As a company devoted to supporting women through pregnancy and postnatal healing, we get lots of questions about which kinds of exercises are safe and which kinds should be avoided. This is a tricky question to answer since everyone starts at a different level of experience and fitness backgrounds. There may be certain kinds of activities that feel great for some and uncomfortable for others. Truthfully, there are a lot of things you can do – but it’s also helpful to have a sense of what to avoid. Here are some tips to help you navigate your pre and postnatal fitness safely.
1. Don’t do anything that feels wrong in your body.
This might seem obvious, but in the moment there can be a lot of fear around what is or isn’t safe for you and your baby (if you’re in the pregnancy stage). Many of us get into fitness with a “no pain, no gain” mentality and jump in with the expectation that feeling uncomfortable is part of fitness. In truth, fitness does not have to be painful. And during pregnancy and postnatal healing, your body is extremely good at telling you what it should and shouldn’t do. You will know when you need to stop doing something or if you move in a way that isn’t good for you. Really trust your body and listen to all the signals it sends you. It will steer you in the right direction.
2. Avoid sudden changes in direction and shifts of body weight.
Relaxin is a hormone that is present in your body during pregnancy and for several months after. It aids in childbirth by relaxing the ligaments in the pelvis and softening and widening the cervix. It also loosens your ligaments, tendons, and muscles and can make you more vulnerable to injury if you have to change your direction or shift your body weight suddenly. You can still do certain kinds of higher intensity exercises, but make sure you focus on moving your body as intentionally as possible. It can help if you are familiar with a workout and can predict what will be expected of your body ahead of time.
3. Avoid full-body explosive movement.
High-intensity workouts can be extra fun and challenging, but many of them are not the right choice when it comes to pregnancy and postnatal healing (unless they are specifically designed for pregnancy!). A lot of them use full-body, explosive plyometric movement that can put extra pressure on your looser, more vulnerable joints. Speaking of pressure, you are also in danger with some of these movements bearing down and putting excess pressure on your pelvic floor and out through your rectus abdominal muscles, where pregnant and postnatal women are more likely to experience a split, or a diastasis. Carrying a baby for 9 months and then recovering after birth requires a focus on coordinating your deep core with proper breath and pelvic floor work and also helping your body recover proper posture. It’s a good idea to stick with activities that help you focus on this process rather than taking your body beyond limits it can control.
4. Avoid activities that put you at risk of impact or falling.
Clearly, you want to avoid activities in which another body or a ball could hit your belly if you’re pregnant. You also want to be aware that activities like hiking and sometimes jogging could be potentially tricky if you are on terrain that’s unstable, uneven or icy. Your growing belly can change your center of gravity, which can be tricky for even the most experienced athletes. Stay aware of your surroundings, choose your footwear wisely, and consider sticking to activities that are familiar to you.
Despite these warnings, there are actually a lot more activities that pregnant and postnatal women can do than you might realize. Trusting and listening to your body, allowing yourself to do what you can rather than putting extra pressure on yourself to go beyond your limits, and finding activities you truly enjoy are the key to staying in shape and staying connected to your body. It’s ok to push yourself as long as you make sure the exercise you do energizes rather than depletes you. And consider asking an expert if you’re not sure. It can relieve a lot of stress and fear and help you realize how strong and capable you can be as you go through your journey.