Squats During Pregnancy: Benefits, Tips And Safety

Pregnancy is a phase where the mother goes through a lot of changes, both physically and mentally. Exercising is a good way to make sure your body is ready for the due date. Exercise and pregnancy undoubtedly have a positive association.

Now why is squatting an exercise that needs to be looked at? This is because, apart from exercising to stay fit and for recreational purposes, it is always a good idea to do a specific exercise that will be more beneficial for the current state of your body. As pregnancy and delivery need a good toned abdominal, back and upper thigh muscle tone, squatting yields maximum benefits. However, it is important that squatting is done in the right manner.

Is It Safe To Exercise When Pregnant?

Yes. It is safe to exercise when pregnant, but with the terms and conditions applied – a right type of exercise done in a right amount at the right time. In fact, squats in pregnancy are recommended to build strength in your lower body which takes a lot of pressure during delivery.

Amazing Benefits Of Squatting During Pregnancy

Exercise in general and squatting specifically has a lot of potential benefits during pregnancy and eventually during labour. Squatting is a traditional form of exercise advised to pregnant women by midwives. Here are some common benefits:

1. Healthy body weight

Weight gain in pregnancy can be unhealthy if it is above a certain level. Too much fat accumulation causing weight gain is not a good idea. Comparative studies have proven that those who were active earlier and continued exercising during pregnancy had healthier weight gain than those who stopped after becoming pregnant.

2. Cardiovascular fitness

Cardiovascular fitness, endurance and muscular strength can be maintained and improved through exercise and squatting during pregnancy. There is a lot of maternal adaptation happening in all the systems of the body during pregnancy, particularly the cardiovascular system. The blood volume increases, heart rate increases and cardiac output increases. Being sedentary during this time is not a very good idea.

3. Muscular strength

You will have some extra weight all over your body during pregnancy. All the weight will be borne by your legs and the back muscles are at work for extra hours to bear it. Squats in pregnancy help you maintain the right posture and it prevents undue stress on the knee ligaments without affecting you and your baby negatively.

4. Improved posture

Lower back pain can really hurt during pregnancy and squatting is the solution. Improving the posture and body mechanics decreases the frequency and severity of the pain which is otherwise quite common during pregnancy. The most common types of back pain during pregnancy – the lumbar pain and the back of the pelvis pain, both are taken care of when you squat.

5. Treatment of pregnancy-induced complications and prevention

In those women who are pre-disposed to gestational diabetes, exercise has shown to prevent or control it by improving glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity and also reduces the episodes of hypoglycemia by improving the glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. But the women who already have gestational diabetes may need advice and exercise under guidance.

Pregnancy-induced-hypertension is another complication of pregnancy that can be perilous. Few studies have reported protective effect of leisure time exercise during pregnancy against hypertensive disorders induced by pregnancy.

There is always a risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. There is also a risk of foetal malformations in early days after pregnancy. This is why these precautions about exercising in the first trimester are necessary.

6. Relief from minor discomforts

Squatting helps reduce minor discomforts which are very common during pregnancy like constipation, poor bladder control, varicose veins, insomnia, heartburn, and leg cramps. Some women also reported that 3-5 minutes of exercise alleviates symptoms of morning sickness.

7. Easing of labour

There is evidence that says that the women who were active throughout their pregnancy and performed squatting exercise during the 9th month of pregnancy had an earlier onset of labour at term, shorter duration of labour, reduced complications during labour and delivered babies with high APGAR scores. (APGAR scoring is done by the paediatrician on the new-born to estimate the health. Higher the score, the healthier the baby).

Also recently there has been a lot of importance being given to squats to bring on labour and also delivering in the same position. In fact various hospitals are now designing the labour room table such as to allow delivery in a squatting position and encourage squats while pregnant to induce labour.

8. Faster recovery

An active mother during pregnancy recovers faster, and gets back to the pre-pregnant state in terms of energy, pain, muscle strength, weight loss, toned abdomen and endurance sooner.

9. Psychological benefits

There is no denying that pregnancy, delivery and the post-partum period however beautiful, is known to psychologically impact the mother. Exercising during pregnancy has positive effects on the maternal mental well-being leading to decreased depression and an improvement in self-esteem and body confidence.

Type Of Squatting Exercise You Can Do

Here is a brief overview of how to do squats during pregnancy. Read about the various squatting positions during pregnancy and how you can practice them:

1. Sumo Squat

  • Stand straight with an erect spine.
  • Keep your feet apart, slightly more than a shoulder width. Slightly rotate your legs such that toes point outwards.
  • Stretch out your arms in front of you with or without dumbbell or simply keep your hands on your hips.
  • Now gently bend your knees keeping your back completely straight.
  • Go down till you are comfortable and at the same time feel the stretch on inner muscles of the thigh and the glutes.
  • Don’t go so low as to stress your knees.

2. Wall Squat (Half)

  • For the wall squat exercise you will need a smooth surface wall preferably with the tiles for a smooth slide and for more ease an exercising ball
  • Keep your feet a shoulder-width apart and away from the wall
  • You can keep the ball between the wall and your back for easy sliding or simply lean directly against the wall
  • Now slowly bend your knees pointing forwards, lean back and start sliding downwards
  • You can take a deep breath and slowly exhale
  • Squat only as low as you are comfortable with minimal stress on the knees
  • The outstretched arms will provide balance. You can also keep them on your knees
  • Now slowly slide upwards while leaning against the wall or the ball

3. Wall Squat Sliding Down (Full)

  • This is similar to the wall squat half
  • You will need few pillows in addition to a smooth surface
  • Body position is similar except you may not need the ball
  • Keep the pillows in front of the wall on the floor and stand in front of them
  • As you slide down slowly land on the pillows for support
  • And slowly slide up

