I have yet to write my book about the pelvis, pregnancy, and exercise, but I’ve created many resources over the years that are helpful during this time. Below I offer a brief Nutritious Movement perspective on pregnancy and exercise as well as a note full of links to other articles, posts, podcasts and videos you can use to get moving. Whichever items interest you, click through for more in-depth exploration. And, FYI, I’m currently working on a book on movement for babies and kids. Sign up for my newsletter to stay in the loop!
Pregnancy and the Nutritious Movement perspective
IMPORTANT: The information on this page is based on the assumption that your healthcare team has cleared you for exercise. If you are not cleared for exercise, please discuss options and this information with your healthcare team and make choices based on those conversations.
While pregnancy is absolutely special to us as expecting parents, it’s not a particularly special phenomenon in a numbers/biology sense. About half the bodies in the world have the hardware and software for birth. However, our bodies are all living in unprecedentedly sedentary times.
Movement is a “part” that much of our physiology depends on (read Move Your DNA for more on that), and our views on pregnancy and movement are heavily influenced by our sedentary perspective. Thus, what truly makes our pregnancies special is that we’re trying to get the body to do a million-year-old process in an entirely new context where it’s not moving much at all.
Prenatal programs can take the following approaches:
- Using exercise to stay generally fit during pregnancy
- Using exercise as a tool to target movements necessary for birth, i.e., “preparing to push” programs
Nutritious Movement doesn’t have pregnancy programs per se, but rather we view movement as a natural environment and practice to restore. When we are pregnant within a more dynamic lifestyle, we can stay fit and optimize our basic biological functions, like pregnancy and birth. Said another way, our approach to movement during pregnancy is a hybrid of #1 and #2 above:
3. Using exercise and non-exercise movements so the birthing body meets both its physical and biological fitness goals, and so do the bodies within that body—all at the same time.
I usually teach a “Pregnancy and Movement Ecology” course once a year. Here’s one attendee’s recap of some course takeaways.
On pregnancy and alignment
In the easiest terms, our modern bodies that sit most of the time, walk very little, and often have on heeled shoes—which point our feet and adjust our joints in a “downhill” fashion—are barely tolerating holding up our own body weight. Adding mass to an unstable structure further presses and pulls our frame in wonky ways, which is one of the reasons pregnancy is often associated with musculoskeletal issues like low back, pelvis, and foot pain. In short, if you learn to carry your body better, the body you’re carrying will also be carried better.
Read more of my thoughts on this in Pregnancy, Pain, and Posture
Quick and simple alignment adjustments to make right now
These are short-ish articles each offering a simple way to adjust your all-day posture in a way that can instantly change the loads to your pelvis and lower back.
Mind Your Pelvis
Are You Rib Thruster?
Pregnant Body Alignment (Includes a video of me while pregnant, demonstrating how to adjust your pelvis and ribcage—but still, read the articles above for additional information.)
Mind Your Pelvis While Pregnant
Aligning or Relaxin During Pregnancy?
On footwear and pregnancy
Shoes can move your body all day long, so changing what’s on your feet—which only takes one movement a day—can actually result in an entire day of moving differently. Beautiful shoes are great; my beef with high heels is that simply putting them on your feet ends up changing the position of your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, and ribcage, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In order to accommodate the heel, you have to make these geometrical adjustments. So, what you wear on your feet changes where you can carry your weight, and in the case of pregnancy, how and where you’re loading your body matters even more, since you have so much extra weight that your body is not accustomed to carrying. Consider that what you put on your feet is actually being put on your entire body.
If you want more explanation about why I recommend minimal footwear, read Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief and Whole Body Barefoot. If you already believe me and just want to get some new shoes already, find shoe features to look for and minimal footwear styles here:
Modifying exercise during pregnancy
In general, prenatal exercise is modified in two ways: for intensity and for position. Nutritious Movement moves are all fairly low-intensity, and they rarely need adjustment in this regard.
Whether you need to modify our movements for form or positioning because of your pregnancy depends on how far along you are. There are two main issues: the size of your belly and how comfortable you are on your back.
The way you need to adapt a move depends on your comfort level/body shape while you’re moving. Exercises lying on your belly on the ground, for example, obviously don't work well in later trimesters; and some movements on your back, again, might not be comfortable or possible.
Here are general modification guidelines you can use for all moves: If the move asks you to lie face down on the floor, you might try it standing or rotated to the side. For supine (lying on your back) exercises, you can often add pillows until your torso reclines at a comfortable angle, or adapt them to standing versions. Some moves, like a spinal twist, don’t work well—although if you’re still driving, then you’re still twisting to look over your shoulder, so in some cases, you can do a move but just to a lesser degree, to accommodate an expanding belly.
