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13
Dec

Exercise for Healthy Pregnancy & Birth

Rebecca Bartsch, LM, CPM

Regular exercise positively impacts pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery

In generations past, pregnant women were discouraged from exercising, as it was thought that being “overly active” would harm the baby and threaten the pregnancy. This seems silly now, as few people deny the reality that exercise is good for us, but apparently being a pregnant couch potato was the expected norm way back when. If being a pregnant couch potato sounds just up your alley, I get it. Nothing, in my opinion, beats a good long nap on the couch, pregnant or not! But, we can’t ignore that regular exercise has been proven to positively impact pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery either, and the amount of exercise you have to do to reap these benefits is less than you might think.

There are so many benefits of exercising, so get up and start moving

Most people understand the connection between exercise and weight control, but the benefits of exercise go way beyond just keeping off those extra pounds. Regular exercise has been shown to improve mood and mental/emotional health, improve sleep, reduce swelling (including those pesky hemorrhoids and varicosities), reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure or diabetes, reduce gastrointestinal discomforts like bloating and constipation, strengthen muscle tone and endurance, improve posture, reduce back pain, increase overall fitness (i.e. make you more strong and athletic and capable of enduring intense physical activity, like say, labor!), and it helps to encourage babies to “choose” an optimal position for delivery. More on that in a minute. For all these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to get up off that couch and start moving!

The goal is to keep your heart rate up

So what sort of exercise is recommended during pregnancy? The best exercises are the ones that you enjoy and will feel motivated to keep doing. It’s a good idea to choose a daily activity that raises your heart rate, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, fitness class, etc. as well as strength and flexibility exercises to add in like squats, pelvic tilts, prenatal yoga, weight lifting, and activities on the spectacular website www.SpinningBabies.com. More on this in a minute too. Whatever exercises you choose, start out with an activity level that feels right to you and build from there. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, start with just 15 minutes a day of exercise that raises your heart rate (brisk walking totally counts!). Work up to doing 30 minutes a day of exercise that raises your heart rate, plus as many squats, tilts and prenatal stretches as you can manage to fit in. If you’re already used to a regular exercise routine, just keep going! It is considered safe to continue whatever level of pre-pregnancy exercise you were used to doing, provided you listen to your body’s cues and pull back when you notice pain, exhaustion, or a decreasing ability to tolerate that level of activity. Then, reduce the intensity as needed, and keep going! The goal is to keep your heart rate up, while still being able to comfortably hold a conversation.

Safety is important, while pregnant you are at risk for a more significant injury than when you are not pregnant

Speaking of safety, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind. It is wise to avoid activities that could result in falling or having something hit your abdomen, such as horseback riding, bike riding, snowboarding, etc. or sports involving contact or objects being thrown at you. This is increasingly true as you progress through pregnancy. Also, keep in mind that your center of gravity is altered during pregnancy, making you more likely to fall than when not pregnant, and because of the hormones at work in your body that are loosening and relaxing your joints and ligaments for birth, you’re also at risk for more significant injury than when not pregnant.

What is the optimal position for the baby to be in when birth is near

Back to this “optimal position” thing and Spinning Babies. When it comes to birth, the baby’s position in the uterus and the way in which the baby’s head is aligned in the pelvis have a significant impact on how labor unfolds, the intensity of the experience, and the ability of the baby to be born without intervention. The “best” position for any baby is the one that aligns it best with the shape and measurements of its mother’s pelvis, thereby allowing it to most easily rotate and descend through the pelvis to be born. For all babies, it’s best for the baby’s head to be down, flexed (chin tucked), and symmetrical within the pelvis. For most babies, but not all, having the back toward the front on the mother’s left side is also preferred, since most, but not all, women have a pelvic shape that a baby in such a position would most easily be able to navigate.

Exercise and stretching during pregnancy can help you have a more efficient birth experience

The reason I mention fetal positioning here is that regular exercise throughout pregnancy, and specifically utilizing the recommended stretches and activities on the Spinning Babies website, can have a significant impact on the position a baby takes at the end of pregnancy when birth is near. We want babies to “choose” the optimal position for navigating their individual mother’s pelvis, whatever that may be. We don’t want them to “choose” a less than optimal position (or worse, one that can’t be delivered vaginally) due to a false sense of pelvic size and shape as might happen if the lower part of the uterus or any of the pelvic ligaments or muscles is tight, asymmetrically balanced, or otherwise impeding the baby’s ability to enter and move through the pelvis with ease. This can lead to prolonged labor, a greater than typical amount of pain, and the need for interventions to help get baby out. Talk to the midwives to learn more about this!

Regular, daily exercise throughout pregnancy is a powerful way to promote a healthy pregnancy and encourage the most efficient birth experience possible. Find an activity you enjoy and keep moving!