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  • Writer's picturejulianeto121

How to use exercise to prepare your body for birth

One of the most common questions I get as a prenatal personal trainer is “When do I have to stop exercising?” and my answer is always “Never!” 

Of course there can be so much variation between pregnancies, conditions for which exercise is contraindicated, and symptoms that can get in the way, but the truth is if you’re feeling good there is no point at which you HAVE to stop exercising in your pregnancy, and there’s not even a point where I would say you “should” stop.

I have been a prenatal personal trainer for over eight years and I would say that about 90% of my clients exercise up until the week (if not day) they give birth. And you know what they usually tell me? It makes them feel so much better. Not only does it reduce aches and pains, improve energy, and prepare the pelvic floor for birth, but it also helps them feel more stable mentally and emotionally as they wait for baby’s arrival.

The biggest thing to note here is that workouts at 38 weeks pregnant look a lot different than workouts at 12 weeks pregnant. And that’s ok! That doesn’t make them any less valuable.

I am going to help you reframe the way you think of exercise so that you can keep moving and use movement as a tool to prepare for birth!

pregnant woman exercising with hand weights

First Trimester

Believe it or not, birth prep starts in the first trimester. It’s incredibly important to begin the work of connecting to the deep core and pelvic floor as early as possible in pregnancy. The reason being, as your body changes and becomes more foreign to you, it can be harder to create that psychosomatic connection. It’s also easier to establish a base of strength if you have more time to do so. So if you haven’t connected to the deep core yet, now is the time to do so.

You might be feeling some nausea and fatigue in this trimester, which is normal, so instead of opting for high intensity workouts during this time, try more strength based workouts. Strength will only help with your stability and control as you grow. Use this time to get familiar with the deep core and pelvic floor, and learn how to activate them properly. Understanding this connection and having control over these muscles is crucial for a comfortable pregnancy and an easier birth.

Second Trimester

The second trimester is usually when people feel their best – nausea often clears, energy improves, and aches and pains haven't gotten too bad yet. Use this sweet spot to continue building your base of strength, and also focus on stamina

I’ve heard it said that childbirth is the hardest workout you’ll do in your life, and I couldn’t agree more. Some people labor and push for hours, sometimes without food or water and without being about to rest or sleep. This requires some serious cardiovascular endurance!

Some of my favorite ways to improve cardiovascular endurance during the second trimester:

Remember – cardiovascular training is anything that gets your heartrate up and your blood pumping, it does NOT have to involve jumping or running. Even strength training with a challenging weight and quick pacing can give you a great cardio workout.

Third Trimester

The third trimester is when MOST people start thinking about birth preparation. They pack a hospital bag, maybe take a birthing class, and talk to their support person(s) about their birth plan. But oftentimes a key element of birth prep is missing…

Pelvic floor preparation! If you haven’t read my post about reducing damage to the pelvic floor during pregnancy, it’s a great place to start. But what I really want you to know is this: while we want a strong pelvic floor for pregnancy, during vaginal birth what we really want the pelvic floor to do is relax, stretch, and move out of the way so baby can come through.

Is this surprising to you? Many of us have been conditioned to believe the pelvic floor pushes the baby out, and that’s why we want it to be strong, but this actually isn’t true at all. The uterus does the brunt of the work pushing baby out and the pelvic floor needs to be pliable enough to move out of the way.

Creating a stretchy, healthy pelvic floor that’s ready for birth involves a few things:

pregnant woman doing a pelvic floor stretch

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While employing these tips in each trimester will give you a much better chance at an easier birth experience, the truth is, we want to work on ALL three practices (core strength, stamina, and pelvic floor release) throughout pregnancy.

If there is one overarching idea that will set you up for birthing success best…’s to exercise. Consistently. For as long as you can. 

Anecdotally speaking, in all my years of work, the biggest predictor of an easy birthing experience was frequency of activity throughout the pregnancy. Research backs this finding as well: prenatal exercise has been proven to reduce risk of cesarean section in first time moms.

Feeling daunted by programming your exercise to prepare you in all of these ways? Worried about staying accountable? Feeling like you need more guidance to learn to connect to the deep core and pelvic floor? You’re not alone. That’s why I created the Her Move Prenatal Program, to guide you with five fun workouts per week tailored for exactly where you’re at in pregnancy. Plus, you get one on one support with me throughout your journey. Curious? Start your two week free trial to see if it’s right for you. Cancel anytime.

prenatal personal trainer smiling

Julia Neto is a prenatal and postpartum fitness expert with over eight years of experience in the space, and the founder of Her Move Wellness. She's a NASM CPT, CES Prenatal and Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, and Birthsmarter Pro. Julia's passion is helping women feel strong, secure, and informed in their bodies through pregnancy, postpartum recovery, and beyond. Her Move Wellness is a platform that makes safe and effective fitness affordable and accessible for women across the globe.

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