Exercises You Should Do Before Giving Birth - Baby Chick
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Exercises You Should Do Before Giving Birth

Learn why exercise is so important during pregnancy and exercises you can do for a stronger core and pelvic floor.

Published March 27, 2020

by Rachel MacPherson

Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Nutrition Coach

Medically reviewed by Stephanie Sublett

Board-Certified OB/GYN, FACOG, IBCLC
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Pregnancy and birth are physically taxing events but can also be empowering experiences. Exercising during pregnancy can help the birth process go more smoothly and offer other incredible benefits: lowered stress, better posture, less back pain, and less complicated postpartum recovery.10 Best of all, you’ll feel more powerful and in control of how your body is changing and growing. While most exercise is great even for pregnant women, there are some exercises you really should do before giving birth.

Why Is Exercise So Important During Pregnancy?

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let me explain why exercising during pregnancy is so beneficial. Exercising during pregnancy has been shown to provide the following benefits:1,2,3,10

How Your Body Changes During Pregnancy

There are physiologic changes that occur during each trimester of pregnancy. Examples of these changes occur with:11

  • Hormonal and metabolic systems
  • Respiratory system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Abdominal wall and pelvic floor

These changes play significant roles in how and why you should exercise during each trimester of pregnancy. Some of these physical adaptations can cause pain and discomfort, but doing these and other exercises during pregnancy can help lower the risks and symptoms.11

Common Issues That Arise During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your abdominal wall and ribcage expand to make room for your growing baby. Changes occur to the muscles’ line of pull and the ability to twist, turn, and create force with your abdominals. Your abdominal wall also separates — something called diastasis recti. This process is normal; most women experience a diastasis of more than 16 millimeters during the third trimester.4,8

The lengthening and weakening of the abdominal muscles can cause discomfort like low back pain or pelvic girdle pain.8,12 These pains occur in the lower back, base of the spine, or front of the pelvis. Discomfort can arise in the buttocks, inner thighs, and lower abdomen.12

Other common issues during pregnancy and after birth are pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Stress urinary incontinence affects 41% of pregnant women.5 Studies show that properly exercising during pregnancy can help improve and treat these issues.6

Exercises for a Stronger Core and Pelvic Floor

Thankfully, exercising during pregnancy and postpartum can help relieve these symptoms and help prevent your diastasis recti from worsening.13 Exercise can also help make healing your diastasis easier post-pregnancy if you start while pregnant.7

A healthy core and pelvic floor have many benefits during birth and postpartum.17,18,19,20 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women without pregnancy complications should participate in moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes per week.8

Here are exercises you should do before giving birth. They will strengthen and protect your core and pelvic floor, helping to prevent diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, and urinary incontinence:

1. Connection Breath

Breathing seems like an unconscious process that requires no thought, but breathing correctly helps keep equal tension through your core muscles to prevent diastasis recti and issues with your pelvic floor. Being able to connect your breath through your core and pelvic floor is a beneficial skill.14 Here’s how to do it:

Step One: Get Your Body in Alignment

  • Stand tall, keep your rib cage over your pelvis, and don’t round your shoulders.
  • Don’t push your bottom out or tuck it under; allow a natural lower back curve.
  • Become aware of your core, starting at the diaphragm and traveling down to the pelvic floor muscles.

Step Two: Breathe

  • Sit on a firm chair, keeping the proper alignment of step one.
  • Place one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest.
  • Inhale, breathing into your hands. Envision your pelvic floor as a balloon you’re filling with your breath.
  • Exhale, paying attention to your hands sinking and lowering as the air deflates.
  • Think of your pelvic floor deflating upward.

Step Three: Take It Further

  • Inhale, and envision your vagina and anus filling with air, pushing your sit bones away from each other.
  • Exhale, and focus on your breath flowing out of your rib cage, tummy, and pelvis.
  • Focus on the muscles of the vagina and perineum tightening and pulling upward slightly.
  • Keep breathing, fully relaxing your vagina and anus when you inhale and tightening and pulling upward when you exhale.
  • When you get the hang of this, try practicing it when lifting things in your daily life or during exercise.
  • Try one to two sets of 10 per day.

2. Proper Kegels

Kegels are one of the most important exercises you should do before giving birth. Traditional cues for Kegels come up short. There’s more to Kegels than just being able to stop your urine flow while on the toilet. This process helps you find your pelvic floor muscles but doesn’t do much to improve your pelvic floor muscles. It may even be detrimental.15

Here’s how to do them properly:

  • Using your connection breath, inhale, filling your diaphragm. Feel it lower, relaxing and expanding your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Exhale, feeling your diaphragm lift back up, and pull in your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Tighten your abdominals at the end of the exhale, feeling the pelvic floor muscles continue to tighten in connection with your core.
  • Envision your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles working as one unit.
  • Perform two sets of 10 per day, focusing on quality and taking your time.

3. Squatting

Squatting is known for creating firm, round glutes, but it is also a very functional and important exercise for your core and pelvic floor strength. Doing squats with proper form helps establish an appropriate alignment in your posture while you move around during the day — stooping to pick something up, lifting a child or groceries, or getting up and down from a chair.16

Squatting is also a fantastic posture for birthing. Throughout history, women squatted to give birth, which is still common practice. Using gravity and proper body alignment during squatting is a fantastic way to give birth.16

Studies show that avoiding laying on your back and instead birthing in a squatting position can help the baby descend through the birth canal more efficiently and may result in:9

There are many varieties of squats you can do, even while pregnant, as long as you are medically cleared to do so:

Most Exercise Is Safe for Pregnant Women

Aside from these exercises that you should do before giving birth, the activities you were doing before pregnancy are likely acceptable during pregnancy if you are medically cleared and have no complications. Movement patterns like pulling, hip hinges, pushing, and core work are still great to do.10

Some safety guidelines are:10

  • Watch your intensity: Exercise will feel more intense during pregnancy. If you were working out at a moderate to high intensity before pregnancy, stick to a 7-8 out of 10 effort while pregnant. If you weren’t working out at all or only at a low intensity, stick to 2-6 out of 10 intensity.
  • Know when to seek medical help: Call a medical professional if you experience vaginal bleeding, painful contractions, dizziness or loss of balance, headache, chest pain, calf pain, weakness, shortness of breath before exercise, or fluid leakage — or even if you just feel off. Remember to listen to your body above all else!
  • Avoid contact sports: This refers to sports that could result in falls, such as skiing or horseback riding, scuba diving, high-temperature sports like hot yoga, or outdoor sports in hot weather. Avoid anything that feels painful or uncomfortable, any exercise that causes you to leak urine, and any activities that cause your abdominals to bulge, like planks and crunches.
  • Don’t lie on your back: Avoid lying on your back for any exercise or prenatal yoga in later pregnancy.

Exercising during pregnancy has many benefits — better health for you and your baby and decreased risks of complications before, during, and after labor and delivery. You should do the exercises outlined here before giving birth while following safety precautions and ensuring you consult a medical professional. So, find your connection breath, and do your squats. Your body and baby will thank you!

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Rachel MacPherson
Rachel MacPherson Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Nutrition Coach
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Rachel MacPherson is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach who's passion is helping families feel energized to lead vibrant, fit lives. She writes about balancing a healthy lifestyle with… Read more

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