuller and though you are close to your normal weight, you still look a little pregnant
Of course, your body is made to handle the weight of your baby and should be able to move comfortably throughout pregnancy. The number one sign that you should seek out help is if you simply just feel uncomfortable in your body.
The majority of people in our world do not move functionally, which reeks havoc on our bodies and causes pain in joints, backs and pelvic floors.
If you feel pain in your pregnancy know that while it might be normal in the sense that many people experience pain, it is not normal in the sense that it is just part of pregnancy and there is nothing you can do about it.
The best exercises to do when pregnant:
I know you want to keep getting strong to bring your baby into the world 💪🏼
When you want to really dive into being strong and prepare your body for birth remember “strong glutes, happy pelvic floor.” Squats and bridges are excellent friends, but make sure to geek out on form and do them correctly!
Begin taking a walk every day, work up to going 2 or 3 miles daily.
If you are running, listen to your body. If you feel pressure on your pelvic floor or abdominals, please stop.
Swimming is also another great option.
And of course, my favorite prenatal exercise is always prenatal yoga.
Why prenatal yoga is one of the best ways to exercise when pregnant:
It’s no secret that I love prenatal yoga and practiced it most of my pregnancy. My favorite yoga studio for pregnancy and birth is MTRNL. Inside the MTRNL prenatal yoga studio, there is an incredible set of classes made specifically to strengthen your abs and pelvic floor.
When you are pregnant, you will find that your body’s needs can change almost daily. Having a trained professional to talk to about each change is priceless if you want to stay strong and comfortable. In the MTRNL studio, you can attend classes live, speak one on one with instructors who have extensive training on how to help pregnant moms exercise safely and get immediate feedback on your yoga flow.
You need to learn how to do a kegal properly and use those pelvic muscles correctly. MTRL teacher Blair can break this down for you in her class “how to pick up a blueberry with your vagina” and you can totally geek out on helping your abs with the class “creating proper alignment to strengthen your core.” Both of these classes are available in the MTRNL library of recorded classes. In fact, you will find that no matter what challenge you are currently facing, you will find classes that focus on exactly that. Is there something you need you can’t find? Ask a teacher and they will customize a class just for you!
The benefits of prenatal yoga are well studied and quite large. Did you know that women who practice prenatal yoga decrease their risk for both induction and c-sections, shorten labor by up to 2 1/2 hours, and report less than half the pain during labor and delivery than women who did not practice yoga.
If you want to have a comfortable pregnancy and enjoy your birth, prenatal yoga should definitely be a part of your pregnancy.
I personally attend these classes and can say that I love them. Practicing yoga from my home makes it easy to fit in and saves me a ton of money (I was paying $18 per class in studio before I switched to online.) There is no where else on line you get this kind of customization and this kind of detail in a yoga class. I hope you try it and please let me know your experience!