by Kaitlin Acharya
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 postpartum. Furthermore, yoga has been shown in a couple of 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 the power and strength that yoga brings to the body and mind – all of which you will need throughout your pregnancy journey.
**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 the efficacy of prenatal 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.
More specifically, the LYT™ method 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 postpartum 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 postpartum, 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, the 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 ingrained 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 postpartum 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.
Congratulations on your pregnancy!
The first trimester is often the toughest trimester for many pregnant people due to the immediate increase in hormones that start to change and affect your body. Motivation to move during these three months may be difficult, but it can also help you to feel better, if only for a few hours. We’ll start first with the core and breath, which I believe set the foundation for a healthy movement practice while pregnant and also postpartum. As I briefly mentioned above, movement during pregnancy is not just for your present body – it is also for your postpartum body so that you can feel your best and be your best for your new little one and others.
Start Core & Breath Work Now
If you’ve never learned how to engage your core correctly, now is the time. The LYT™ method teaches core and breath in tandem, which makes perfect sense when you look at the roles the diaphragm and the pelvic floor play in our core container. I like to teach what is often called diaphragmatic or 360-degree breathing. I actually have another blog post about this type of breathing – check it out!
Learning how to activate your core properly now, at the beginning of your pregnancy, will set you up for success at the end, for labor, and also postpartum. As your body’s posture continues to change throughout the next 9 months, your knowledge and awareness of your core and breath will help you maintain as neutral of a posture as possible, which will limit some of the typical 2nd and 3rd-trimester aches and pains that you may experience later on.
A note on baby safety – core work and yoga do not cause miscarriage, however, the risk for miscarriage is highest during the first trimester. This does not mean you shouldn’t move or do core work, but do what you feel comfortable doing.
Practice What Feels Good
Speaking of doing what you are comfortable with, you may not be comfortable doing much of anything. You may be feeling really weak and nauseous or extremely tired or any of the other fun first trimester symptoms that many pregnant people experience. Listen to your body and do what feels good, which might change day-to-day. Personally, there were days when I didn’t want to move, but when I did I felt better afterwards, and there were days when I could not even get up off the couch and movement did not happen and that is ok! First trimester for me was about learning to let go of expectations and control*, almost as if my body was preparing me for first-time parenthood!
*In all honesty, still working on the relinquishing control thing. 😆
If you do choose to move, here are some things to consider. Your abdominal muscles are likely not going to be stretched out at this point to cause any damage to the abdominal fascia when doing core work, which is another reason why I suggest learning core control now so you can feel what it is supposed to feel like with a relatively normal core structure. However, you may have a lot of bloating due to hormones, heartburn, and/or pelvic sensitivity. Core work can help with bloating, so can yoga, but you may notice inversions like Down Dog, Dolphin, and Handstands or even just lying flat on your back worsen your heartburn so you may want to avoid those positions. Lying on your stomach is still pretty safe since the baby and your uterus are so small at this stage, but it may not feel right for you and you can always stay on your hands and knees. It’s also generally a good idea to avoid contact sports or activities where your risk of injury is typically high.
Speaking of handstands and other balancing poses or activities, you may notice your limbs feel more loose and even a bit more wobbly than usual. This is due to the hormone relaxin that is already hard at work relaxing your ligaments to prepare the body for your growing baby and birth. This and your center of gravity already beginning to change all make balancing poses more difficult. Pre-pregnancy I did handstands every day – I love them. But probably around 10-12 weeks I stopped doing them because my wrists just didn’t feel stable enough and I did not want to risk falling and hurting myself or my baby. If you’ve been handstanding since you were 5 years old in gymnastics, then maybe you will feel comfortable continuing throughout pregnancy, but I advise against pushing yourself to do something. If you’re already questioning whether you should do a movement or activity, you probably shouldn’t.
Stay tuned for second-trimester tips coming soon!
by LYT teacher Kaitlin Acharya