I’ve been pregnant twice and these two pregnancies were night and day experiences. While I was pregnant the second time around, with my son, I was too tired to realize it at the time but, in hindsight, I know a lot of my ailments, discomforts and complaints were due to my lack of exercise. At some points during my first pregnancy, with my daughter, I was sleeping about 12 hours per night and taking a nap after work! Plus, I was teaching and taking lots of group fitness classes at work then running and doing a little yoga at home. My husband and I took a series of classes to prepare for the baby and the instructor had us go around the room and discuss all of our ailments. Every single expecting mom had at least one major discomfort and, although I wasn’t above complaining here and there, when it got to me I was seriously at a loss. I felt great, I was sleeping great, I wasn’t anxious and I didn’t know how lucky I was! True, I had some weird pregnancy side-effects like once-per-week nosebleeds and daily heartburn but nothing too serious.
Fast forward only a few months to when I got pregnant with my son. My daughter was only 8 months when we found out and I was already pretty far along. Also, I was miserable before I even knew why. I was exhausted, random things I ate made me feel sick (with no consistency as to what or when) and my waistline instantly filled out but that was only the beginning. The exhaustion only got worse, I had a lot of aches and pains and I couldn’t sleep. Outside of flying, for the first time in my life, I also felt like I had anxiety. True, I was caring for another baby turned young toddler so much of this might have been the case no matter what but not to the same degree if my body was in better shape. I rarely worked out and I noticed a difference both physically and emotionally.
Disclaimer: Of course, I am not a doctor and I am not giving any kind of medical advice or guarantees and you should have your doctor’s approval to begin any new exercise routine, especially while pregnant. I’ve pulled from my experience being pregnant, years of teaching group fitness and yoga classes to many pregnant women and my research in writing about fitness and pre- and postnatal health and fitness to bring you my reasons for working out while pregnant below. And if you’re ready to plan ahead for fitness after baby or you’re already a mom, check out my 8 Ways to Workout as a Mom.
- Increased Energy: There is no doubt about it. You will have more energy if you workout but it’s a serious catch 22, especially the second time around. You feel to o tired to workout but working out would make you less tired. As long as you’re getting enough sleep, it’s worth pushing through the fog (but not through any pain!) to feel better in the long run.
- Better Sleep: The main reasons for pregnancy-related insomnia are stress, anxiety, physical aches and pains and restless legs syndrome and all of which can be improved with exercise.
- Fewer Aches and Pains: For the most part, a moving body is a happy and comfortable body. The added weight and blood volume during pregnancy can add force to pressure points that already exist or create new ones all together and relaxin in joints may make you feel more flexible but it’s really just your joints that are relaxed and they will feel more stable with stronger supporting muscles.
- Lower Risk of Pregnancy Complications: Pregnancy side effects can run the gamut from minor to very serious and some have more to do with genetics or luck than anything else but exercise can prevent some side effects or even just some scares. In my case, I had bad sinus congestion that could have been made better with movement (because more movement means better blood flow and less inflammation) and I actually ended up taking a completely avoidable trip to the ER at one point had I been working out more regularly. (A few days after one of the very few times I went stair-climbing during my second pregnancy, I was convinced I was having a blood clot. Better safe than sorry, I headed to the emergency room in the middle of the night. After a load of tests, charged at off-hour rates, no less, I was only diagnosed with a sore muscle. I was free to head home with a hefty hospital bill and a bruised ego. I am a group fitness instructor! How did this happen?!)
- Faster Recovery: Here I am referring more to getting your body back in working, functioning shape from the inside out and this is less about ‘bouncing back’ so that you look great. However, if you are looking to drop some weight post-baby, working out during pregnancy can only help in that department too! Even if you have an easy peasy labor, you’re likely to experience some soreness and, possibly, limited mobility post-labor so a fit body will handle simple things like going up and down stairs, getting in and out of the car and lifting baby much easier than an unfit body.
- Less Stress & Anxiety: There is so much evidence that exercise reduces anxiety and stress. Any type of exercise can help so experiment with different classes and workouts to find your best match. Prenatal yoga seems like an obvious choice but roll out your mat with an open mind because some instructors lead gentle and relaxing prenatal yoga classes while others are serious about preparing you for the ‘workout’ of labor. I used to teach a lot of wall sits in my prenatal classes! Check out some common prenatal yoga woes in this article I wrote for Fitness Magazine. Note: If you’re experiencing concerning levels of stress or anxiety symptoms, visit your doctor.
- Healthier Diet: You may still have ice cream cravings but if you’re exercising regularly, your body will crave adequate fuel to keep moving and maintain energy so diet and exercise tend to go hand-in-hand, even if it’s just small improvements. Take what you can get now because it only gets harder to maintain a healthy diet when you’re caring for a baby or chasing after a toddler!
- Likely Less Weight Gain: I’ve known some women that gain the same exact amount of weight with each pregnancy and I actually went into labor at the same weight both times but I was larger the second time around because I had lost a lot of muscle tone and my body fat percentage was much higher. So you may gain less weight if you workout or not but, either way, you will be more fit and have more muscle tone if you exercise while pregnant.
- Potentially Easier Labor: Labor is no joke. For as long as I can remember, I had these delusional thoughts that I would have easy labors. I had also heard people talk about labor like it is an athletic event so I thought, ‘Hey, I can train for a half-marathon or other fitness endeavor so I got this.’ I have been checked big time. There are so many factors that you have absolutely no control of during labor. You might even get pre-scheduled for a Cesarean due to circumstances completely outside of your hands. So, pending you go into labor and have to do some gripping, pushing, breath work, etc. then exercising will definitely help you with the strength and stamina you’ll need. However, in my experience, it was just as awful having worked out or not. Just being honest!
- Better Prepared for Baby: Your baby will not care if you’ve slept or, really, how you feel at all for quite some time. Those precious little cuties can be pretty selfish so you’re the only one who will make you a priority. You have to take great care of yourself before you can take great care of anyone else. Babies get heavier and faster every day so do you strength work and cardio to keep up! And you will contort your body in ways you never imagined to save a toddler from hurting themselves or to get them into their car seat so maintain your flexibility too!
Have a great workout!