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Ab Exercises While Pregnant: What to Know for a Safe Pregnancy Workout

Workouts and healthy activities can be good for moms-to-be and baby if done safely

ExercisingWoman doing ab exercises while pregnant | Tennessee Reproductive Medicine | Chattanooga, TN during pregnancy can be a real game-changer for moms-to-be and their little bundles of joy. But, here’s the deal: While ab workouts are fantastic for keeping that core strong, they also come with some pregnancy-specific fine print. Being aware of these risks and taking the necessary precautions can keep baby and mom-to-be safe.

I also want to briefly address exercising before pregnancy, when you are trying to conceive.

Exercising while trying to conceive

We encourage women to exercise while trying to conceive – there are so many physical, mental and emotional health benefits from being physically active. As with all things, balance is needed – we don’t generally recommend that patients pick up long distance endurance training when trying to conceive. If the body senses stress (i.e. from too much exercise), it can respond by turning down fertility/reproduction, thinking that a pregnancy may further stress the mom’s internal health.

Exercise helps prepare the body for pregnancy, labor and delivery. For most people, a combination of exercises (cardio exercises, strength training and stretching) help achieve good health. And some exercises like squats and Kegels can strengthen your pelvic floor, which can help to minimize discomforts during pregnancy (and later in life).

Moderation, variety & strengthening

Whether your exercise when trying to conceive is running, tennis, cycling or swimming, do it in moderation. Mixing up exercises is a good thing as well, as different activities help strengthen your body in different ways. It helps you keep up a program if you enjoy the activities, and having more than one can keep you from getting bored and cutting back.

Strength training is helpful for women (we tend to lose muscle as we age, and less muscle means slower metabolism that leads to weight gain). Many women worry they’ll get bulky and look manly from lifting weights – we really do not have the hormone levels in our body’s to get bulky from lifting weights, so feel free to pump some iron.

One thing to note is that if you are going to be doing in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help you conceive, it is best to speak with your fertility specialist about exercising. You may be advised to minimize exercise around the time of ovulation stimulation and also before embryo transfer.

Patients are encouraged to consult with their healthcare provider before initiating or continuing any exercise regimen, especially when trying to get pregnant or after conceiving.

What are the risks of ab exercises and pregnancy?

Most exercises are safe to do when trying to get pregnant or after pregnancy, as long as they are performed in moderation and with consideration for individual health and comfort. However, it’s important to note that some exercises carry risk in pregnancy.

In particular, abdominal exercises involving high intensity or high impact movements can raise the mother’s heart rate too high and decrease oxygen supply to the baby. Additionally, abdominal exercises that involve the crunching or pressing of the abdomen are often uncomfortable for pregnant women. While the crunches will not harm the baby, the enlarging uterus can make it difficult to maintain proper form when doing abdominal exercises, and excess intra-abdominal pressure can exacerbate the natural tendency of the abdominal muscles to separate (some women may develop diastasis recti, or abdominal wall separation, during pregnancy).

Moreover, as pregnancy progresses, the body’s center of gravity shifts, increasing the threat of balance issues and falls during abdominal exercises, especially those performed while jumping or while lying flat on the back.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

  • Sit-ups and abdominal crunches. Sit-ups and abdominal crunches can put too much pressure on the abdomen and should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because, as the uterus grows, the abdominal area doesn’t have the same strength and support it did before pregnancy.
  • Any exercise that involves a significant risk of falling and hitting your belly (horseback riding, mountain biking, and water and snow skiing). Women who are runners before pregnancy can often continue running during pregnancy. However, if you’ve not regularly done higher intensity exercises, then we don’t recommend starting during pregnancy – moderate exercise may be best in those cases.
  • High intensity interval training. Use caution when doing heavy weightlifting and avoid any jarring movements, as they can increase chances of injury and can cause complications.

With the exception of sports/exercises that can cause harm to the mom’s belly by falling, most evidence shows that pregnant women can continue the same level of exercise that they had pre-pregnancy. Use caution with high impact exercise; lower impact activities such as swimming, stair climbing or walking may be easier to do. For core strength, light weightlifting, Kegels, planks and other low impact activities are safer and can help to promote a healthy pregnancy.

