Everything you need to know to exercise safely during pregnancy. By Candice Tehini
We asked pregnant exercise and nutrition expert Chantal Carter-Jackson to bust those confusing pregnancy exercise and fitness myths so you can stay safe and healthy throughout your pregnancy.
“Not too long ago, women were encouraged to cut down on their exercise, or avoid it altogether, during pregnancy. Today, it’s not only considered safe but also beneficial for women to exercise during pregnancy since it has a positive impact on both mom and baby,” says Chantal. Despite the nausea, back pain, mood swings, headaches and desperate fatigue playing havoc on your motivation to get active, the benefits make exercise a priority. Exercise has also been shown to improve circulation, help with weight management, control blood sugar, manage blood pressure, decrease the chance of preterm labour and complications and shorten hospital stays.
Myth 1: If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now.
“What is not safe is to go from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising at high intensity for a full hour a day,” says Chantal. You need to start slowly, so aim for just five minutes initially, adding a few extra minutes daily until you are comfortably training for 30 minutes, which is the recommended daily minimum. Listening to your body and knowing its limits are key to progressing responsibly towards fitness, explains Chantal.
Myth 2: If I exercise too much during pregnancy, I will pull nutrients from my baby.
The reality is that your baby will get what she needs to grow, even if it’s at the cost of your much-needed nutrients. “If anything, your body will dip into your own nutrient stores, as the baby will be the top priority,” says Chantal. You will need to make sure you keep your blood sugars balanced with regular, small, nutrient-dense meals to ensure that you don’t become depleted. Babies of moms who are active during pregnancy have been shown to be born leaner, but organ and head circumference are normal, indicating no nutrient deficiency.
Myth 3: Exercise causes miscarriages.
“Studies have failed to find evidence linking exercise to miscarriages. The types of exercise that should be avoided, especially during the first trimester, are anything in a heated environment such as Bikram yoga or saunas,” explains Chantal. It boils down to listening to your body and building your endurance slowly in early pregnancy, week by week.
Myth 4: The shortness of breath women experience during pregnancy is a sign that they should not exercise.
Shortness of breath commonly experienced during pregnancy is actually due to elevated levels of progesterone hormone, which stimulates breathing and improves the gasses transferred between mom and baby. Although women feel short of breath, their lung capacity has been found to remain normal, shares Chantal. In fact, exercise helps to build a larger and more vascularised placenta, or foetal lung, which helps to protect the baby from oxygen deprivation and allows more nutrients to reach the baby.
Myth 5: Abdominal exercises are not safe during pregnancy.
The opposite is true – abdominal workouts provide many benefits and you’ll be grateful for a strong core and abdominals post birth. Your core, including your pelvic floor, helps you during pregnancy, labour, delivery and recovery. As your beautiful preggy belly grows, a strong abdominal core also helps to maintain your posture.
“After your first trimester, a few extra adaptations will need to be made to ensure you don’t exercise on your back. This just means adopting exercises that have you standing or sitting while training. Focus on exercises that strengthen the stabilising muscles in your abdomen,” advises Chantal.
Myth 6: Your heart rate must be kept at, or below, 140 beats per minute.
Based on further studies, and because each pregnancy is different, exercise should be kept moderate during pregnancy. “This is based on rated perceived exertion (RPE), where moderate indicates that you are still able to hold a conversation, but are not able to sing,” says Chantal.
Myth 7: Running is unsafe during pregnancy.
Your body is amazing, and running during pregnancy is generally safe. “You cannot shake your baby loose as she is safe in the amniotic fluid and cushioned uterus, so continue your regular jog,” says Chantal. Some runners are able to keep going well into their pregnancies, but most eventually switch to lower-impact options.
Myth 8: Weight lifting is too stressful on your joints.
It is safe to lift weights throughout your pregnancy as long as a few modifications are made, explains Chantal. Make sure you don’t hold your breath, don’t over exert yourself and switch to standing or sitting positions, or the incline bench, after the first trimester to avoid being on your back for prolonged periods.
Keep in mind that the hormone relaxin, which is responsible for loosening your joints and ligaments in preparation for child birth, makes it possible for you to over-flex, so don’t overdo it.
Myth 9: You should stop working out as you get further into your third trimester.
If you’re feeling OK, and have adequate energy and clearance from your doctor, there should be no reason to stop exercising. Sticking to low-impact exercise could allow for more comfort during training and assist you in recovery.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.