How to breathe – something that from birth has always been so natural for us – becomes one of the most important topics during pregnancy and postpartum, and for good reason.

How you breathe during your pregnancy workouts and during your postpartum recovery has a direct impact on your core and pelvic floor health in the short and long term!

One area I like to focus on is breathing technique while weight lifting.

Breathing during those big barbell lifts (like the squat or deadlift) is different during pregnancy and postpartum recovery than it is for the normal lifter.

It’s actually completely opposite from what you’ve most likely been taught.

It will probably feel really unnatural at first, but once you nail down this breathing pattern it’ll have huge positive implications for your core and pelvic floor health now and down the road!

Let’s start with how not to breathe

What we want to avoid: the valsalva maneuver.

This is the breathing technique you’ll see heavy lifters use, and it’s great for their goal which is to lift heavy loads.

They’ll do a big inhale (increasing pressure/tension in their core) and hold that breath/pressure while they go through the lift. This increase in core tension keeps their midsection more stable, therefore allowing them to lift heavier loads.

This is completely opposite of what we should be doing during our pregnancy lifting sessions and as we build back to the barbell during our postpartum recovery.

Why we don’t want this added pressure

Our goal during this time period is to manage and reduce intra-abdominal pressure. Not increase it.

Why? Two reasons.

  1. Increased intra-abdominal pressure on the midline of your core strains the linea alba, which is the connective tissue that runs down the middle of your abs. Too much strain can cause more severe diastasis recti, which is the separation of the rectus abdominis. This causes a lack of tension in your core which can make you feel weak and can cause back and pelvic pain. It can also cause a bulge in the middle of your abs or other visual/physical changes.
  2. Too much pressure on the pelvic floor can cause bulging, a “falling out” feeling, loss of bladder control during high impact (or every day) movements, and potentially prolapse of different organs. As you can guess, you probably don’t want to have to deal with any of these issues.

So, how should you be breathing during lifts?

Instead of breathing in and holding, here’s what you should do:

Inhale into your belly, rib cage and lats on the easy part of the lift.
Exhale and do a slight pelvic floor lift on the “hard” or “work” part of the movement.

Again, we’re going to do this to control and work with the natural pressure increase that breathing brings into the body so you can still lift safely while managing pressure on the core and pelvic floor during pregnancy and postpartum!

Here’s some examples of how to breathe during different moves:

Deadlifts: set up at the bar. Big inhale, then exhale + pelvic floor lift as you lift the bar. You can either continue your exhale as you return it to the ground, or do another inhale as you lower down.

Squats: inhale on the squat down, then exhale + pelvic floor lift as you stand back up.

Glute Bridge: as you’re laying on the ground, inhale, then exhale + pelvic floor lift as you push through your heels and lift your hips. Then inhale on the way back to the ground.

Shoulder Press: with the weight at your shoulders, inhale. Then exhale + pelvic floor lift as you push the weights overhead. Either continue the exhale, or start a new inhale as you lower the weights back down to your shoulders.

**One note: since we are matching our breath to each rep, you’ll find yourself going at a much slower pace. That is OKAY! especially as you start building back weight during postpartum! It’s important to reconnect this way so it’ll become automatic in the future.

This type of breathing will be important throughout your entire pregnancy and as you start to build back to the weights postpartum! It is never too early, or too late, to nail down this breathing technique.

So, make sure to save this post for the next time you hit the weights!


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About Me

Hi, I'm Katelyn! I'm a girl mom to Amelia & wife to my high school sweetheart, Anthony. I'm a certified pre & postnatal fitness coach, majored in exercise science from the University of Michigan, and now coach clients both in person and through our FIGR app subscriptions full time with my husband. Can't wait to connect with you!

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