How to Become a Prenatal Exercise Instructor

Exercise is important for expecting moms, yet it’s essential for this group to exercise in a safe way. The exercises a woman can safely perform change as a woman becomes pregnant and throughout the trimesters of a pregnancy. That’s why women need to follow prenatal exercise practices.

As a prenatal exercise instructor, you would be able to guide these women through the best exercises to perform and which to avoid while pregnant. You could help expectant mothers improve their overall health and that of their babies. Training ensures that you understand a pregnant woman’s body and capabilities to help her exercise safely and effectively. This would help you have a specialization as a prenatal fitness professional.

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How Does Prenatal Exercise Differ From Normal Fitness Routines?

You may wonder why a prenatal exercise instructor would be different from a regular fitness instructor. Would your job really differ if you taught a prenatal exercise class compared to a regular exercise class? The answer is yes. You would be teaching a special population that would require the class be targeted to their needs. It’s similar to teaching a different type of specialized class, such as an exercise class for seniors or for people with a certain health condition.

The body experiences an abundance of changes as a woman goes through pregnancy. These changes impact a woman’s physical ability and range. For example, hormonal changes make joints more flexible and relax some muscles. The hips move. As the belly grows, added weight in the front throws off posture, center of gravity and balance. A woman may be tired and experiencing difficult symptoms that interfere with exercise as well.

An important factor of your job as an instructor is to recognize bodily changes of each pregnancy trimester, which differ from one to the next. For example:

  • During the first trimester, a woman experiences significant hormonal changes, difficult early symptoms, an increased heart rate, an increased blood supply and changes in the uterus.
  • During the second trimester, a woman is likely to experience increased energy. She will have a larger uterus and belly, and experience new symptoms such as leg cramps. Weight gain ramps up.
  • During the third trimester, a woman will experience a significantly larger “baby bump” that will affect her ability to move and balance. She may have swelling in her extremities, changes to blood pressure and other symptoms.

These are just some of the changes a woman experiences that will impact her exercise routine throughout the pregnancy. It will be your job as a prenatal instructor to guide her through these many changes with safe, effective exercises every step of the way.

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What Does Prenatal Exercise Entail?

As an instructor specialized to this population, you would teach women types of exercise and modifications to exercise that fit the needs and limitations of pregnant women. You’ll come up with exercise programs that are safe and effective while keeping women motivated.

You’ll adapt prenatal exercise to each person. For example, you will need to consider the trimester each woman is in, and you may find yourself teaching a class targeting all three trimesters at once. You’ll also need to consider that each woman has a unique health situation. Further, whether or not a woman was exercising, and to what intensity level and frequency, before the pregnancy is important when planning a prenatal exercise routine. You’ll need to adapt to each woman as her body and needs continue to change during and after the pregnancy. So, being a prenatal exercise instructor requires a balance of guiding pregnant women in general and customizing routines to each person’s needs and goals.

In many cases, prenatal and postnatal women are not fully aware of how the changes happening to their bodies can impact exercise. Part of your job will be to educate them on the changes, on what they should and shouldn’t do, and the benefits these exercises will provide to them.

You will not only help an expecting mother physically, but you can help her mental health and her body image, which can be difficult for many women during and after pregnancy. You may guide a woman on how to live a healthier lifestyle overall, including a focus on nutrition and stress reduction. You’ll also want to give guidance on factors such as wearing comfortable clothing during exercises, taking in enough fluids, wearing nonslip shoes and so on.

You’ll want to help women stay in tune with their bodies and recognize when they may need to slow down or even stop exercising. They should pay attention to their heart rates and breathing to make sure they don’t overdo it, and to recognize when they need rest and recovery time. You’ll learn symptoms to look out for, such as overheating, dizziness, difficulty breathing and more.

As an instructor, you can also help your clients or class participants set realistic fitness or health goals and work toward them. You may want to provide your clients with tips and warnings so they understand more about exercising while pregnant.

Finally, prenatal training also teaches about the postnatal period after a mother has given birth. You could continue to adapt exercise programs for this stage after the pregnancy, which includes physical limitations and goals that are unique from pregnancy. For example, you may find that many women want to start losing weight and working toward a fitter body after pregnancy, yet you will need to work with specific challenges of this phase, such as physical limitations, mental/emotional difficulties and a lack of time and energy.  

Prenatal Exercises and Ones to Avoid

There are many exercises a pregnant woman can engage in that you might include in a prenatal exercise routine. These can include:

Nonetheless, the above list is just a sampling of exercises that may be suitable for pregnancy. Recommended exercises will vary from person to person and from one trimester to the next. Also, some practices may need to be adapted. For example, while yoga can be beneficial during pregnancy, there are poses that should be avoided, such as twists, hot yoga, backbends, balancing poses and floor poses that involve lying on the ground.

On the other side, avoidance is an important part of prenatal exercise recommendations. You’ll want to focus on what women should not be doing. While it may vary by the situation, this often includes exercises such as:

  • High-impact and high-intensity exercises
  • Jumping
  • Contact sports
  • Balance exercises
  • Exercises with a risk of falling
  • Quick movements
  • Twisting
  • Exercises involving lying on the floor
  • Backbends
  • Others

Benefits of Prenatal Exercise

Even though a woman needs to adapt her exercise routine during this time, exercise has definite benefits during pregnancy. It’s a worthwhile pursuit that doctors usually recommend, and your job as a prenatal exercise instructor will entail helping them gain these benefits.

These are some of the benefits of prenatal exercise:

  • Helps manage some symptoms that a woman is finding difficult, such as backaches and bloating
  • Makes labor and delivery easier on the body
  • Manages a healthy weight
  • Improves strength
  • Helps the body bounce back after having the baby
  • Improves overall health
  • Improves mood and mental health
  • Creates more energy
  • Helps prevent gestational diabetes

Nonetheless, as a prenatal exercise instructor, you’ll want to recommend that your clients get the okay from their doctors to safely exercise during their pregnancies.

Certification as a Prenatal Exercise Instructor

You should become certified to teach prenatal exercise, which may help your employment prospects and pay rate. Also, certification will prepare you for this specialty by educating you on bodily changes during pregnancy and how to safely adapt exercises to them.

You have choices for certification, some of which include:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE): Oh Baby! Fitness Pregnancy and Postpartum Exercise Instructor Training
  • American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA): Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Specialist Certification
  • The Center for Women’s Fitness: Pre and Postnatal Health and Exercise Specialist Certification
  • International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA): Pre and Post Natal Instructor

Working as a Prenatal Exercise Instructor

You may find different applications for your certification as a prenatal instructor. Depending on your certification and any other health and fitness training you may have, you could work as a personal trainer who guides pregnant clients, as a group fitness instructor who teaches classes of pregnant women, as a health coach or potentially in another capacity.

Also, you may find opportunities in different kinds of settings. You may be able to work for a hospital, a birthing center, a gym, a yoga studio or another facility. You could work as an independent contractor or an employee for a company, or you could work for yourself.

Working as a prenatal exercise instructor can give you a rewarding career that helps expectant moms stay healthy and have better pregnancies. You could improve the lives of pregnant women throughout each trimester and during the postnatal period after giving birth.