EXERCISES TO LEARN AND TRY
On Kegels and Squats and Your Pelvic Floor
The bulk of pregnant folks landing at Nutritious Movement are coming because of an interview I did in 2010 on Kegel exercises not being the be-all, end-all of pelvic health. Pelvic floors really come onto our radar as the loads to the pelvic floor increase, as they do during pregnancy. You can read more about the pelvic and pelvic floor in My Pelvic Position in 2020 and you can find heaps of information and heaps of moves on Our Best "Healthy Pelvis" Resources. You can also start by moving through some of these exercises for your pelvis/pelvic floor in:
You Don’t Know Squat
You Still Don’t Know Squat
What to Expect When You’re Squatting
Move Your DNA, specifically Chapter 10: Not Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great- Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents’ Pelvis and The Great Kegel Debate.
Listen to (or read the transcripts of) You Do Know Squat and this interview I did with Wellness Mama: Why to Stop Doing Kegels and Squat Instead. P.S. No, I don’t think you need to stop doing Kegels, but I do think some perspective and more movements are necessary.
Find more at Our Best "Healthy Pelvis" Resources
On getting butt-strong
Glutes are such an asset when you’re pregnant. GET IT? Their pull on the back of your body helps you stand and walk upright as mass starts accumulating on the front of your body and they are also part of a strong and supple pelvic floor.
Get Your Butt Here (Make sure to try this exercise!)
The Missing Mass
Let’s bring back the word crotch. I’ll do my part by writing articles featuring not only the word, but moves for it. In many cases “crotch” pain during pregnancy is created by a too-great load on the pubic symphysis. Try the move in Crotch Bones (and also Mind Your Pelvis While Pregnant).
Get to know-as your psoas
Your right and left psoas major muscles are important to learn about any time, but especially during pregnancy. Our psoas release exercise (see the “Snapping Psoas” article below) may not be available to you now, as it requires lying on your back. Still, adjusting your pelvis and ribcage are part of reducing psoas tension, so read about the psoas and do what you can for now.
Snapping Psoas, Hidden Tiger
Have Psoas, Will Travel (simple and upright psoas-moving lunge here!)
Spinning Babies teaches movements a pregnant body can do before and during delivery that make it easier for the baby to do the movements it needs to do during delivery. This is vital information that helps many deliveries go much better than they would otherwise. Listen (maybe while on a walk!) to
Spinning Babies’ Gail Tully and I discuss Birth and the Shapeshifting Pelvis.
Read more Q and A here: Spinning Babies.
Which exercise video?
Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis is a set of eleven simple exercises and five lifestyle tips to help move your legs, hips, and pelvis. All but two moves are accessible in later-stage pregnancy: Knee Squeeze and Legs on the Wall are both done on your back, so you can just skip those until you’re postnatal.
While I don’t have a book on pregnancy and alignment, I do have a book on the core and diastasis recti called Diastasis Recti: The Whole-Body Solution to Abdominal Weakness and Separation. You can totally read the book while you’re pregnant and make this “restoration” book a “preventative” book instead. Because many work on their trunk muscles after birth, the exercises in DR are instructed from a non-prego perspective. So, below you’ll find how to modify each move for various stages of pregnancy as well as which ones to avoid until you’re postnatal.
Read an excerpt of Diastasis Recti
Get dynamic while you learn and listen to podcast episodes on Diastasis Recti and the core:
Diastasis Recti: The Book!
Diastasis Recti: It's For Anyone With A Torso
Modifying the moves in Diastasis Recti:
Chapter 5: Stance and Body Neutral – all moves are fine
Chapter 6: Little Moves
Floor Angels: Try these standing against a wall.
Floor Crescent: Swap for the standing version of this exercise found in the following chapter.
Bolstered Spinal Twist: Swap for the seated version of this move, also in the book.
Supine Soles Together and Supine Stacked Legs: Bolster your upper body to a reclined position. If reclining is not possible, do these seated.
Rectus Femoris Quad Stretch: Adapt this to standing; you might need a strap to hold your foot!
Save for postnatal time: Log Pullover, Knee and Leg Out to the Side, Psoas and Iliacus Release
Chapter 7: Medium Moves
Moves to avoid altogether: Save Medium Ball in the Guts, Roll Over Roll Back, Rocking Chair, and Rocking Chair 360° for when you’re postnatal. Try “Small Ball” against the wall.
Chapter 8: Big Moves
Hanging, Swinging, and the Monkey Bars: Using your arms overhead is fine, you just want to be mindful of downward pressure. If you haven’t been hanging before pregnancy, opt for lower loads in the Hanging section and keep your feet on the ground (find modifications of these moves in Hanging and Swinging 101 and Hypermobility and 12 Steps to Stronger Shoulders). Always be mindful of ribcage position!
Find a teacher in your town
We have teachers all over the world who can help with these moves. To find someone in your area, check out our Find-A-Teacher map!
Have a listen to this episode of The Homebirth Midwife Podcast (even if you're not planning a home birth!)
Once you’re post-natal, check out our Virtual Studio Membership, where you can find 22 Alignment Snacks – 30-minute classes I filmed when I was six weeks postpartum to get my body strong again! When you’re ready, read Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More, check out my resources on Kids and Babies moving more and sign up for my newsletter for inspiration and notification of new releases!