Updated: Jan 15, 2022
Now that I am in my third trimester and have gone through the LYT™ Pre & Post-Natal training module, in addition to reading and learning as much as possible from various pre-natal movement coaches (and an economist!), I feel I can confidently provide my audience with some tips for pre-natal movement.
First & foremost, I assume you are here because you are either thinking about getting pregnant, trying to conceive (TTC), are currently pregnant or you know someone going through one of these life stages and want to better support them. If you are still thinking about pregnancy, I hope this series shows you that you can maintain a movement practice and its benefits while pregnant. If you are TTC, hang in there! I personally know how long it can take and how frustrating it can be. If you are pregnant, I want to give a huge congratulations! If you are a support person (maybe a partner or close friend or family member), good on you for checking this out to help your loved one go through this special, but often uncertain time in their life.
Should I Exercise While I'm Pregnant?
There tends to be two groups of pregnant people interested in movement and exercise - those who have a consistent and regular movement routine and want to continue it during pregnancy and those who want to start exercising or moving because they are pregnant and recognize it could have benefits. This series will focus more on the former group, but that doesn't mean it won't be unhelpful to the latter.
You might be surprised to learn that research has shown exercise during pregnancy to have no real effect on the health of the baby. So if you are looking to start an exercise or movement routine for the health of your baby, statistically it may not have the desired effect. This is also good news for people who want to exercise during pregnancy but cannot for some reason (placenta previa for instance is a condition that doctors will often recommend very limited movement for the duration of pregnancy) - if you are worried about how losing most of your movement routine will affect your baby, rest safely that it likely will not. However, exercise and movement do have benefits for mom. Exercise and movement improve mental health, which can have physiological effects on the body and therefore on your baby. In addition, exercise and movement performed correctly and with a focus on breath and body awareness (more on this below) can lead to a shorter and more efficient labor and improve recovery of your pelvic floor post-partum. Furthermore, yoga has been shown in a couple small studies to reduce pain during labor and lead to shorter stages of first-stage labor.** Again, these studies were small, but as a yoga teacher and practitioner myself, I can attest to power and strength that yoga brings to the body and mind - all of which you will need throughout your pregnancy journey.
More specifically, the LYT™ method that I teach is specially focused on posture and core - two areas that suffer greatly during pregnancy. Posture can affect the position of the baby as you get closer to delivery, possibly reducing the need for interventions during labor, and regaining core strength post-partum is especially important for mom's health. A weak core can affect the body in many ways, the most "popular" of which being low back pain and specifically post-partum, incontinence issues due to the pelvic floor (part of the core!) being weak as well. I don't think anyone wants to be dealing with low back pain, wetting your pants when you cough, sneeze, or laugh, AND a new baby on top of it all.
Pregnancy is a huge stress on the human body. Exercise and movement are also stressors to the body so you should expect them to look and feel a lot different than they did before you were pregnant. In general, intensity will be toned down, but there are still so many ways to move comfortably and safely. Also, please always make sure to check with your doctor before engaging in physical activity.
Finally, before we head into looking at the first trimester, breath and body awareness are key to safe movement during (and after) pregnancy. If there was ever a time to get more in tune with your body, it is ideally before you get pregnant but if not, certainly when you are pregnant. For my fellow athletes out there with the "no pain, no gain" attitude engrained in them - this is not the time to listen to that voice! (nor is there ever a time to listen to it, but that's a story for a different blog post). To ensure a speedy and healthy recovery post-partum, it is crucial that you lower intensity when your body tells you to, which is often in the form of pain. This doesn't mean you can't move at all, but maybe lower the weight or stick to bilateral movements instead of unilateral movements or maybe it means going for a gentle walk instead of the cycling class you had planned. Learning how to breathe properly will help increase your body awareness and prepare you for post-partum return to movement. All of which I cover in my classes and private sessions. Stay tuned for the next post to explore movement in the first trimester.
**Everything (except the sentence where I state my own "argument") mentioned in this paragraph before the double asterisks is from Emily Oster's book "Expecting Better" (thank you to one of my best friends, Lindsay, for lending to me. As a self-proclaimed data nerd, this book was awesome.) Emily evaluates the data behind accepted rules of pregnancy to better inform decisions from what to eat to to the efficacy of pre-natal testing. The book was last updated in 2019, so there are possibly newer studies that have been done on the effects of exercise during pregnancy.