This topic comes up a lot and it’s a close one to my heart, so it’s time we have a proper look together, mama.
Among the more common pregnancy exercises, squatting in particular seems to attract a lot of attention. A quick Google search will show you just how many conflicting opinions are out there from birth workers, PTs and antenatal instructors.
I want to bring some clarity to this so I will share with you my knowledge and experience on squatting during pregnancy. There isn’t much research on this topic (believe me, I keep looking), but I hope you’ll find my answers useful as you make your own choices around training in pregnancy and birth preparation.
Please note that I’m not discussing squatting in labour in this post. From a functional/biomechanics perspective, squatting in pregnancy and squatting during birth are quite different and as my goal is to bring clarity to this topic, let’s not muddle things up. We're talking pregnancy only here. Ready? Let’s dive in…
“Is squatting safe in pregnancy?”
“Should I be squatting when pregnant?”
Yes, mama! Squatting is a functional movement we use daily and it should be part of virtually everybody’s training. Especially as we become parents, get older and ask more of our bodies, developing leg and glute strength will help us move more efficiently, get up off the floor more easily and prevent back pain, among many other benefits (keep reading, they’re all here).
The Benefits of Squatting in Pregnancy:
1. Improved Pelvic Floor Strength: Skip Kegels and squat instead,mama.
Squatting engages the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, and bowel. Regular squatting exercises can help strengthen these muscles, reducing the risk of urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse during and after pregnancy.
2. Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility: Squatting encourages flexibility in the hips, pelvis, and lower back.
This is especially helpful as your body undergoes significant changes through pregnancy. Improved mobility means a more comfortable pregnancy and birth (more info on this coming up).
3. Balance and Stability: As pregnancy progresses, the shifting centre
of gravity will pose new challenges to your body, especially your core and back. Squatting through pregnancy, using support as needed, can help you prevent the common aches and pains that come from the postural changes of pregnancy.
4. Increased Circulation: Squatting promotes better blood circulation
in the pelvic area, aiding in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients and reducing swelling and discomfort in the lower body.
There are lots of squat variations you can use and I suggest you find the best personalised options for you with a personal trainer who specialises in prenatal exercise. There are adjustments that may need to be made depending on your particular circumstances, history and level of fitness, but the vast majority of mamas can truly benefit from squatting regularly through pregnancy.
Considerations and Downsides of Squatting:
While squatting can be beneficial for many mamas, it's important to review your individual circumstances. Some potential downsides or considerations may include:
1. Joint and Pelvic Pain: If you are dealing with joint or pelvic pain,
especially in the pubic symphysis (SPD) or sacroiliac joints, squatting may exacerbate these symptoms. If this is you, book a consultation with a women’s physio asap for guidance tailored to your specific situation.
2. Individual Comfort: Every body is unique,
and what works for one may not work for another. Some mamas may find squatting uncomfortable or impractical due to their anatomy or personal preferences. It's crucial to listen to your body and explore alternative exercises that provide similar benefits.
Can squats help prepare for birth?
Yes, but they may also get in the way. There are lots of different ways to squat and you can pick and choose the best variations in line with your current goals. Keep reading if you want this midwife’s suggestions when it comes to the best squatting variations to prepare for labour.
Let’s think about function first. Why squatting for labour?
In birth preparation, squatting can help with your mobility as well as muscular endurance. It can promote a healthy pelvic floor tone and train your deep abdominals (your pushing muscles).
Squats can help you keep your hips, legs and back more flexible. This will help you feel more confident getting into different positions in labour, responding more freely to what your body and your baby need at the time. Training your legs, glutes and back means you’ll be able to hold whatever positions you find best during birth for longer periods and you’ll recover more quickly from the muscular fatigue after birth. Having to get out of a position that’s really working for you through the contractions because your legs are getting tired quickly is not ideal. Set yourself up for success, mama.
You’ve likely heard it before, birth is a marathon not a sprint (for most mamas, anyway).
Working at 70% of your max effort when it comes to weight is more than enough, mama. This training season is about building stamina and staying healthy. Increasing reps/sets will likely benefit you more than overloading your pelvic floor with too much weight.
What’s the problem with squats in pregnancy?
After all the positives, let’s look at the issues with squatting, particularly in your third trimester. While there is no reason you should stop squatting at any predetermined point of the pregnancy, (in fact, Ina May Gaskin suggests 300 squats a day to bring labour on) I would argue that especially in your third trimester you should stop squatting below parallel, i.e. where your hips drop below your knees.
What we know is that deep squats make your pelvic floor work extra hard, which is unnecessary at the end of pregnancy. They can worsen pelvic pain, haemorrhoids and symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse.
What we can’t say for sure (again, no research), but a lot of birth workers like myself have started to recognise, is that deep squats may also encourage babies to get into more challenging positions making birth more difficult. This observation may not apply to women who squat habitually as it is the case in some cultures and traditions. However, for women in western cultures where chairs and sofas are the norm, spending time in a deep squat could encourage baby to adopt a back to back (posterior) position when this is not optimal for them. Suboptimal fetal positions are the most common cause for longer labours and medical interventions to speed labour along.
How to squat in pregnancy
Let’s summarise all this information to the top 3 considerations for squatting in pregnancy:
1.Keep the weight at a comfortable level. Aim for 7/10 in terms of difficulty.
2. If you want to challenge yourself, work on longer sets (more repetitions)
3. Keep your hips higher than your knees (or drop to parallel at the lowest). Avoid deeper squats.
Box squats are my favourite squat variation for pregnancy. You can adjust the height as needed as your bump grows and make sure you squat to the right depth for you every time. The added bonus? Your pelvic floor gets a little break mid-movement every time you get to the box, protecting it from overworking.
Squatting is a great exercise for pregnancy. Whether you’re an experienced gym goer or a complete newby, having the support of a perinatal fitness professional is a great way to make sure you’re minimising your chances of injury and you get the most out of your training.
Do you have any questions about squats in pregnancy? What else should I cover?
Let me know in the comments, mama.