Can you exercise while pregnant? Will exercising while pregnant hurt your baby, or you? What is the safest way to workout if you’re pregnant? We’re sure that all of these questions have gone through your head as you’ve attempted to navigate staying active while expecting. Of course, as with everything to do with pregnancy, there are so many opposing opinions, misinformation and old wives tales that it can be difficult to really figure out what the truth is.
Caitlin Ritt, a pre/postnatal master trainer, leads an Inceptive class on Exercise during pregnancy to examine this subject and help cut through the noise to help you understand how to keep you – and your baby – safe and active before and after delivery.
In this class Ms. Ritt covers:
- Structural changes during pregnancy
- The core and diaphragmatic breathing
- Pregnancy considerations: diastasis recti, pelvic girdle pain, round ligament pain, pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and urinary incontinence
- Exercise goals, workout suggestions, risks & rewards
- Beyond the six week checkup
One of the most important takeaways from this course, according to Ms. Ritt, is diaphragmatic breathing.
While pregnant, your body is going through a massive amount of changes, including just so much pressure being put on your body. As your baby grows, that pressure is directed outward and downward, with your pelvic floor being the main point that this downward pressure is focused. As your internal organs are squished upward and inward, putting pressure on your diaphragm, your breathing will begin to suffer.
This is where diaphragmatic breathing comes in – and this breathing not only helps regulate the pressure on your pelvic floor, it has a myriad of other benefits, including helping to lower stress and can help avoid diastasis recti.
So, how do you do diaphragmatic breathing? With patience and practice!
- Start by sitting down in a comfortable chair. Put one hand on your rib cage and the other on your low belly, and settle down on top of your sit bones. Inhaling through your nose, concentrate on softening your belly and softening your pelvic floor. You should feel as though your pelvic floor is dropping to the basement.
- As you exhale, you should pretend as though you are blowing through a straw. While you blow out the exhale, pretend that you are picking up a blueberry with your vagina, and drawing it all the way up to your belly button. And we know how that sounds! It’s a very weird thing to try and do, so it will take a bit of practice (and probably some giggles) as you figure out the process, but it is easier if you have something to picture in your mind’s eye.
- So again, as you inhale, you soften your belly, your rib cage and your pelvic floor. As you exhale, you engage the pelvic floor, lifting upwards, beginning at the vagina and rising through the transverse abs. This shouldn’t be a huge movement, and there should be nothing more than a subtle activation from around your underwear line up to your belly button, initiated through the pelvic floor.
This is something that you will need to practice often to get to the point where it becomes automatic, but once you do, there are many benefits to it. Diaphragmatic breathing strengthens your pelvic floor, but also trains it to soften.
You have probably heard opposing information about strengthening your pelvic floor. Some people think you should be doing Kegels all day long and others advise not doing anything at all to train your pelvic floor. Diaphragmatic breathing allows you to find a balance between those two options, training both the strengthening and the softening of your pelvic floor. This strengthening of your pelvic floor has been shown to decrease labor time and will be an asset as you begin the postpartum recovery process.
An aspect of pregnancy where diaphragmatic breathing can help is the managing of diastasis recti. Diastasis recti, the thinning of the connective tissue which connects the abdominal muscles, will happen to every single pregnant woman. It’s a fact, and it’s part of how our bodies manage all of the changes that happen during pregnancy. So, we’re not trying to avoid this adaptation, but what we want is for it to be lessened by properly managing the pressure that is exerted on our cores.
A tell-tale sign that you are putting too much pressure on that part of your body is the coning or doming of your bump. This will happen when doing a core-focused movement, like a crunch or even just sitting up in bed. Many women find that using diaphragmatic breathing helps round out that coning, which in turn, lessens the stress put on that abdominal connective tissue, which can minimize the chance of developing diastasis recti.
Diaphragmatic breathing, Ms. Ritt says, can really help with a lot of the stresses and pressures put on your body during this amazing, but intense, period of your life.
To learn more about how you can safely stay fit during pregnancy and after, take Ms. Ritt's class, Exercise during pregnancy.
 “Diastasis Recti: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001602.htm.