Exercise can help moms physically, and also with mood and perception of health and quality of life. As for the baby, the physical activity helps with placental growth and function, and stress tolerance.
JENNIFER FORRESTER was surprised by her low energy levels during her first trimester of pregnancy. A college track athlete at the University of Washington, a personal trainer and a fitness expert who lives in Mason County, she had never had issues with getting motivated to go to the gym. She enjoyed working out.
Then she got pregnant.
“I was caught off-guard by how tired I was,” she says. “I was caught off-guard by how I didn’t want to go [to the gym].”
She soon realized she needed quicker workouts to help her stay motivated, modified from the high-intensity interval training she once favored.
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Staying fit and active during pregnancy is far more common than it once was. I’m used to seeing pregnant women show up in my yoga classes days before they give birth, and I’ve seen many at CrossFit right up until they have their babies; some women have hit personal lifting records the week before giving birth.
Exercising during pregnancy is important for the health of the baby and the mother’s experience of labor, says Maura Shirey, a registered nurse and personal trainer who runs Bodies for Birth, leading prenatal and postnatal group classes at studios including Outrageously Fit in Ballard.
Exercise has huge benefits for both mom and baby. Strength training is important for reducing aches and pains. It also helps with decreased muscle cramps and swelling, preventing gestational diabetes and hypertension, Shirey says, and mood and perception of health and quality of life.
As for the baby, exercise helps with placental growth and function, and stress tolerance. Mom and baby get stronger and are better prepared for labor, Shirey says.
While every pregnancy is different based on each woman, Shirey has a few pieces of general advice:
First, listen to your body that day. Your body is constantly evolving throughout the pregnancy, and you want to feel energized rather than exhausted by your workout, Shirey says. If you are short of breath, consider backing off.
In general, women can continue with the exercise programs they were doing before they became pregnant, like the women at my CrossFit. That said, women can start new programs, too, with guidance.
“It’s an anxiety-provoking time, so that fear causes women not to do anything, instead of doing something,” Shirey says. “As long as they have proper guidance and it’s individualized, there are safe ways to start things.”
Walking, prenatal yoga, swimming and strength training all can work for pregnant women, Shirey says.
There are activities to avoid: contact sports; crunches; or anything with abdominal pressure, such as lying on your belly.
Exercise also can create confidence leading to birth, she says. When women feel strong, it translates well into labor and delivery. Staying active through pregnancy also translates to recovery from labor.
Forrester had to scale down for her own pregnancy. For the prenatal workouts she leads in an online video series, she takes women through movements that mimic life, including squats, biceps lifts and twists. She modifies workouts based on trimester, such as squats from a chair in the third.
She wants women to feel challenged by workouts, but she also wants them to feel like they can do them. The workouts are designed for women to maintain their foundation and stay active.
“I have had a smooth pregnancy, and I can honestly attribute that to how active I was before my pregnancy and how active I chose to be during my pregnancy,” Forrester says.