In addition, it’s important to avoid any activity that causes discomfort. If any exercise begins to feel uncomfortable, stop and rest. This is especially important if the mother experiences any pain or discomfort in the abdominal area.

Safe ab exercises while pregnant

Here are some safe ab exercises for pregnancy that can help maintain core strength without compromising the health of the mother or the baby.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Strengthen core muscles by diaphragmatic breathing. Lie down, hand on belly, breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth while pulling the belly button in. Aim for 10-15 minutes daily.
  • Kegel exercises: These help tone the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. This involves contracting the pelvic floor muscles, as if attempting to stop urinating midstream. Hold for up to 10 seconds and release, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.
  • Pelvic tilts: These activate the core and stabilize the pelvis. Lie down, knees bent, exhale while tilting the pelvis back. Repeat 10-15 times, increasing the hold duration.
  • Seated leg lifts: This targets the lower abs. Sit on a stable chair with the back straight. Slowly lift one leg at a time while keeping your back against the chair.
  • Modified planks: Try modified plank exercises for diastasis recti and not a traditional plank. Start in forearm-knees plank or wall plank, engage core, hold 10-20 seconds, progress gradually. Avoid exercises causing bulging or worsening separation.
  • Side planks: Side planks target the oblique muscles without putting pressure on the abdomen. Start by lying on one side with the forearm on the ground and elbow directly under the shoulder. Lift the hips off the ground, creating a straight line from the head to the feet. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then switch sides. As a pregnancy progresses, modify this exercise by bending your bottom knee and resting it on the ground for additional support.
  • Exercise ball: The gentle rocking and stability challenges offered by sitting or exercising on the ball can help improve posture, balance and core strength while reducing back pain and discomfort associated with pregnancy. These exercises can also aid in maintaining flexibility, supporting pelvic floor health and preparing the body for labor and delivery.

How to perform ab exercises safely while pregnant

Expectant mothers should begin with gentle, low-impact moves and adjust the intensity according to their fitness level. Women should focus on exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, such as hip lifts, planks, pelvic tilts and bridges. Women should also be mindful of their breathing, as it can help to activate the core muscles, while also providing some relaxation.

In addition, pregnant women should avoid lying on their back for too long, especially after the first trimester, as this can reduce blood flow to the baby. To safely perform ab exercises while pregnant, women should alternate positions, such as standing, sitting and kneeling, as this helps to avoid putting too much stress on their abdominal area. It is also important to avoid any exercises that require straining or holding the breath.

When performing ab exercises while pregnant, women should be mindful of their body’s signals. Unexpected aches and pains can be a sign that the exercise is not suitable for one’s stage of pregnancy. If there is any discomfort, they should stop exercising and rest. If the discomfort persists, they should talk to a doctor or consult with a physical therapist.

Finally, expectant mothers should be sure to warm up before exercising and to cool down afterward. This helps to ensure that the body is in the proper state for exercising and can help to reduce the risk of injury. Be cautious when changing positions as sometimes fast position changes can cause lightheadedness. Finally, make sure that you’re staying hydrated through the day and planning balanced meals and snacks to fuel your body’s exercise.

Overall, exercise during pregnancy or when trying to conceive can be beneficial, but it must be done safely. Women should consult with a doctor and follow the provider’s instructions to ensure a healthy pregnancy. With the right guidance and precautions, ab exercises are a great way to stay fit and healthy during pregnancy.

Tips to help pregnant women get the most out of their ab workouts

  • Always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
  • Choose exercises that are specifically designed for pregnant women such as those mentioned above.
  • Focus on proper form and posture.
  • Avoid exercises that involve lying flat on the back for long periods of time, as this can reduce blood flow to the baby.
  • Listen to your body and stop if experiencing any pain or discomfort.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after a workout.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive clothing and shoes.
  • Perform each exercise slowly and with control.
  • Take breaks as needed and avoid over exerting yourself.

Related reading: Lifestyle effects on female and male infertility

Exercises and pregnancy: a workout in moderation

By following these guidelines, women can safely enjoy the many benefits of ab exercises while pregnant. Exercise can help women feel more energized, help reduce stress and anxiety, and reduce the risk of pregnancy-related complications. Following proper guidance and precautions, pregnant women can enjoy a safe pregnancy workout.