Healthy Beginnings

Baby’s first gift: Prenatal Fitness!

Pregnancy is a time of intense physical transformation. The added weight of your growing belly and breasts can put pressure on the muscles that support your spine, joints and ligaments. Fortunately, including exercise or movement as part of your regular routine can help you to feel strong, healthy and happy in your pregnant body. This article will discuss some of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, as well as safety precautions.

First and foremost, exercise increases circulation in the body. By oxygenating the blood, muscular tension and general fatigue are reduced. This can alleviate nausea and constipation, two common digestive complaints during pregnancy. The endorphins triggered by exercise can prevent depression and mood swings. It also reduces the chance of experiencing low back pain, sciatica, ligament pain and pelvic congestion. By preventing congestion of the blood in the lower extremities, leg cramps and varicose veins are less likely to occur. Most importantly, exercise promotes healthy muscle tone, prepares the body for birth, aids the in the recovery post-partum, and prevents organ prolapse. It will also help you feel comfortable in your changing body.

It is important to consult with your care provider before undertaking any fitness program. Women who have not been physically active before their pregnancy should enter into this new routine gently. Women who have been very physically active for a long period of time may often continue in their movement modality of choice; although, they will need to make some common sense modifications.

Pay attention to how you feel throughout any exercise routine, for your body will send you clear messages when it is being overworked. If you find yourself feeling faint, dizzy, nauseated, or clammy and cold–even though you are sweating–stop exercising, but be sure to walk around for a few minutes in order to bring your heart rate down before sitting. Another good clue that you are overworking is shortness of breath. You should be able to carry on a normal conversation while exercising. Also, be sure to check in with your baby, you should not be experiencing any abdominal pain. If you experience any of these warning signs, discuss them with your care provider and your instructor if you are in a class setting.

Some excellent, low-impact forms of prenatal fitness include yoga, tai chi, dance, swimming and walking. Other forms of aerobic exercise such as cycling can also be of benefit. Some women who enjoyed jogging before their pregnancies have been able to continue doing so in a gentler fashion.

I personally found yoga, belly dance and Pilates to be essential components of my regular routine. I have been attending a local prenatal yoga class and working with some DVD’s at home. Most days, I create my own practice based on poses that I feel my body specifically needs. I found breath work to be very soothing, and the stretches ease any muscular tightness.

Belly Dance has been a wonderful way to get some low-impact cardio exercise, and it has helped me adjust to my constantly changing center of gravity. It has also helped me to feel graceful and beautiful in my pregnant body. The rhythmic movements of the hips are wonderful for keeping my spine, hips and low back strong and supple.

Pilates has been a great way to gently strengthen and stabilize the muscles that are supporting my changing body. While most of the traditional Pilates routines would be contraindicated for pregnancy, because of the use of deep abdominal muscles, there are some excellent DVD’s that are modified specifically for pregnancy.

I have been blessed with very little physical discomfort throughout my pregnancy, and I am convinced that staying active has played a large role. During my first trimester I did experience some nausea, but I found that it would almost always disappear after some gentle restorative yoga, or an hour of dancing. During my second trimester I was able to attend a week long, 50-hour intensive belly dance teacher training that also included yoga. While I had to modify certain yoga poses, such as those that would have required me to lie on my belly, I was otherwise able to participate fully in the class, and felt great doing so. I was always careful and listened to my body, stayed well hydrated, ate nourishing meals, and got plenty of sleep every night. Being able to complete the training successfully gave me a real sense of confidence in the strength of my body.

Today, I am about six weeks away from my due date and have yet to experience any low back pain or sciatica, despite the fact that my belly has grown considerably. I have experienced some stiffness in my upper back, and some stretching in the ligaments in the front of my pelvis. However, these sensations only become noticeably uncomfortable if I have gone several days in a row without doing some kind of exercise. As soon as I reestablish my fitness routine, I instantly feel relief.

Be sure to pay careful attention to your posture. Maintaining proper alignment gives your baby more space to grow, and can prevent a lot of imbalances. As your pregnancy progresses, be careful to avoid overstretching, as your ligaments are extra loose, and it is much easier to accidently injure yourself. The goal of stretching should be to create a gentle release, but not to force or strain in any posture. Finally, it is helpful to balance active exercise with relaxation, as the ability to release and let go will also benefit you during the birth and beyond.

Below is a list of some of my favorite prenatal fitness DVD’s. Be sure to consult with your care provider before beginning any of these programs:

– Shiva Rea: Prenatal Yoga
– Gurmukh: Prenatal Kundalini Yoga and Meditation
– Sera Solstice: Goddess Dance, Prenatal Belly Dance and Meditation
– Stott Pilates: Prenatal Pilates on the Mat and on the Ball (2 disc set)

We will discuss more benefits of good posture and alignment in next month’s column, stay tuned!

1. Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book. Celestial Arts. Berkeley, 2003.
2. Gaskin, Ina May. Spiritual Midwifery. Book Publishing Co. Summertown, TN, 1975.