How to Make Movement a Priority During & After Pregnancy

New to making physical movement a priority in your life? Make pregnancy the time for you to start incorporating movement into your daily routine, much like adding your daily vitamins. Find an activity that feels enjoyable (instead of feeling like a dreaded chore or “work”) and you’ll be more likely to not only keep it up throughout pregnancy but continue the activity once baby arrives and beyond. The purpose of a regular movement routine is to increase mental and physical health, not for any number on the scale or to achieve a prepregnancy shape — the idea that your body can “go back” is a damaging lie.

Ideally, aim to move with purpose (some call that exercise, but we’re calling it “move with purpose” or MWP) at least 30 minutes a day. If that feels too daunting at first, start with 20 minutes or even 10! This could be as simple as taking your dog for a walk. No dog? Walk yourself around the block! If you decide to go all out from the start, it’s important to be mindful of your intensity: if you can’t talk without gasping while doing the activity of your choice, you may be working too hard.

Below are great MWP activities to try during pregnancy and tips on how to adapt them for later. 

5 Great Movement Activities to Try During Pregnancy

Walking

Why it’s wonderful now: It’s easy, effective, and can be done in 10-minute sessions if you get winded easily. Walking is also low-impact, which keeps stress off your joints so there’s less chance of injury.

Keep in mind: Avoid uneven or slippery surfaces — you’re more prone to fall as your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts. Plus, your body is producing more relaxin, a hormone that causes the ligaments in your pelvis to soften. Although relaxin helps for labor and birth, it also means that all your joint ligaments become more relaxed, making injuries, like sprains, more likely. 

How to adapt it later: Once you have sufficiently recovered from birth, and have the go-ahead from your care provider, put your baby in a front carrier (later, a baby backpack). Start with slow, easy walks, and when you’re ready, pick up the pace with more of a power walk. Seek out hilly neighborhoods or scenic hiking paths you may have avoided for safety during your pregnancy. If using a baby carrier is too hard on your back, take baby out in a stroller or take time to walk by yourself while baby is safely with your partner, a loved one, or a sitter. 

Swimming

Why it’s wonderful now: Water provides resistance with a low risk of injury, allowing you to work harder without overheating, whether you’re treading, swimming, walking or even dancing in it. And even in your ninth month, the water allows you to move with ease. 

Keep in mind: Swimming with poor technique could make neck, shoulder, or back pain worse. Stop if you’re hurting. Seek out help from an instructor if possible. 

How to adapt it later: Raise a water baby! Check into parent-and-infant water programs at the YMCA, your local gym, or a swim center.

Pilates

Why it’s wonderful now: Among other benefits, Pilates strengthens all your core muscles, helping to lessen lower-back pain.

Keep in mind: Avoid lying flat on your back during the second and third trimesters; speak to your instructor about using a wedge, pillow, or bolster to keep your head higher than your belly while performing exercises. A prenatal Pilates class will be well aware of the necessary modifications. 

How to adapt it later: Follow your favorite Pilates routine on YouTube while baby is napping, or ask your Pilates class instructor if it’s OK to let your child watch in a carrier from the sidelines. Many instructors now offer virtual instruction, which is perfect for postpartum. 

Yoga

Why it’s wonderful now: Yoga improves balance, which is affected by pregnancy bodyweight shifts; relieves stress with breathing and meditation techniques; and helps soothe the aches and pains of pregnancy. Yoga postures can also open hip joints, which could benefit you during labor and birth.

Keep in mind: Avoid inverted and extreme positions, especially those in which your legs are far apart (like Pigeon or Tailor pose). Although relaxin will allow you to stretch farther than usual, this can lead to muscle tears, so take it easy. Also, avoid lying on your back after the first trimester. Prenatal yoga is safe for all trimesters, and is a great way to meet new friends.

How to adapt it later: Yoga is the kind of movement that is suggested to anyone at any stage of life, which makes it easily adapted to postpartum. When your stamina increases, consider challenging yourself with longer or more intense yoga sessions for a change. Or, if a relaxing flow is more your speed, that’s fine too! You can do in-person yoga classes, virtual live yoga, or prerecorded yoga videos online. 

Strength Training

Why it’s wonderful now: Lifting weights helps counteract the higher risk for injury during pregnancy by strengthening muscles surrounding the joints. It’ll also help prepare you for the heavy lifting of parenthood! Strength training can also be accomplished without weight or separate equipment — look for videos that teach strength training routines using your own body weight. 

Keep in mind: Make sure to breathe in and out evenly, rather than tax your pelvic area by exhaling too forcefully. You’ll avoid overloading your loosening joints by working to fatigue (doing a lot of reps) using lighter (3- or 5-pound) weights rather than 10-pounders.

How to adapt it later: Shoot for heavier weights that you can lift for only about 8 to 12 reps. If you’re joining a gym, make sure it offers daycare that fits your schedule. For strength training at home, find a good video routine to follow.

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