Becoming a mother requires lots of lifting, and I’m not talking about dumbbells. From carrying your children, groceries, car seats, strollers, and a baby bump when pregnant, being a mom calls for a strong body.
In past years, expectant mothers have been given the instructions to take a load off and not lift anything heavy during pregnancy, but that train of thought is now shifting to quite the opposite. Unless there is a medical condition that requires no lifting, expectant mothers, and new moms alike, not only benefit physically from pumping iron but mentally and emotionally as well.
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.
(Always consult your doctor/OBGYN before you start an exercise program; especially when pregnant or if you recently 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 strengthen your current body but your post-partum self as well.
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 to lift!
Lifting Weights During Pregnancy Will Set You Up for Success
We all know what it feels like after a good lifting session: accomplished, a lifted mood, and ready to tackle the day. 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.
Weightlifting Benefits Post-Pregnancy for the High Demands of Being a New Mom
There is a reason mothers are called superheroes. “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 a solid reason why a strong body pre-pregnancy can help take the load off your body during pregnancy and even aid in 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 the appropriate time to rest and recover; both physically and mentally.
Embrace Balance as You Recover Post-Partum
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. And that goes for women who have consistently lifted pre-pregnancy and have created a strong body for themselves.
“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. (check out this single-leg exercise article, which will guide you in this area as Trotta provides step-by-step instructions.)
You May Get the Itch to Lift but Waiting About Six Weeks Post-Partum Is Important
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
Note that some exercises can place strain on your pelvic floor, (a very sensitive area at this point that needs slow and responsible strengthening) if performed incorrectly. 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.
Listening to your body while strengthening your pelvic floor requires you to be in tune with your body like never before. “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.”