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15 Best Antenatal Exercises For Every Trimester.

Learn the best ten antenatal exercises to do before, during, and after each trimester of pregnancy to keep you fit!

No matter how much or how little exercise you performed pre-pregnancy, you may be asking whether exercising during pregnancy is safe.  What kinds of movements are safe, and which ones should be avoided? Pregnancy is itself a very careful time, and it might be hard to find evidence-based advice on prenatal or antenatal exercises when there is conflicting advice from friends, family, and the internet.

But our guide will give you all you need to learn about prenatal and antenatal exercise to help you maintain and strengthen your body for pregnancy and later. Keeping active throughout pregnancy is easier than you think, as this guide covers everything from cardiovascular and strength training to core exercises, stretching, and more.

Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

Yes, physical activity is safe and strongly advised for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Physical activity is vital for optimal health—for the mind and the body—and for leading a lively existence.

Engaging in physical activity until the end of pregnancy is entirely risk-free; however, before doing so, it is important to seek advice from your obstetrician or physical therapist, who may advise adjustments to your exercise regimen.

What Are Antenatal Exercises?

Antenatal exercises are special exercises designed for pregnant women to strengthen musculature, maintain fitness, and prepare for delivery. They are also known as prepartum exercises. The purpose of these exercises is to encourage a healthy pregnancy and enhance both physical and mental health.

Now, let us start by first learning the benefits of an antenatal exercise regimen for pregnant women.

The Benefits of Antenatal Exercises

We all know that exercising is great for the body. However, some studies have also found additional benefits for moms-to-be. Such as

1. Prepares the Body For Delivery: Working out daily can help you have the energy and strength to get through labour, which makes sense, too. Research indicated that first-stage labour progressed more rapidly in women who engaged in an antenatal exercise program three times weekly during pregnancy compared to those who did not participate in the program.

2. Less Complicated Pregnancy: It is well-stated that regular exercise during pregnancy lowers the risk of gestational diabetes by 50% and pre-eclampsia by almost 40% for women. Furthermore, a 30% reduction in the incidence of gestational diabetes was observed with even modest activity.

Even if they get diabetes, exercising regularly can have a significant impact. According to large-scale research, women with gestational diabetes who engaged in moderate exercise three times weekly had a 58% lower chance of having a macrosomic (extremely big) infant and a 34% lower risk of requiring a cesarean section.

3. Reduce pregnancy discomfort:  Pregnancy aches and pains are easier to manage when you exercise regularly since your muscles are stronger. Back discomfort can be alleviated by stretching and yoga, blood flow can be enhanced by walking, and core strength can be enhanced by swimming.

4. Easy Labor: Antenatal exercises are great for reducing the chances of complications during labor. A 2019 study showed that pregnant women who exercise have a lower risk of complications during vaginal delivery and a faster recovery time after giving birth.

5. Less Gestational Weight Gain: Many changes occur in a woman’s body during her pregnancy. And the most common one is that women usually gain weight during pregnancy to support the baby’s development. For example, the weight of the growing fetus, the amniotic fluid, the breast tissue, the blood, and the increasing fat stores needed for energy and nursing.

All of this weight gain depends on her health status and her pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI). However, performing antenatal exercises can help her gain on.

It has been found in very recent 2023 research that exercise during pregnancy is associated with a decreased risk of problems, including high blood sugar, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, premature delivery, low baby weight, cesarean section, and surgical vaginal delivery.

6. Helps to Combat Depression: Exercises like yoga are great for pregnant women. A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that yoga sessions lasting 20 minutes for pregnant women with depression improved. The women reported mood improvements, decreases in pain, and a lower incidence of preterm labor and cesarean delivery.

7. Better Sleep: It has been found that exercise during pregnancy can benefit the sleep quality in women.

8. Improves self-image: While it could be unsettling to watch the scale creep up to figures you’ve never seen before. Being physically active increases your chances of gaining a healthy weight and boosts your self-esteem.

How Much Exercise is Recommended For Pregnant Women?

The usual recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly aerobic exercise, recommended for pregnant and postpartum women. It might feel like a lot, but there’s no need to rush through it. Split the 150 minutes into 5 small or 30-minute exercises, or break them into 10-minute sessions throughout the day. As for strength conditioning, pregnant women should work out their aerobic and strength conditioning.

Best General Exercises for Pregnant Women

We might not be aware that labor is itself an exhaustive process, as the uterus contracts for an unknown number of hours, and the body puts a lot of effort into dilating the cervix and pushing the baby out. This requires a lot of energy and stamina, and preparation via cardiovascular exercise can surely benefit it. Here are some general ones to begin with:

1. Deep Breathing

Depp breathing is a great exercise for anyone, but it can greatly benefit pregnant women. By concentrating on and relaxing while taking long breaths, one can prepare to breathe in this manner during labor. To perform it,

  • Focus on your breathing. Close your eyes if it helps.
  • Inhale deeply and gently through the nostril, followed by an exhalation through the mouth as a sigh.
  • As you exhale, release all the tension in your body.
  • While exhaling, direct your attention towards easing any body area.
2. Walking

While we may not be aware, walking is one of the most recommended forms of cardiovascular exercise that is safe and useful for pregnant women. Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises for women experiencing uncomplicated pregnancies. Not only this, but walking can promote the term natural labor and lessen the necessity for interventions such as vacuum extraction or forceps.

