You want to keep fit while pregnant; that’s a given. So you need to make some adjustments during the few months when your belly gets large, right? And then take it easy for a couple of weeks after the baby arrives, yes? No biggie!
Well, we suggest that there’s a more holistic way of envisioning a fit pregnancy — think about it as a whole year of staying in great shape. And consider our pre-to-postpartum workout, designed by Fit Pregnancy fitness editor Linda Shelton, as an easy-to-follow blueprint for those 12 healthy months.
Why a year? Because the right exercise program can help you in three important ways. First, it will keep you strong and flexible throughout the nine months of your pregnancy and help you feel comfortable with your body as it goes through its miraculous changes. Second, exercise can prepare you for labor and delivery, whether that experience turns out to be a sprint or a long-distance run. Finally, after you give birth, you’ll reap the benefits of all that prenatal conditioning because the proper moves can help you return to your prepregnancy shape and tone up for the heavy lifting of motherhood.
“Weight work strengthens you for the endurance of labor and delivery,” says fitness pro Nancy Popp, who is featured on ESPN2’s Crunch Fitness and in fitness videos such as the new Quick Fix series. Popp has done aerobics, strength training and even kickboxing while pregnant (her third child is on the way), yet the 36-year-old Long Island, N.Y., resident found that giving birth was tougher than she’d imagined.
“If I hadn’t been in shape for my first baby, Shane, I probably would have given up and had a C-section,” says Popp. He was facing toward her back, which made pushing difficult. “Working out has helped me deal mentally and physically with this latest pregnancy, especially since I have to take care of my other kids. You need to be strong to hold one baby and have another on your hip.”
Don’t just take our word for how great exercise is for pregnant moms — check out the research. A review by James Clapp III, M.D., in the journal Clinical Sports Medicine showed that the benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, limited weight gain and fat retention, an improved attitude and mental state, easier labor and a quicker postpartum recovery.
Other current research has shown that women who continue to work out are less likely to deliver by Cesarean section than those who remain sedentary and that 10 weeks of moderate exercise during pregnancy can lower diastolic blood pressure in women at risk of hypertensive disorders. Prenatal exercise can even benefit your baby, according to Clapp. His review cites studies showing that the offspring of exercising moms are leaner at 5 years of age and have slightly better developmental outcomes.
Exercise after pregnancy is no less crucial to a woman’s well-being. “Your abs, back and pelvic-floor muscles really take the brunt of labor and delivery,” fitness editor Shelton points out. “The importance of postpartum exercise is to recondition your abdominals and pelvic-floor muscles and readjust your posture and body balance.”