When you’re preggo, it can seem like everyone has something to say about what you can or can’t, should or shouldn’t do when it comes to exercise during pregnancy. The truth is, exercising while pregnant is not very complicated. Doing physical activities are SO healthy during pregnancy.
Exercising while you’re pregnant is both safe and very beneficial. Most of what we hear about limiting physical activity during pregnancy comes from the Victorian era when women were seen as dainty and fragile. Even in the 1950s, the most widely-approved form of “exercise” for expecting moms was housework!
What Do the Experts Say?
In 1985, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued guidelines for exercising during pregnancy for the first time ever. Part of their recommendations included that women should keep their heart rate under 140 beats per minute, and only work out for 15 minutes max. But only a decade later, ACOG already canceled those guidelines altogether. At the start of the new millennium, ACOG declared that “Pregnant women are now encouraged to follow general adult recommendations for PA [physical activity].”
The most recent ACOG Committee Opinion on exercise during pregnancy reemphasizes that exercise carries important health benefits for all women throughout their entire lives. Just a few of these benefits include physical fitness, weight management, mental well-being, and a decreased risk of diabetes. Plus, there are benefits specific to pregnancy, such as fewer issues with varicose veins, incontinence, and heartburn, and a reduced risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension.
ACOG recommends that pregnant women with no complications strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (that’s just over 20 minutes every day). Here are some examples of perfect ways to exercise during pregnancy:
- Yoga, Pilates, barre, aerobics
- Strength training
Anything I Should Avoid?
There are still some types of activities you need to avoid during your pregnancy, but they’re pretty common-sense. Physical activities and workouts to avoid include:
- Water polo
- Contact sports
- Anything with a big “fall risk” or risk of impact (like surfing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, or ice skating)
- Scuba diving
- Hot yoga, or any exercise in a super-hot room
There have been no documented risks for exercising during a normal pregnancy, nor are there any documented links between exercise and preterm labor or miscarriage.
That’s well and good, but what if you’re completely exhausted, suffering from morning sickness, or just plain having a crappy day? Don’t be too hard on yourself, and keep in mind that any form of movement (even taking a walk) might actually improve your symptoms.
However, a word of caution if you have any complications such as anemia, placenta previa, ruptured membranes, preeclampsia, suffer from a pre-existing health condition, or have a high-risk pregnancy. Make sure to talk to your doctor about what and how to exercise throughout your pregnancy.
Your Changing Body
Don’t expect your body to work like its non-pregnant self when you work out. That growing belly is real, and you’re waking up in a new body every single day. So, we encourage you to be patient with your body and get to know it.
Your strength, balance, and endurance will be different, and your exercise preferences will change. The biggest tip we have for you is to listen to your body. If something makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to do it.
If there’s a certain kind of exercise you loved pre-pregnancy and are still loving, stick with it! Also, if you have a gym membership, get your fill of classes now. After you have your baby, you and your body will be on lockdown for a little while as you care for a newborn 24/7.
Adjusting Exercise Moves for Your Pregnant Body
Practically any exercise technique can be adjusted to accommodate the pregnant body. For example, instead of push-ups do wall push-ups; instead of jump squats, just do some stationary squats—transition to lifting less heavy hand weights. Many women have practiced yoga, ran, did CrossFit, and Pilates right up until their delivery day. This isn’t to say you HAVE to, just that you CAN.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a comprehensive resource for modifying fitness types and moves across exercise formats. Some modifications are totally obvious (for example, you’re not going to be lying on your stomach after a certain point in time). If you attend a fitness studio, ask your instructor for help. If at-home exercise is your thing, try searching the Internet for “pregnancy modifications for (fill in the blank with CrossFit, yoga, or whatever type of workout you like). Trust your intuition about your limits.
Should I Switch to a Prenatal Fitness Program?
We’re going to let you in on a big secret: you don’t NEED to start a special prenatal program for exercise. With that said, it can really help to exercise using a specific prenatal fitness program. It will probably be more convenient, and it can also be supportive and empowering.
Today, many gyms and fitness websites are starting to offer prenatal class variations. So if you already know what type of workout you like, keep an eye out for those. Even if your gym or studio doesn’t have designated prenatal classes, you can just ask your instructor what modifications you should make to the regular moves.