4. Simple Squat

  • Stand on with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Turn your feet in an outward to stabilise yourself
  • Leave your hands loose by the sides
  • Take a deep breath and as you exhale slowly begin to bend your knees and go down
  • Make sure there is enough space in between your legs for the tummy to fit in comfortably
  • As you go down, support yourself with your palms placed on your knees
  • Bend slightly towards the front enough to not lose your balance
  • Stretch your back and hold the position it will help the muscles in your lower back to relax
  • Don’t lift your heels while doing so

5. The Chair Squat

  • Keep a sturdy chair against a wall so that it doesn’t slide back
  • Stand in front of the chair
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes are pointing outwards
  • Keep your hand outstretched for better balancing
  • Now slowly lower your glutes ( muscle located in the buttocks ) towards the chair as if you are going to sit down on the chair
  • Do this very slowly with your gluteal muscles and thigh muscles at work and not the gravity
  • Breathe deeply and slowly
  • Sit in the chair with the glutes lightly touching the chair. Your thigh muscles are still at work
  • Now slowly stand up with the same group of muscles initiating the movement
  • Do not take the support of the knees

6. Deep squat hold with pelvic muscles contraction

  • Stand in the wide sumo squat position facing a wall
  • Squat as far down as you can do comfortably
  • Keep your arms outstretched. If needed, you can place the palms on the wall for balance but do not lean against the wall
  • While you are in the squat position, hold there and contract your pelvic muscles ( as if you are trying to hold on urine)
  • If possible you can stay low and contract and relax the pelvic muscles a couple of times. This will retract and release the abdomen also
  • Now slowly rise up
  • You can also take the support of the back of a chair to do so

Tips To Perform Squats Safely

There are certain contraindications to squatting during pregnancy that you must know about. Consulting your doctor is the best idea before you begin squatting on your own.

1. It’s your first time!

The first major no-no for squatting is to attempt it without researching whether it is safe for you. If you’re wondering how to do squats during pregnancy, it is better to ask whether it is safe first.

There is enough information on the internet to help you but unless your doctor gives you a green signal and explains to you the advantages, the risks and the red flag signs may not be evident. In particular, the posture during a squat exercise, which involves repeated bending and straightening of the upper body, can become a major risk factor for a lumbar disorder associated with lower back pain, result in miscarriage or even a premature labour.

The four most significant contraindications to beginning an exercise program or resuming one are:

  • Physical injury
  • An acute bout of illness or a serious chronic disease,
  • Onset of persistent or recurrent abdominal or pelvic pain, and finally
  • Abnormal or heavy vaginal bleeding.

2. Absolute Contraindications (exercise not advised at all)

Any sort of exercise is not advised if you face any of the following:

  • Cardiovascular, systemic and respiratory disease
  • Uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes or thyroid disease
  • Ruptured membranes or premature labour
  • Persistent bleeding after 1st trimester
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Pregnancy induced severe hypertension
  • Multiple pregnancy(triplets, etc.)
  • Poor foetal growth

3. Relative contraindications

It can exercise but require careful evaluation, monitoring, and prescription based on the individual situation)

You can exercise but require additional care and guidance based on the your situation during pregnancy if you face or have face any of the following::

  • A history of premature delivery (3 or more)
  • Diabetes
  • Any previous problems of rapid labour or poor foetal growth
  • Early pregnancy bleeding
  • Poor lifestyle choices and bad fitness levels
  • Breech presentation post 28 weeks
  • Experiencing arrhythmias and palpitations
  • Anaemia or deficiency of iron
  • Extreme weights – under or overweight

Precautions To Take While Doing Squats Or Other Exercise In Pregnancy

Various professional organizations and noted researchers in the field have published guidelines for exercising during the childbearing year. Here are some tips to perform squats safely in pregnancy as published by Hammer et al in the journal of perinatal education

  • Obtain medical clearance before participation.
  • The exercise prescription should be individually based.
  • Regular mild to moderate exercise routines are preferable to intermittent activity.
  • Gradually increase exercise intensity and duration if previously sedentary.
  • A maximum heart rate limit up to 155 b/min is recommended, although levels of intensity higher than this can be prescribed on an individual basis.
  • Walking, cycling, swimming, low-impact aerobics, and stretching are recommended activities.
  • Do not exercise in the supine position after the 4th month. Don’t stand motionless for long periods of time.
  • Stop exercising when fatigued and do not deliberately reach a point of exhaustion. Get plenty of rest.
  • Do not perform exercises that could cause a loss of balance.
  • Eat an additional 150–300 calories a day and drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. Emphasize complex carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen stores.
  • Do not exercise when it is hot or humid or when febrile. Wear clothing that is cool and allows ventilation.
  • Bouncing, jerky movements should first be reduced and then avoided during the 3rd trimester.
  • Avoid high-altitude activities and scuba diving.
  • Participation in competitive sports is acceptable during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy if risk is accepted, but contact sports should be avoided thereafter.
  • Lifting light to moderate weights is encouraged to develop or maintain strength, but the valsalva manoeuvre should be avoided.

Know the warning signs to discontinue exercise and consult with prenatal health advisor.

When you should avoid squatting

There are a few instances during your pregnancy where it is not advisable to squat. For example, if the baby is not in the optimal position, i.e. the baby’s bottom presents itself first when the baby is in the breech position, which pushes it deeper down into the pelvis. You can turn your baby to the optimal position before continuing squatting.

Other instances include experiencing pain during squatting. If you are having some sort of discomfort while squatting, then it is best that you get your technique analysed or choose another technique.

Thus, squatting in pregnancy is recommended for those who want to ensure a smoother, easier delivery. However, precautions need to be taken in order to confirm whether your body and you are ready for this.