INSIDE: Getting yourself to exercise during pregnancy may take an extra dose of motivation and a little reassurance however the payoff is well worth it!
With constant fatigue, discomfort and even fear of working out during pregnancy, you may find yourself struggling with thoughts of, “is it really worth it?”
With an astounding “YES”, working out during pregnancy is definitely worth it and I will share with you why.
At a time when 1 in 3 Americans are considered overweight or obese, exercising can be a challenge for anyone.
Modern moms are busier than ever which can make pregnancy feel even more challenging. The good news is that staying active during pregnancy can help your body be better equipped to help with the demands of your busy schedule.
Knowing the positive effects of exercise during pregnancy for both mom and baby and alleviating any fear or concern can make it easier for mamas stick to a healthy workout routine during pregnancy.
My Experience With Prenatal Exercise
I didn’t truly learn or trust the benefits of working out during pregnancy until my second and third pregnancies and let me just tell you that those pregnancies were, by far, much more healthy and enjoyable.
I know how scary pregnancy can be because of what we read and the comments people make to pregnant women who exercise during pregnancy.
First, many of the exercise guidelines are from 20 years ago and don’t make prenatal fitness seem safe.
Second, I have received my fair share of rude comments while exercising during pregnancy. However, I know these comments are based on lack of knowledge and they don’t bother me like they used to.
Current research shows numerous benefits of exercising during pregnancy for both mommy AND baby.
When I became pregnant with our first baby, I was terrified of maintaining my workout schedule and routines during pregnancy.
On the flip side, I have been an avid exerciser almost my entire life so the idea of NOT working out also scared me.
My doctors, one of which who is a highly renowned high risk pregnancy specialist, assured me multiple times that I could continue doing what I was doing prior to pregnancy. After all, people run marathons during pregnancy!
I still didn’t trust them because many things I had read said otherwise.
I continued to exercise during my first pregnancy, but very moderately and my traditionally healthy eating habits went out the door.
Guess what happened?
Not only was I much more uncomfortable during my pregnancy but I also ended up gaining over 40 pounds and had to be closely monitored for possible preeclampsia.
Now, don’t get me wrong, 40 pounds doesn’t seem like much. But everyones body responds differently and my body had a hard time with the weight gain.
Pregnancy is supposed to be a time where you feel your healthiest. A time to nourish your body for both you and your growing baby.
But I was the unhealthiest that I had ever felt.
After my first baby was born, I began taking my knowledge from my degree in Exercise Science and studying prenatal fitness. I quickly learned that I should have trusted my doctors, and my body, more!
Now, here I am.
Three pregnancies later with certifications in prenatal and postnatal fitness and I can confidently say that exercising during pregnancy has been the best thing I have done for both myself and my babies.
Here is a list of 25 reasons why exercise during pregnancy can help both you AND your growing bundle of joy!
1. Prenatal fitness may improve long term health of your baby
Knowing how prenatal fitness can improve my own health is one thing.
But knowing that it can also improve my baby’s health is plenty to get me off the couch and moving my body!
Exercise during pregnancy may reduce your baby’s risk of juvenile diabetes and reducing neonatal macrosomia which is babies being born too large. Continuing these healthy habits after the baby is born will also teach your children to live healthy lives!
More and more studies are showing that healthy moms during pregnancy give birth to healthy babies.
2. Your Baby May Grow Up Smarter
This is one of my biggest motivators for working out during pregnancy!
New studies show that children of mothers who exercise during pregnancy have better memories and higher scores on intelligence and language tests.
The placentas of women who exercise during pregnancy grow faster and function better than those of who are healthy but don’t exercise. (Clapp, 2002)
A new study out of the University of Montreal recently found that infants of active mothers had brain activity associated with what would be expected of a more mature brain. Fetal responses indicated that babies brains developed more rapidly in mothers who exercised than those of more sedentary mothers.
Exercise during pregnancy increases blood flow and nutrients to the placenta which can help the baby develop better.
All it took was 20 minutes of moderate exercise at least three days a week!
3. Prepare your baby for the demands of labor
Research has shown that babies of mothers who exercised during pregnancy are able to tolerate the stresses of labor, such as contractions, better than babies whose mothers did not exercise.
Studies also show that babies of mothers who exercised are also able to transition to life outside of the uterus better and tend to be more alert and easy to care for. (3)
4. You’re less likely to gain excess weight
This is a “no brainer” right? But what is considered “excess weight gain”?
Excess weight gain during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for several complications including diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean deliveries (ACOG, 2015)
A word of caution. Whether you are pregnant or not, what you eat has the greatest impact on your overall body weight.
While exercise does help you to burn excess calories, you still cannot out exercise a poor diet which means make sure you watch those pregnancy cravings!
5. Boost mood
Don’t be moody, move that booty!
Pregnancy is an amazing experience but it is also a time when your hormones and mood can run very hot and cold.
