Until recently, it seems as though the overriding thought regarding exercise during pregnancy, was that women should decrease, cut out, or even avoid exercise all together. Whether it be because they were advised to do so by their health care provider, influenced by friends or family, or dissuaded by fear & uncertainty, it was the trend that prevailed for many years.
In recent years, more extensive research has been collected and analyzed regarding exercise and pregnancy, resulting in new findings and improved understanding among experts. As the saying goes, “the past is the past.”
TODAY, we know better!
Not only is exercise participation “OK” for pregnant women, it is more often than not, encouraged! (**Given a “normal” uncomplicated pregnancy). That said, I know it’s not always easy to let go of the past, and you may remain somewhat skeptical… but that’s why I’m here to help!
I am going to debunk some of the most common myths regarding exercise and pregnancy. Let’s start with the FACT that regular exercise, at moderate to somewhat higher intensity levels, during pregnancy, is proven to have positive health benefits for both the mother and the fetus. These benefits can include, but are not limited to the following:
- fewer symptoms of nausea, fatigue, leg cramps, constipation
- reduced incidence of pelvic & back pain, and general body discomfort
- prevention of excessive weight gain & varicose veins; shorter & less complicated labor
- quicker recovery postpartum
- reduced incidence of premature & cesarean deliveries
- improved self-esteem , confidence, & body image
- elevated mood & energy levels
- decreased feelings of stress, anxiety, & depression
- greater placenta growth & functional capacity
- lower birth weight, still within healthy range
- better tolerance during periods of lower oxygen delivery
- reduced risk of distress during periods of decreased uterine blood flow
So let’s get to the DEBUNKING…
Myth 1: If you weren’t active before getting pregnant, don’t start now. While it is not advised to go from 0 to 60, and start training for a marathon or the olympics, it is also not advised to become best friends with your couch (especially if Ben & Jerry are there too)! In actuality, inactivity is the real problem, and can lead to more complications, such as excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, pain and discomfort. Sedentary women are also at a higher risk for C-Sections and more intrusive labor. If you are new to exercise, there is no reason you can’t start an exercise regimen – you just need to start slow, and you may need to modify more often. Working with a personal trainer 1-on-1 or small group setting, or participating in a group fitness class, can help ease this transition, provide support, and reduce any overwhelming or anxious feelings that are common when trying new, unfamiliar things. Of course, you will want to consult your health care provider first.
Myth 2: It doesn’t matter if you were active before getting pregnant, it’s not safe to continue. If you are already active, you can continue your exercise regimen, but should still consult your health care provider. Typically, you can continue to do the same activities, but it is important to make sure you listen to your body, as it goes through changes during the pregnancy, and modify your workouts accordingly. Working with a fitness professional can also be a good option, for active women, to ensure proper techniques, appropriate intensity & modifications, and provide support, motivation & accountability. It is important to know that activities, that increase your risk of falling, should be avoided during pregnancy. Such activities include, but are not limited to the following: horseback riding, ice skating or rollerblading, skiing and contact sports. Overheating and dehydration tend to be other concerns for pregnant women. Now, more than ever, is a critical time to take precautions to prevent overheating and dehydration. These precautions include: wearing loose, breathable clothing, dressing in layers, that you can easily remove, avoiding excessively hot environments (inside & outdoors) and drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.
Myth 3: No strength training. Maintaining muscle strength and endurance assists with stability, and helps support increased breast size, additional weight gain, and postural changes that occur during pregnancy. Not to mention, strong muscles make it much easier when lifting, and carrying, the baby and baby equipment. However, proper lifting technique and modifications are especially important, to ensure that you maintain a safe and appropriate routine throughout your pregnancy. Every body and pregnancy is different, so it is important to keep in mind that training also looks different for each individual, and may continue to change throughout the pregnancy.
Myth 4: No abs. Yes, it is true, after the first trimester, you should not do sit-ups or crunches, or any other exercises that require you to be on your back. However, a strong core, especially during pregnancy, yields several benefits. It reduces back pain & discomfort, strengthens the pelvic floor improves stability, and can even ease pushing, during labor. Fortunately, there are lots of alternative ways to work your abs, that can be done standing, sitting, kneeling, etc.
Myth 5: Exercising while pregnant, or breastfeeding, will affect the baby’s growth. Studies show that there are no differences, between moms who exercise and sedentary moms, regarding breast milk composition, as well as infant weight and length. Yes, active women tend to have babies with lower birth weights, but they are within the normal, healthy weight range – they are not at risk, but are simply more lean (less body fat). Organ size and head circumference are also normal, and not affected by the mother’s exercise. Sedentary women are actually at a higher risk for having large babies, which can lead to complicated and premature labors, C-Section. They are also at a higher risk of gestational diabetes, which increases their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, later in life; as are their babies.
My hope is that this blog has provided you with some helpful information, and encouraged you to explore how you might best incorporate exercise into your routine to better the health of you and your baby. Before starting any exercise regiment, you should always consult your health care provider…especially if you are, or think you may be pregnant. While most women are approved, some women may have limitations, and some may be prohibited, due to high risk or other conditions/ complications.
Here’s to a healthy pregnancy…and baby!
Special thank you to today’s guest blogger, Courtney Johnson.
Courtney’s Bio: Courtney is a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, with a certification in Prenatal & Postpartum Exercise Design. She has been working in the fitness industry for several years, living out her 2 passions – helping people & fitness, but recently took a leap of faith, and decided to started CEJ Training, L.L.C. Courtney got married in May, to her UD sweetheart (Go Flyers!) and has two fur babies —a rescue cat, Bentley, and a rambunctious Australian Shepard, Rudy. She is very close to her family, loves being “Auntie Kiki” to her 5 nieces & nephews, and is looking forward to expanding her own family, in the not too distant future. She also enjoys learning new things, anything that let’s her use her creativity, sports, and coaching high school girls lacrosse. Courtney strives to make a positive impact and difference in the lives of others, especially women.