There are numerous physiological benefits for mom and baby as you train together for the work of labor, both becoming stronger and more capable of handling the expected and unexpected stresses of pregnancy and delivery. A great way to prepare for labor and delivery is through strength training, cardio intervals and mindfulness practice.
Here, I outline some of the key components to a well-rounded prenatal fitness program that you can tailor to suit your individual needs and goals. Before starting any exercise program while pregnant, make sure to consult with your doctor first.
1. Core and pelvic floor foundation
2. Use full body strength training
Pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood are all very physically demanding experiences and it's best to be well-equipped with full body strength and function.You'll ideally want to perform moderate strength training on two non-consecutive days of the week for approximately 20 minutes.
If you're new to this form of exercise, start slowly and conservatively, preferably under the guidance of a trained pre/postnatal fitness specialist.
If you're not comfortable using free weights, simply use body weight or light resistance bands to get started. One of my favorite exercises that can be done anywhere and without equipment is the squat.
Squatting creates a wide pelvic outlet which helps to facilitate an easier and safer delivery of your baby. It also strengthens and lengthens the muscles of the lower body, including buttocks, hamstrings and quadriceps.
While it's important to have a strong lower body, you want to have strength and function in your upper body as well! After all, soon you will be toting the most adorable hand weight for much of the day (and maybe night)! Think about exercises that open the chest and strengthen the back, such as the row.
For strength training with a mind-body component, give the wall sit a try! We use wall sits in most classes at Bodies for Birth to practice staying calm while the body is working physically hard—perfect preparation for labor and delivery.
3. Incorporate low-impact cardiovascular and interval training
There are many different forms of cardiovascular exercise that can be appropriate and modifiable during pregnancy, so hopefully, you can find something you enjoy or can continue the exercise you're already doing
Walking, stationary biking and swimming can all be excellent choices. Low impact aerobic style intervals can also be an excellent way to prepare the body for the interval work of labor and delivery. Prioritize rest time as much as you're exerting so that you don't overdo it. You can use this zone guideline to monitor your level of intensity—never exceed level six or seven.
4. Practice mindfulness meditation
Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time, full of anticipation, excitement and change. This is an excellent opportunity to carve out a bit of time daily to connect with your body and baby through mindful meditation. If you're new to this, it can feel overwhelming and you may resist at first.
Start slowly by carving out a minute or two each day while you practice your diaphragmatic breathing and aim to build from there. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps that are making this practice more accessible! You can try Expectful or Headspace, both of which have tracks specific to pregnancy.
5. Increase your flexibility
Flexibility training, including static stretching, foam rolling or prenatal yoga should be incorporated at the end of each training session. It's wise to focus on those areas that experience common aches and pains in pregnancy such as your low, mid and upper back.
It's best to include both upper and lower body stretches. Since you will likely experience increased flexibility due to the hormonal exchange in pregnancy, be mindful of how you're stretching and never stretch to your threshold or beyond.
By staying active and fit throughout pregnancy, you have the opportunity to gain a greater appreciation of your pregnant body's capabilities and limitations. Practice in self-awareness and strength will aid you to confidently work with your body during labor and to heal efficiently postpartum.