“You’ll never regret a workout.” That’s the mantra Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard, 2016 Rio contender and mom of two, used to get herself into the pool during her most recent pregnancy. But even the winner of seven Olympic medals admits that on days when she felt the full force of pregnancy’s woes, finding the motivation to exercise was difficult. “I truly believe that the hardest part of working out can be getting there, whether it’s in a pool, on a trail or to the gym,” she says.Not surprisingly, most moms-to-be feel that way about exercise, especially when morning sickness, swollen ankles and the fact that merely standing up is enough to make you break a sweat all threaten enthusiasm.
But no matter how difficult it might be to get out the door, don’t give up your gym membership just yet. Science shows that exercising throughout pregnancy has immense benefits, including shorter labor times (on average) for mom and a healthy fetal brain boost for baby. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, even 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day is enough to help cope with the physical changes of pregnancy and build up your stamina for delivery.
“Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery,” says Coeli Dwivedi, CPM, certified wellness coach in Medford, Oregon.
Whether you enjoy swimming, yoga, walking or dancing, there’s a workout option out there to keep you moving for the next nine months. Let’s get to it!
What’s in it for me?
When you feel exhausted, nauseated or ravenous (and Netflix is calling your name), the last thing on your mind is a workout. But even on days when you’re not sure you’re up for anything, try to get at least a short walk in, advises Dwivedi. Doing so will give you increased energy and reduce your chances of excessive weight gain. In addition, exercise can improve your posture and circulation, reduce pelvic and rectal pressure, and ease other discomforts.
Still not convinced? Consider this: Studies show that women who stay moderately active throughout their pregnancies experience a 75 percent decrease in maternal exhaustion during labor and are less likely to deliver involuntarily by cesarean, need forceps or use Pitocin.
Plus, the benefits continue postpartum. Staying active during your pregnancy means you’ll be less likely to experience depression or anxiety and will have higher self-confidence after delivery.
If you are expecting and already relatively active, your doctor will likely approve of you continuing with the workouts you do on a regular basis—with necessary modifications, of course.
If you’re new to exercise, you can still get started during your pregnancy, but first talk with your doctor or a wellness coach who is experienced in prenatal fitness. Women with a preexisting condition, cervical cerclage, ruptured membranes, placenta previa after 26 weeks, or those who are carrying multiples or are at risk for early labor are not advised to work out, warns Dwivedi.
If you’re given the green light to lace up your gym shoes, be sure to hydrate properly. Stop exercising immediately if you experience any bloody discharge, a sudden gush of fluid or severe swelling of the face, hands or feet. Also look out for signs of excessive fatigue, chest pain or insufficient weight gain, as any of these can be dangerous.
By the third trimester, when your to-do list is miles long and your toes seem very far away, exercise is going to be hard. But keep in mind that a workout might keep you calm and help you find the mental clarity you need to reach delivery day. Beard experienced this every time she got in the water. “For me, the water dissipated whatever stress I felt at the time, whether it was mental or physical,” she says.
The Olympian offers this advice: Remember that motivating yourself to start a workout begins at the end of your last one. So when you’ve just finished a great session at the gym, take note of how awesome you feel. That way when it’s time for your next sweat, you’ll associate the task with positive thoughts, rather than with dread.