Becoming a mother requires lots of lifting, and I’m not talking about dumbbells. A strong body is essential for carrying children, groceries, strollers, carseats, strollers and baby bumps when you are pregnant.
In the past, expectant mothers were instructed to not lift any heavy objects during pregnancy. However, that mindset is shifting. Expectant moms and new moms, unless there are any medical conditions that require no lifting, will benefit not only physically but also mentally and emotionally from pumping iron.
With that said, if you’re looking to conceive, are currently with child, or are already a mom, now is the perfect time to strengthen your body and mind from head-to-toe with good ol’ weightlifting.
Before you begin an exercise program, consult your doctor/OBGYN. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have had a C section.
Here’s How to Determine if Lifting Weights During Pregnancy is Right for You
“Particularly during pregnancy, there is a collective cultural concern about weightlifting, that it could harm the health of the baby,” says Rachel Trotta, a NASM-certified personal trainer specializing in women’s fitness, prenatal and postnatal, and nutrition. Thankfully, it’s quite the opposite.
“In pregnancy, the best two metrics we can use for evaluating the appropriateness of an exercise are the fitness level of the mother at the start of pregnancy, and the health of the mother and the baby at the current stage of pregnancy,” says Trotta.
Simply put, if you’ve had a consistent weightlifting routine before pregnancy, and are passing your doctor’s appointments with flying colors, “You will likely need to gradually scale down on the weight as the pregnancy progresses but can continue consistently working out at a relatively high level of difficulty,” says Trotta.
This will not only improve your body, but also your post-partum self.
On the other hand, “If a woman wasn’t lifting weights prior to pregnancy or is having a high-risk pregnancy, this nine-month window isn’t the right time to start,” explains Trotta.
Keep in mind, “If a healthy, experienced, pregnant weightlifter can effectively manage intra-abdominal pressure during heavy lifting (i.e., not using the Valsalva maneuver – a lifting technique in which you hold your breath during the lift to create more stability around the spine), there’s no pelvic reason to stop weightlifting during pregnancy, especially if weight is gradually scaled down, “says Trotta.
Good news for moms who love lifting!
It’s possible to lift weights during pregnancy, which will make you a success.
After a hard workout, we all know how it feels: satisfied, happy, and ready for the day ahead. However, lifting weights reaches beyond the strength of the body and increases the “feel good” hormones like serotonin. “The positive effects of weightlifting on mood, endocrine health, endurance, balance, and sheer strength are incredibly beneficial for a woman during pregnancy,” says Trotta.
“I remember when I was pregnant how my ‘bump’ became so unbelievably heavy—it was like having a 30-pound slam ball strapped to the front of my body. Every activity, even getting off the floor, was getting harder,” she recalls.
“The benefits of continuing to do squats, split squats, and deadlifts, even as the weights got lighter, were enormous for my sense of self-efficacy; I never had problems tying my shoes, shaving my legs, or getting off the floor, and that was empowering,” she says.
So, for the days when you don’t feel like picking up the weights, keep in mind just how much stronger you’ll be in the long run if you do.
The High Demands of Being New Mom: Weightlifting Benefits for Post-Pregnancy
Mothers are superheroes for a reason. “Once the baby is earthside, new mothers are often blindsided by the physical demands of new motherhood—carrying an eight-pound baby is surprisingly fatiguing, and doing repetitive things like picking up your baby from the floor or crib can stress out your back, shoulders, and hips,” explains Trotta.
This is why having a strong body before pregnancy can reduce the stress on your body and help prevent overuse injuries.
“Being strong for new parenthood is a critical advantage, reducing aches and pains and making it easier to do things like rock or bounce your baby to sleep, “says Trotta.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be lifting weights the day after giving birth. Your body needs to recover and rest properly.
As you recover from a post-partum pregnancy, embrace balance
Sometimes resting isn’t the easiest thing for a new mom to do, but it’s a must for proper healing and a stronger body in the long run. “Post-pregnancy, we must embrace balance, taking recovery into consideration. It’s not just tears and stitches – it’s also the complex, slow remodeling of your core and pelvic floor.’ Says Trotta. This is true for women who have maintained a healthy weight and built a strong body.
“Even for a woman who lifted weights prior to [and during] pregnancy, it’s wise to spend the first few months doing lots of walking, breathing exercises, mobility work, and strategic strengthening,” says Trotta, encouraging new moms to not jump the gun after birth. Over time, by taking care of your body and consulting with a qualified post-partum specialist, you’ll be back into your old routine before you know it.
“Lay a foundation for a strong return,” instructs Trotta.
“Exercises like bridges, cat-cow, and bird-dog can feel very challenging postpartum if performed with proper form and breathing,” says Trotta. Trotta offers step-by-step guidance in this area.
While you might feel the urge to lift, waiting six weeks post-partum is crucial.
If you’re a seasoned lifter, just getting started, or simply getting the weightlifting itch, it’s best to wait at least six weeks post-birth to introduce weightlifting.
“While it takes about four to 12 months for pelvic floor muscles to completely recover and return to (almost) pre-pregnancy dimensions (and this does require patience), most postpartum weightlifters find that starting at even moderate loads is challenging and satisfying after a hiatus,” says Trotta. She continues: “Reintroducing compound
moves like deadlifts, hip thrusts, squats, and single-leg work will pay rapid dividends in improving strength and quality of life.”
Let’s Talk Post-Baby Exercise
You should be aware that certain exercises can put strain on your pelvic floors (a sensitive area that requires slow and responsible strengthening). But “exercises like squats and deadlifts can actually improve pelvic floor strength if performed with good technique and breathing,” says Trotta. “Doing a deadlift with a good exhale and a pelvic floor contraction (with a full pelvic release afterward), or a front squat with good posture and breathing, is beneficial for the pelvic floor, not damaging.”
However, getting stronger (carefully) may require different techniques than you’re used to. “It’s important to note that doing strength training exercises with breathing, control, and self-awareness is different from weightlifting in a high-intensity, competitive fitness class,” says Trotta.
You must listen to your body to strengthen your pelvic floors. “Promoting pelvic floor health while lifting heavy means listening to your body, being mindful about exercise selection, and increasing intensity gradually—in the fourth trimester and beyond,” says Trotta.
Plus, “it’s easy as a new parent for your life to be consumed by caring for a baby, and this doesn’t necessarily get easier as your child grows,” Trotta adds. “An empowering hobby like weightlifting, where you can enjoy the release of endorphins, the satisfaction of progress, and the connection to an identity outside parenthood, is incredibly healthy for new moms.”