Did you know the curve of the spine actually changes shape to make space for a growing fetus? Your organs are actually pushed up and out when you’re pregnant. This is why belly binding is used during postpartum to prevent and treat diastis recti. Low back pain is super common in pregnancy, and most who are pregnant for the first time don’t feel it in the first or second trimester.
But putting off exercise during even those first two trimesters in pregnancy can lead to an uphill battle in the 3rd trimester. This is because the abdominal muscles that support the spine play an important role in the health of the back. During pregnancy, these muscles stretch and weaken. Pregnancy hormones can contribute to back pain as well. To prepare for the passage of the baby through the birth canal, a hormone relaxes the ligaments in the joints of your pelvis to make them more flexible.
Starting as early as possible in your pregnancy (and ideally before becoming pregnant), it’s vital to exercise while following safe guidelines:
Pregnant or postpartum women should do at least 150 minutes (for example, 30 minutes a day, five days a week) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, such as brisk walking, during and after their pregnancy. It is best to spread this activity throughout the week.CDC
According to ACOG, an aerobic activity is one in which you move large muscles of the body (like those in the legs and arms) in a rhythmic way. Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. You still can talk normally, but you cannot sing.
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking and general gardening (raking, weeding, or digging). You can divide the 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts on 5 days of the week or into smaller 10-minute workouts throughout each day.
Prenatal exercise guidelines state if you are new to exercise, start out slowly and gradually increase your activity. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
Women who habitually engaged in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or who were physically active before pregnancy can continue these activities during pregnancy and the postpartum period. If you are an experienced runner, jogger, or racquet-sports player, you may be able to keep doing these activities during pregnancy. So if you were very active before pregnancy, you can keep doing the same workouts with your obstetrician’s approval. However, if you start to lose weight, you may need to increase the number of calories that you eat.
Experts agree these are the safest exercises for pregnant women:
- Walking—Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles.
- Swimming and water workouts—Water workouts use many of the body’s muscles. The water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain.
- Stationary bicycling—Because your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls, riding a standard bicycle during pregnancy can be risky. Cycling on a stationary bike is a better choice.
- Modified yoga and modified Pilates—Yoga reduces stress, improves flexibility, and encourages stretching and focused breathing. There are prenatal yoga and Pilates classes designed for pregnant women. These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance. You also should avoid poses that require you to be still or lie on your back for long periods.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
- Improved sleep
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increased strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
- Decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches and shortness of breath
- Better alignment = easier and faster birth
Not all prenatal yoga is the same! You’ll want to look for highly trained teachers in both birth and therapeutic alignment.
For example, Ma Yoga Living offers alignment-based yoga for pregnancy and postpartum, to prevent and heal abdominal splitting, pelvic instability, and other conditions common to the 18 months around birth. They have amazing yoga teachers with doula training as well as many years of experience. Ma Yoga offers live online as well as video classes for those that like to pause and resume at your convenience.