So, walking is great during pregnancy; it is suggested that you follow a regular walking regimen if you have previously been doing so. And if you are new, it is not too late either. The best is to begin with 10–15 minutes and gradually increase it to 30 minutes daily.

3. Swimming

Swimming is a safe antenatal exercise for each trimester. It is a great cardiovascular workout, and it helps keep joints healthy. You can better support your growing body on land by swimming and strengthening your back, arms, and legs.

4. Push Ups

Push-ups are great for a better core, even during pregnancy. It is recommended for the first and second trimesters but not for the third.

  • If you have been doing push-ups before pregnancy, continue the routine for the first trimester.
  • Opt for wall push-ups for the second trimester to avoid core and back pain.
5. Stationary Bicycles

Stationary cycling is great for pregnant women as it has no danger of riding or falling compared to simple cycling. Some other cardiovascular equipment, like elliptical and arc trainers, is also considered a safe option because it is easier on the joints than jogging.

6. Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises are great for anyone. But sometimes, it is misunderstood as being exclusively helpful for women undergoing vaginal births. However, your pelvic floor will still be susceptible to tension after a cesarean section.

To perform pelvic floor exercises,

  • Sit and relax your stomach, back, and leg muscles.
  • Then, squeeze the muscles around your anus (back passage) as if you were trying to stop yourself from passing wind.
  • To get used to the feeling, squeeze and let go of these muscles a few times.
  • To get used to the feeling, squeeze and let go of these muscles a few times. Make sure your breath is normal and that your cheeks stay loose.

Many exercises can help the pelvic floor muscles. Here is a complete guide to learning them.

7. Yoga

One great approach to staying active while pregnant is to practice prenatal yoga. Evidence suggests that yoga’s ability to increase bone mineral density can stave off osteoporosis even after a woman has given birth and entered menopause.
So, women expecting a child benefit most from the restorative, hatha, and prenatal yoga styles. However, hot yoga is not recommended because of the risks involved.

Best Antenatal Exercises For Each Trimester

As each person and pregnancy is unique, the general principle is to heed your body’s guidance and heed its advice consistently.

How active a person was before getting pregnant indicates how much exercise they should do while pregnant. So here we are, dividing the antenatal exercises into trimesters.

First Trimester Antenatal Exercises (0-12 weeks)

Pregnancy during the first three months can bring various emotions. As you become aware of your duty to feed, grow, and protect the baby,

Walking, swimming, and stationary cycling are all great examples of light to moderate workouts that are safe and effective in reducing stress and fatigue. Some special antenatal exercises are,

8. Birth Ball birth ball as antenatal exercies

Pregnant women may strengthen their core, major muscles, joints, and ligaments with the help of a birthing ball—and they won’t even know it! A birth ball, just a bigger gym ball, may be used for various exercises, including sitting comfortably and practicing postures that may be useful during labor.

You should begin using the birth ball during the first trimester of your pregnancy.

9. Pelvic Curls pelvic curl

Abdominal strengthening exercises, such as the pelvic curl, can effectively improve spinal mobility and boost the muscles responsible for bracing the growing belly. To perform it,

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Take a deep breath, exhale, and tuck your pelvis, pressing your lower back into the floor.
  • Continue exhaling as you slowly lift your hips and lower back off the floor, one vertebra at a time.
  • Stop after reaching shoulder level and inhale while holding the position.
  • Exhale and slowly roll back down, placing each vertebra on the floor individually until you’re back in your starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Second Trimester Antenatal Exercises

The main focus of the second-trimester antenatal exercise regimen is to maintain the postural muscles so that you remain pain-free, strong, and correctly aligned throughout your pregnancy. During this trimester, many women report feeling their best, making it the perfect time to put your workout regimen into high gear.

Consider adding some changes to your antenatal exercise schedule beyond the workouts you did in the first trimester. Such as

10. Squatting

Squatting opens the pelvic outlet, which is necessary for a vaginal birth, making it an ideal labor posture. But it is tiring, so the muscles necessary for labor are suggested to be built as antenatal exercise. It can be performed in any trimester but is better in the second one as a wall squat.

  • Lie your back against a wall.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and about 6 inches from the wall, and keep your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • Maintaining a straight back, descend the wall slowly and delicately to a squatting position until your quads are parallel to the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slide back into standing.

11. The Mermaid Stretch mermaid stretch

Diaphragmatic and ribcage pressure might become more uncomfortable as the baby develops. So, doing a mermaid stretch can help, especially in the third trimester. It can be performed,

  • Sit on the ground in a simple yoga pose.
  • With an inhale, bring your left arm straight up to the ceiling; now, exhale and bend to the right. A stretch must be felt on the left side.
  • Take 4 deep breaths in this position and repeat them on the other side.
  • Repeat 4-5 times.

