Only ONE of these statements about exercise during pregnancy is true:
- Exercising while pregnant pulls nutrients from your baby.
- Running while pregnant is unsafe for the baby.
- If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now.
- You have to keep your heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute.
- Lifting weights while pregnant is too stressful on your joints.
- Basketball is an unsafe activity while pregnant.
- Doing sit ups while pregnant will squish the baby.
Can you guess which one of these is the true statement? If you’re not sure, or you’re making a wild guess, then you definitely need to read on!
Which one did you guess? The heart rate maximum? Nope, wrong! The only true statement is that basketball is an unsafe activity while pregnant. It’s a contact sport, so there’s a risk of a blow to your stomach. Other risky activites include those with risk of falling, like skiing, waterskiing, and horseback riding, or going scuba diving, because of the water pressure effects on your body.
Let’s go down the rest of that list, and clear up some misconceptions of what’s safe, and what’s not when it comes to working out during pregnancy.
First off, talk to your doctor early in your pregnancy about what you were doing for exercise prior to getting pregnant, and ask for advice on what’s safe to continue. Every woman’s body is different, and every pregnancy is different, so even if you worked out with no problems during a previous pregnancy, always get the okay from your doctor first.
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The most trusted source aside from your own doctor is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Pre- and post-natal certified trainers like me follow ACOG recommendations when programming for their pregnant clients.
1. Exercising when pregnant pull nutrients from your baby. MYTH. Your baby takes what it needs from your body, regardless of whether you’re burning calories while exercising. You should be eating enough to cover your own calorie needs as well as your baby’s (estimated at an extra 300 calories a day in your second and third trimester).
2. Running while pregnant is unsafe for the baby. MYTH. If you were a runner prior to discovering you were pregnant, it’s fine to continue running, as long as it is at a moderate exertion, and you feel comfortable. I kept running until about 36 weeks – albeit at a slower pace!
3. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now. MYTH. Here’s what’s not safe: going from a sedentary pre-pregnancy workout to exercising at a high intensity for an hour a day. If you haven’t been working out before, start slow. Aim for five minutes of exercise to start, then add five minutes every day, until you can comfortably get through 30 minutes a day (that’s the recommended exercise prescription from ACOG!).
4. You must keep your heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute. MYTH. This actually was an ACOG recommendation once, but based on further studies, it was modified in 1982 to keeping exertion at a moderate level. Yup, 31 years later, and the same outdated advice is still being doled out! What’s ‘moderate’? You should be able to carry on a conversation, but not be able to sing. What’s moderate for you might seem easy, or impossibly hard for someone else, so listen to your own body!
5. Lifting weights while pregnant is too stressful on your joints. MYTH. It’s totally safe to lift weights while pregnant, with a couple of modifications. Make sure you’re not holding your breath, don’t exert yourself to fatigue, and avoid anything where you feel like you’re bearing down. After the first trimester, you should avoid laying flat on your back, so switch to an incline bench.
Doing yoga for strength training instead? You should keep in mind that relaxin, a hormone produced during pregnancy, loosens your joints and ligaments to ready your body for childbirth. So, if you’re doing a pose, and you notice your flexibility is way better, you may want to ease up a little bit. It’s definitely worth looking for a specialized pre-natal yoga class, so you know your instructor is aware and informed about teaching pregnant women.
6. Doing sit ups while pregnant will squish the baby. MYTH. Your baby is pretty secure in there, you don’t have to worry about bending at the waist. For the first trimester, sit ups are no problem, but by the second and third, you should avoid laying flat on your back, so it’s easier to skip them altogether. It is a great idea to do exercises that strengthen your stabilization muscles in your abdomen throughout your pregnancy — examples for you to try are planks, push ups, using cables or bands for chops, and pelvic tilts. Don’t forget the kegels!
Now, what are you waiting for? There are so many awesome benefits of pre-natal exercise — treat yourself and your baby right by staying active and exercising during pregnancy. You’ll be happy you did!