My third pregnancy was by far my moodiest!
Not feeling motivated to workout? You’re only one workout away from a better mood!
Exercise helps boost those “feel good” endorphins that can really help boost your mood and fight the hormonal emotional rollercoaster of pregn
6. Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
This goes hand in hand with number two.
An estimated 10-30% of pregnant women experience depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Not only does exercise help boost mood, but those “feel good” endorphins that are released during exercise can also help reduce stress, anxiety and even depression, all of which are not healthy for you or your baby during pregnancy.
Women who exercise during this time are 19% less likely to suffer from depression.
Anxiety during pregnancy has been related to outcomes such as fetal distress, premature labor, low birth weight and possible childhood problems.
Personally, I suffered from sever anxiety during all my pregnancies and moving my body was the number one best way to help me cope better.
Even just 10 minutes is enough help you relax and feel less stressed!
7. Prep to push
Prenatal fitness is an excellent way to strengthen your body for labor and build stamina for your big day. Trust me, you will need all the strength and stamina you can get!
My first labor was 14 hours which I consider pretty fast for a first baby.
My second labor was 6 hours and because I stayed more active and focused on appropriate core and pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy, I felt much more prepared.
Specifically training the muscles in your deep core (also known as your push muscles) legs, and back with a total prenatal exercise program can significantly improve not only your pregnancy but also your delivery.
Speaking of being more prepared, one of my favorite resources for anything pregnancy or labor related is from Liesel from Mommylabornurse.com.
She is a labor and delivery nurse who has created the best courses I have ever seen to prepare for pregnancy, labor and motherhood. And they are VERY reasonably priced compared to other labor and delivery classes.
After taking several of her courses, I feel much more mentally and physically prepared than I had my previous pregnancies.
I highly recommend it if you need some mental preparation for your next labor!
8. Reduce aches and pains
Lower back and sciatic pain are the most common complaints during pregnancy.
Exercise during pregnancy can help alleviate many common aches and pains that come from all the physical changes of pregnancy.
Lower back and sciatic pain are the most common complaints during pregnancy.
9. May Reduce Prevalence of Diastasis Recti
Abdominal separation, also known as Diastasis Recti, is a normal process that occurs in about 67% of women during pregnancy.
However, 90% of women who did not exercise during pregnancy exhibited Diastasis Recti postpartum while 12.5% of women who exercised during pregnancy had the condition. (Chiarello, 2005)
Prevalence of Diastasis Recti is reduced by 6 months postpartum in about 60% of mothers who exercised during pregnancy.
10. Get things “moving”
Hormone and physical displacement of some of your internal organs during pregnancy can make going to the bathroom much more challenging.
And let me just say that being constipated while pregnant is not a pleasant experience!
Exercise, along with drinking A LOT of water and eating fiber can help keep things moving.
I really struggled with digestive issues in all my pregnancies.
The only thing that really helped was taking Magnesium. It can also help reduce anxiety and aid in relaxation.
11. Put a pep in your step
When you are exhausted and uncomfortable during pregnancy, the last thing you want to do is workout.
I get it because I felt the same way.
However, working out during pregnancy can actually help put a little pep in your step and give you the energy you need to tackle your day.
If you’re feeling sluggish, try going for a 15-20 minute power walk. Not only will the fresh air make you feel amazing, you will also feel more energized.
12. May reduce likelihood of a c-section or c-section complications such as wound infections
There are many other reasons for c-sections however one way to minimize your chances is to stay active and maintain a healthy weight gain.
Having a c-section is definitely not the end of the world and I believe that it doesn’t matter how babies enter this world as long as both mom and baby are healthy and safe.
However, having a c-section does increase your risk of infection, post birth recovery time and can delay milk production.
One study shows that exercise during pregnancy helped reduce the need for operative intervention such as forceps or cesarean by 75%! There was also a 50% decrease in the need for induction or intervention due to abnormalities in fetal heart rate.
13. You are more likely to be a fit mom
Women who exercise during pregnancy may actually have the ability to become more fit after pregnancy.
Not only are you developing healthier habits that will carry into motherhood but there are also physiological changes that occur during pregnancy that are similar to that of blood doping.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 15-20% and is 30-50% greater in active women vs. healthy, sedentary women.
The combination of pregnancy and physical activity can improve a pregnant woman’s maximal aerobic capacity by 5-10%. This increase in blood volume could have the same effect as blood doping! (Clapp, 2002)
14. You’ll feel more confident
Pregnancy is a very vulnerable and sometimes insecure period of time for most. Not feeling in control of the changes that occur to your body is scary.
Working out during pregnancy can help boost your confidence not just by preventing excess weight gain but also because there is something very empowering about working out when you’re pregnant. It can make you feel like a super hero!
15. You may experience a shorter labor
Evidence suggests that a strong pelvic floor and core can encourage a faster labor and delivery as well as help the perineum heal postpartum. Makes sense right?