12. Standing Lunges lunges

In the second trimester, the buying belly can shift the center of gravity, which shortens the hip flexor muscles. But the following stretch can help,

  • Begin by kneeling on the floor, placing your right knee on the ground and your left foot flat on the floor.
  • Lunge gradually toward your left foot. This exercise should induce a mild stretch in the front of the right hip and thigh. But don’t overstretch.
  • Stay in the position for 10 seconds.
  • After maintaining the stretch, relax out. Perform two more repetitions on the same side and then switch.

Third Trimester Antenal Exercises

The third trimester is a huge change in a woman’s body. It becomes essential to focus on activities that prepare the body for labor.

13. Deep Long Squats 

The pelvic floor muscles can be stretched and relaxed during deep squats. To perform this, stretch your legs wider than hip-width when you stand. Slowly crouch down as low as possible with your palms facing each other.

Stay in this position for 8–10 seconds, and then relax. However, the best thing to do is consult your physical therapist, who can discuss the optimal frequency and number of deep squats you can perform.

14. Side Planks and Leg Lifts

This exercise helps to strengthen the buttocks.

Start your exercise routine in a modified side plank position. Now, place your hand flat on your right buttock. Raise the right leg to shoulder height while engaging the obliques. Repeat from the starting position.

15. Perineal Bulges 

The space between the anus and the genitalia is called the perineum. And a great antenatal exercise to ease the delivery is a perineal bulge. They are also great for reducing urinary incontinence in pregnant women.  It can teach you to breathe normally when pushing during labor.

Holding a breath while pushing is called Valsalva.  Valsalva can reduce blood flow to the heart, lower maternal blood pressure, and decrease maternal oxygen and blood flow to the placenta. Which in turn can cause fetal head compression and distress.

This antenatal exercise is only suggested in the last three weeks of pregnancy. Don’t over-practice, as it can pressure the pelvic floor muscles excessively. These should not be performed by anyone with a history of pelvic organ prolapse, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, or preterm membrane rupture.

To perform a perineal bulge, one should be seated as she is about to deliver the baby. Sit on a small towel, which is placed and folded lengthwise. Now press your perineal body into the towel in a gentle way.  Use a mirror to see that the perineum is bulging out and down, not up and in, as is done during a Kegel exercise. Repeat it only 5 times a day.

Perineal Massage 

Massaging the perineum area in the third trimester, usually in the 35th week, can loosen the tightened muscles and help with the labor pain.

To help you relax before the massage, take a warm bath or place a warm compress on your perineum for 10 minutes. Now,

  • Sit in a relaxed place with knees bent and legs apart. You can also use a mirror to guide you.
  • Put some lubricant on the thumb and perineal area. Now place about an inch of your fingers into the vagina and press down toward the anus. Then, press outward toward the sides. It makes a “U” shape.
  • Gradually apply pressure and stretch the perineal area until a mild tingling or burning feeling develops. For approximately 30 seconds, hold this position, and then relax.
  • Continue the “U” shape for another 5–10 minutes of massage. Relax your muscles and concentrate on breathing.
  • Repeat this massage once a day.

Before beginning any antenatal exercises see your physician and physical therapist. They will be able to tell you what to do and how often to do it best.

Precautions While Performing Antenatal Exercises

Pregnancy brings numerous changes, including changes in the body’s oxygen demand, which can cause difficulty in normal activities. As your pregnancy develops, it is important to remember the following workout modifications:

  • Avoid contact sports: If pregnant, it is best to avoid high-contact sports such as ice hockey, boxing, basketball, and soccer, as they strain your abdomen.
  • Avoid supine abdominal exercises: While it is suggested to perform mild core exercises, avoiding core activities like crunches during pregnancy will help keep the rectus abdominis, the outermost layer of the abdominal wall, flexible to help with the bulging belly. Also, it is suggested that pregnant women should avoid prolonged lying flat on their back exercises beyond the first trimester, as these postures can significantly decrease cardiac output, potentially reducing blood supply to the fetus.
  • Avoid high-heat environments while exercising: To prevent heat stress, especially in the first trimester, the ACOG recommends that pregnant women stay indoors when the weather is hot and humid. They also suggest exercising in a temperature-controlled area and drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.
  • Avoid twisting and belly exercises: Refrain from doing any workouts that cause a position where you have to lie on your tummy or require excessive twisting. Always opt for side-lying position exercises such as pilates and savana.
  • Avoid bouncy movements: It’s best to stay away from movements that are jerky, bouncy, or have a lot of impact. It is because the ligaments that normally support your joints loosen during pregnancy due to hormones, making you more vulnerable to harm.

When Exercising isn’t Recommended

It is advised that pregnant women hold off from exercising in specific circumstances until they have undergone a more comprehensive evaluation by their obstetrician. Among these signs are things like:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Extreme pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or headache
  • Chest pain
  • Calf pain or swelling

Exercising can help moms-to-be maintain their fitness levels, whether it’s during or after pregnancy.  Besides that, they can also help prevent delivery complications. But after delivery, new physical problems may arise, limiting your ability to enjoy life to the fullest with your newborn. We discuss getting your body back after giving birth in this second part. So read it up here.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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