Preparing for a baby is an exciting time, but it’s important to remember that pregnancy can be physically demanding on your body. According to recent studies, pregnancy can be as tough as running a marathon. So, it’s crucial to know how to prepare your body for a baby to ensure a healthy and successful pregnancy.
Anybody who has ever been pregnant will attest that these nine months are physically taxing. But, science continues to prove precisely how much. A June 2019 study from Duke University, published in Science Advances, examined the impact of arduous races (such as the Ironman and Tour de France) on professional athletes and determined that pregnancy is comparable to competing in these races.
It makes sense, says Academy Sports + Outdoors partner Bess Carter, NASM-CPT. “Pregnancy is the peak of physical intensity that the human body can endure,” says Carter, who did not participate in the study.
In addition, these nine months are distinguished by significant and strenuous bodily changes. Debora Sedaghat, D.O., an OB-GYN at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, notes that all biological systems undergo “dramatic shifts and alterations to fit the changes of pregnancy” during pregnancy. Dr. Sedaghat, who also did not participate in the study, adds, “Your heart needs to work hard, and your entire system has to work hard to accommodate, and this is all just from being pregnant.”
Before, during, and after pregnancy, anyone who is attempting to conceive can benefit from preparing their body for the physical demands of pregnancy.
How to Exercise Before Conceiving
In addition to preparing your body to carry a growing baby for nine months, more physical activity may also improve your fertility. Dr. Sedaghat explains, “It has been demonstrated repeatedly that physical activity not only enhances preconception and ovulation, but also facilitates pregnancy.” Here are some tips for optimizing your preconception workout regimen.
Concentrate on strength training.
“Strength training the entire body for not only pregnancy but also motherhood is really beneficial, so functional motions that replicate actions you may perform as a mother, such as a crib reach, baby raise, and car seat carrier, will best prepare you,” adds Carter. In addition, maintaining strong muscles may help your body manage the weight gain and facilitate postpartum recovery.
Include aerobic exercise as well.
Abby Phon, CHHC, AADP, IAHC, a certified holistic health and wellness coach, advises women to increase their heart rate for at least 30 minutes at least three times per week, regardless of whether or not they are trying to conceive. However, this is especially important in the months leading up to pregnancy. During pregnancy, your heart will have to pump up to 40 percent more blood through your body, so it’s a good idea to make sure it’s in tip-top shape beforehand.
Change the intensity.
Biola University’s Kelsey Miller, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, suggests interval training twice a week, in which you work hard and then rest for the same amount of time or slightly longer (think spin class). Then, once every week, perform a less hard but longer workout. “Aim for at least 30 minutes of continuous activity that maintains an increased heart rate,” she advises.
Strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Jenny Arrington, a yoga teacher and health adviser in Chicago, suggests doing more to prepare your pelvic floor – the collection of muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and stool. Arrington states that “proper preparation can assist in preventing urine or fecal incontinence after the birth of the infant.” “I frequently prompt students to consider holding gas, pee, and all the muscles in between. Using a weighted egg is the best approach for women to truly grasp how to engage and strengthen all the pelvic floor muscles. The egg is deposited into the vagina, and the pelvic floor muscles must contract in order to keep it there. This is the most effective method for gauging the depth and reach of these muscles.”
Consider employing the services of a personal trainer.
Carter suggests seeking a professional personal trainer certified in prenatal and postnatal exercise, especially if you are a gym rookie. Hence, you will “ensure that you are doing moves with the correct form and alignment.”
How to Workout When Pregnant
Brianna Battles, CSCS, founder of Prenatal & Postpartum Athletics, suggests that as you continue to exercise during your pregnancy, you should continually adjust to the ever-changing physical demands of those nine months. You should be aware of how your body is changing and how your exercise affects your growing abdominal wall and pelvic floor.
Continue doing what you were doing before pregnancy.
Dr. Sedaghat encourages her pregnant patients to resume their pre-pregnancy workout regimens. “If a patient has a sedentary lifestyle, I encourage them to start walking, even if it’s just 30 minutes each day,” she says. Being physically active throughout pregnancy can facilitate labor and delivery.
Develop hip strength, suppleness, and pliability in preparation for childbirth.
Do the yoga stance Malasana to improve your ability to squat (which is a great position for pushing the baby out) and to increase your hip flexibility and mobility, as recommended by Arrington. To begin, stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your toes turned out 45 degrees. Bend the knees and descend the hips into a deep squat while maintaining flat feet on the floor. “If initially, it is not able to fully bend the knees, one can place a block or bolster under the hips for additional support,” she advises. The idea is to continue pressing down into the feet to engage the glutes and hip muscles, so strengthening and extending the muscles.
Do not undervalue respiration procedures.
As the infant grows, the lungs get progressively squeezed. Thus it is crucial that they learn how to breathe fully. “Not only will it assist keep her mental system calm throughout delivery, but it will also help keep her blood adequately oxygenated, so increasing her strength and endurance,” she explains. One two-step procedure she suggests is: “Shut the eyes and exhale while knitting the ribs together and drawing the navel as far as possible towards the spine. After you believe you’ve finished exhaling, squeeze the core muscles around the spine a bit further, and you’ll discover that there was more air in there. Then, you only need to relax your core muscles, and a large inhale will occur effortlessly. It may feel like your deepest, richest breath in months.”
If you feel comfortable with this exercise, use the following breathing technique to relax your nervous system: “The right thumb is used to close off the right nostril. Count your deepest breath via your left nostril, then slightly tighten your throat to slow the exhale to double that count. Hence, if you inhale for four counts, you should exhale for eight counts. This is a technique that should be thoroughly mastered during pregnancy so that it is readily accessible during delivery.”
How to Exercise After Childbirth
Every woman’s body and postpartum recovery is unique; however, Dr. Sedaghat recommends the following “Some activity, but not vigorous exercise until six weeks for vaginal births and eight weeks for cesarean births.
” But, it is not sufficient to hear “you’re cleared,”” Battles says. She encourages pursuing further “input on your body’s recovery following pregnancy and birth, regardless of how the baby was delivered. You require further knowledge and context regarding your readiness from the inside out.” Here is how Battles and other experts suggest collecting this information.
Work with a certified postnatal trainer.
“They can help you return to exercise at the correct pace, ensuring that they assist you with core and pelvic floor exercises first to reestablish those areas, as they were most damaged during pregnancy and are likely to be weaker,” adds Carter. And if you have diastasis recti, a condition in which the big abdominal muscles split during pregnancy, a skilled trainer who specializes in postnatal exercise can help you rehabilitate those areas.
Consult a pelvic floor physical therapist for treatment.
Ann Udofia, PT, DPT, advises all new mothers to consult a pelvic floor P.T. Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery are life-altering experiences that do not necessarily necessitate substantial therapy. Knowing how to take care of oneself safely and effectively, as well as the tools accessible to you, is essential.