The stronger those muscles are, the better equipped they are to push the baby out.
No guarantees, of course, but trust me, once your in labor, all you can think about is getting through it as quickly and safely as possible!
I mentioned above that my first labor was 14 hours compared to my second which was 6.
During my first labor, when it came time to push, I had no idea what to do. It felt very strange and I struggled in the beginning. My second baby was two pounds bigger yet I felt stronger and more equipped with how to push thanks to maintaining my strength and endurance from my prenatal workouts.
16. You’re recovery time will most likely be faster
Those who exercise during pregnancy not only recover faster physically but they also seem to cope with the new demands of motherhood better.
You’ll feel ready to get out of the house and go for a walk much sooner. And trust me, the fresh air and movement will be exactly what you need to feel refreshed and recharged.
Exercise also boosts your immune system which may help any incisions or wounds heal faster.
17. You’re less likely to experience swelling
Some swelling during pregnancy is normal but there are actually some pretty risky complications associated with too much swelling.
Exercise during pregnancy can help improve blood flow, control weight gain and reduce swelling. All of which can help reduce your risk of preeclampsia.
18. May help with morning sickness
The last thing you want to do when you have morning sickness or nausea is work out. But some expecting mamas actually say that light activity can help combat morning sickness.
Of course, the most important thing is to listen to your body. If you dont feel up for it, then don’t! However, even just a brisk walk outdoors may be enough to take your mind off the nausea.
19. The sense of accomplishment will positively affect other areas of your life
Exercising during pregnancy is not always easy. It requires a lot of self motivation, , discipline and mental strength.
There is something incredibly empowering about working out during pregnancy. Finishing a prenatal yoga workout or gym session can make you feel like you can conquor the world!
20. You’ll learn to love your body in a way you never thought possible
It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my first baby that I learned to love and appreciate my body in a way that I do now.
Exercising during pregnancy can help you learn to love your body and appreciate just how strong and beautiful you really are!
21. You may catch more Z’s
Catching a good night sleep during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, can be very challenging. I always say that prenatal insomnia prepares you for having a newborn.
Many expecting mamas say that working out during pregnancy helps them to get better quality of sleep. This may be due to it’s stress reducing benefits.
However pick your workout type and time carefully because working out too close to bedtime may actually have the opposite effect by giving you a boost of energy. See number 7!
22. May reduce your risk of the number one cause of premature birth-Preeclamipsia
Preeclampsia is a potentially dangerous condition that develops during pregnancy. It causes high blood pressure, protein in urine and sometimes swelling.
Preeclampsia is dangerous for both mom and baby. It can prevent the placenta from receiving enough blood flow causing the baby to be born small. It is also one of the leading causes of premature birth. (2)
Exercise can help to reduce your risk of preeclampsia by improving blood flow and maintaining a healthy weight gain.
23. Keep your blood sugar levels in check & lower your risk of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and affects how your cells use sugar. Exercise helps to lower blood sugar by stimulating the body to move glucose into the cells and increases the cell’s insulin sensitivity.
Why should you worry about gestational diabetes?
Left untreated gestational diabetes can cause serious problems. If blood sugar levels remain elevated, too much glucose can end up in the babies blood.
When this happens, the baby’s pancreas needs to produce more insulin to process the extra sugar.
Excess blood sugar and insulin can cause the baby to put on extra fat and the baby to grow very large (macrosomia).
High blood sugar levels during pregnancy can increase the risk of a baby developing low blood sugar levels after delivery (hypoglycemia). This is because the baby produces extra insulin in response to the mothers high glucose levels
Moderate exercise three days a weeks has been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity and is also associate with improved levels of maternal glucose tolerance.
24. You’ll feel more in control of your body
While it may feel like your body and life are changing in all kinds of crazy and scary ways, exercising during pregnancy can help you feel a little more in control of the exciting process and transition to motherhood.
A regular exercise routine offers consistency when things might feel very inconsistent.
And knowing you’re doing something healthy for both you and your baby will make you feel very accomplished and confident!
25. Fight off germs and boost immunity
One of the best ways to keep your immune systems running in tip-top shape is to stay active. Moderate exercise helps to lower your risk of catching colds.
Having a strong immune system is also important during recovery to help wounds heal without infection.
Exercising during pregnancy is not easy! But knowing the benefits to both you and your baby can help give you a little more motivation to move your bump!
Did you exercise during pregnancy? If so, what was your experience like?
Prenatal Fitness Disclosure
Always consult with your health care provider prior to beginning any exercise routines during pregnancy. There is no “one size fits all” approach to prenatal exercise however there are unlimited options available to those who have a healthy and normal pregnancy.
The most important thing to remember while exercising during pregnancy is to listen to your body.
- American Pregnancy Association
- Clapp, J (M.D) & Cram, C (M.S.)Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Omaha, Nebraska: Addicus Books, Inc. 2012
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.