There are two extreme schools of thought about the pregnant body: one is that you will eat everything in sight and should be treated like a fragile thing for all nine months, and the other is that you shouldn’t change much except for a model-esque figure with a perfectly round baby bump added that will go away as soon as the little one is born.
Reality is like a pendulum that swings back and forth, with most of us falling much more in the middle of these two, just eating as well as we can and moving our bodies when we can. The “range of normal” tends to be wide whenever humans are involved, and you may find major differences even in your body and habits from pregnancy to pregnancy.
Today, we’re going to refocus fitness, away from physical shape and form and instead look at what it means to really be fit in pregnancy and how you can stay that way from beginning to end.
What Does Fitness in Pregnancy Look Like?
Weight gain is the first thing we are conditioned to associate with fitness, so even though that’s not necessarily true, that’s what we will address first here. Most pregnant women know that the average weight gain is expected to be around 25-35 pounds.
What we often miss is that this is an average, which means normal can range from the 10s to the 50s. The important thing is not that the scale does what we want it to but that our habits and lifestyle are healthy.
Fitness in pregnancy, then, will look like eating good foods, moving our bodies, and preparing for the process of labor.
Staying Fit in the Kitchen
Fitness is found first in the kitchen. A person can be in the gym every day and still not be fit if their eating habits and routines are lacking. During pregnancy, this is even more important, as the foods you eat will replenish all that your body gives in order to grow a new person.
The classic visual of “eating for two” isn’t even accurate, as your body certainly doesn’t need double the amount that you’d been eating before pregnancy. Instead, work on packing more nutrients into the food you feel like eating. A salad every day, loaded with good protein and vegetables, will help you accomplish that goal in a big way.
There’s certainly room for some indulgence, of course. Real fitness strikes a balance between indulgence and limitation. That balance is found in simply enjoying real food and the way it makes your body feel.
Staying Fit and Active
As awkward as your body may feel by the end, you will be much happier with yourself and your body if you stay active. This looks different for every mama. Some are still running well into their pregnancy, while others need low impact movement like gentle walks or light swimming.
The important thing is to keep moving. Active fitness benefits every system in your body, from cardiorespiratory to digestive to your strained muscles and joints. We can break down active fitness in pregnancy to a few categories:
- Classic exercise, like fitness classes, traditional workouts and prenatal yoga.
- Intentional activity, like squatting while putting away laundry or lunging while preparing a meal or brushing your teeth.
- Enjoying movement, like playing tag with your kids or going for a hike.
Start by assessing your level of activity before pregnancy to know where you can begin now. You can’t make up for lost time by jumping into advanced workouts simply because you want to meet someone else’s ideal for pregnancy. Meet yourself where you are, choose realistic ways to stay active, and enjoy the big changes your body is making.
Staying Fit for Labor
Not only is fitness important for your health during pregnancy and recovery after, but it can help tremendously during labor as well. Some concerted efforts you can make to improve your body’s fitness and prepare for labor include:
- Squats and kegels to improve pelvic floor stabilization
- Walking to strengthen the abdominal muscles and improve alignment
- Swimming to give your joints and muscles a break and help baby align as well.
- Yoga stretches and postures to find strength and comfort in your changing body
Motherhood is a journey, pregnancy is an effort, and labor is a marathon. It only makes sense to prioritize fitness and become an active part of the process rather than a passive participant.