The Top 5 Exercises Every Pregnant Person Should Do

pregnant person holding belly while sitting on a cushion on the floor

These parent-to-be moves will help get you ready for the labor, so when the time comes, your body will be just as prepared as your nursery.

01 of 05

Hug Your Baby

pregnant person sitting on a cushion on the floor, holding belly while demonstrating the "hug your baby" exercise
BodyLove Pilates

This is one of the most important exercises to practice during your pregnancy, says Ali Handley, New York–based pilates specialist and founder of BodyLove Pilates, a prenatal and postnatal online studio. "This exercise strengthens the transverse abdominis (TVA), which wraps around the midsection of the body like a pair of Spanx," she explains. "When activated correctly, it cinches, lengthens, and — importantly during childbirth — it compresses," adds Handley.

During the pushing phase of labor, this move helps the uterus in the final contractions to get your baby out. It's also the first move you'll need to practice postnatal to get your abs back in shape, says Handley.

A. Sit comfortably in a neutral position — on an exercise ball, yoga block, or chair (just make sure it's on the sit bones).

B. Inhale through nose, allowing belly to fill up with air and stomach muscles to completely relax.

C. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of mouth while imagining TVA wrapping around the baby and hugging them toward spine.

Tip: "I like to place one hand on top of my belly just below my sternum, and the other just below my belly button," says Handley. "Focus on pulling your belly away from your bottom hand, but keeping your top hand where it is so you're not rounding your spine as you do the exercise," she notes.

02 of 05

Birthing Prep Squats

pregnant person demonstrating a birthing prep squat exercise
BodyLove Pilates

Squats are one of the most accessible and functional exercises, even as your due date approaches. They're an excellent way to strengthen your legs and butt — and if you're planning a natural childbirth, you'll need a strong lower body to hold some recommended birthing positions.

"The movies have unfortunately made us believe that women still labor on their back with their legs in stirrups when, in fact, the squatting position is an awesome way to give birth," says Handley. "The birth canal is in better alignment, and there is an added bonus of gravity to help get that baby out," she adds.

A. Stand with both feet evenly on the ground, hips-width apart. Inhale through nose while hinging at hips, then bend at knees and sit into a squat. Imagine reaching sit bones back as if lowering into a chair.

B. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of mouth while imagining TVA wrapping around the baby and hugging them toward spine.

C. Push through feet, lifting pelvic floor, to stand back up.

Tip: "The squat is an excellent place to test your mind-body control and muscle endurance," says Handley. Try holding the squat for five to 10 breaths, focusing on the breaths instead of your muscles, she recommends. "Your uterus contracting during labor to get the baby out is like any other muscle contraction — you need to practice breathing through it," adds Handley.

03 of 05

Pelvic Floor Stretching

pregnant person demonstrating pelvic floor stretching exercise
BodyLove Pilates

"The pelvic floor muscles are an incredible system made up of three different layers, and are required to do so much more than just a kegel squeeze during pregnancy," says Handley. Once you hit your third trimester, it's crucial that you start to really stretch these muscles to enable the baby to come out.

A. Place a yoga block or stack of pillows against the wall. Stand with back to the wall with feet out in front of body.

B. Inhale through nose while slowly sliding down the wall. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of mouth while continuing down the wall, allowing the pelvic floor to fully release until reaching yoga block/pillows.

C. Once down, butterfly knees open and gently apply pressure just above knees for an additional stretch. Hold for 90 seconds. Close knees and repeat.

Tip: "I recommend adding pelvic floor stretching to your daily routine in the weeks before your due date," says Handley. "You want to have an awareness of what it feels like to really stretch and release these muscles you've been working so hard to strengthen," she explains.

04 of 05

Reverse Breathing

pregnant person demonstrating reverse breathing while holding belly
BodyLove Pilates

"During labor, you'll need the power of your exhale to fully release the pelvic floor muscles and get your baby out," says Handley. "It takes some practice, but with a little training, you'll hit this exercise out of the park," she encourages.

A. Sit comfortably on the floor or on an exercise ball. Inhale through nose and feel pelvic floor lift. While inhaling, diaphragm will push down at the same time.

B. Exhale and make a hissing sound out of mouth to imagine fully releasing and letting go of the pelvic floor muscles. The hissing sound helps to use TVA to work with the uterus in its final contractions as the baby comes out.

Tip: Try a few sets of squats with the reverse breathing technique. "Exhale and release the pelvic floor as you squat down. Inhale and lift the pelvic floor as you stand up," says Handley.

05 of 05

Standing Swan

pregnant person demonstrating a standing swan exercise
BodyLove Pilates

"This move is basically the mac daddy of labor-prep exercises," says Handley. "It combines core strength, lower body endurance, spinal mobility, pelvic floor stretching, and gives you the opportunity to practice the reverse breathing technique," she explains.

A. Stand with legs far apart and externally rotated, with an exercise ball just in front of body.​

B. Inhale through nose, nod chin, and begin to roll down through spine. While rolling down, place hands on the ball and start to push it out in front of body.​

C. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of mouth while continuing to push the ball — folding at hips, bending knees, and reaching sit bones out behind body until arms are straight and body is almost parallel to the floor. Inhale through nose and hold the position.​

D. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of mouth while hugging baby toward spine and lifting pelvic floor, rounding lower back into a C-curve and pushing through feet to stand back up. Articulate spine in the same way that was done on the way down.

Tip: Try practicing reverse breathing for five breaths when you're down in the swan position, suggests Handley. This will challenge your legs and stretch the pelvic floor.

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