Working Out When Pregnant: Myths and Facts About Prenatal Exerciseby Elizabeth MacDonald
One of the many hats I wear is one of “Pre- and Postnatal Exercise Specialist.” My degree is in exercise physiology and I have a specialization in pre- and postnatal exercise. We love being physically in shape in our home; we eat healthy and exercise regularly. Those who know me in real life have probably attended my “Mommy’s Bootcamp” classes in one of the many states we have lived in over the years. I love working with pregnant and postpartum women. There is something so rewarding when helping a woman feel strong and beautiful through a good workout! My classes were true bootcamp style (with lots of chatting of course), but the catch was that we wore our babies. Whether a mama was rocking her baby bump or her baby was strapped on in a structured buckle carrier (like an ErgoBaby), we were sweating it out and feeling good.
I’m writing about this because so many women came to me thinking that they couldn’t exercise while pregnant. That, or they felt they were very limited in what they could do. I gladly introduced them to the class and the rest is history!
I’ve compiled a list of all the myths I’ve heard over the past decade, and provided links (see the bottom of the page) to research showing just how misinformed we have been. Feel free to share any myths you’ve heard, or questions you may have. Of course this article is in reference to low-risk, healthy pregnant women. And, as always, talk to your doctor or birth team with any concerns, as I am not a doctor.
The Myths of Prenatal Exercise
Exercise increases miscarriage rates: MYTH. 25% of early pregnancies end in miscarriage. Studies show that there is no correlation between low to moderate intensity exercise and miscarriage. According to research, physical fitness appears to be a protective factor of established pregnancies and not significantly involved in the risk of early miscarriage.
Exercising increasing chance of injury: MYTH. While, the body does produce more of the hormone relaxin during pregnancy, it bears no relation to an increase in injury possibilities. There is no difference in the chance of injury in a woman working out and one who is not.
Blood Flow is taken from baby: MYTH. Exercise promotes an increase in blood flow (and healthier, oxygenated blood) through the body. This actually means that there will be an increase in blood flow to baby, not a decrease!
The womb can overheat: MYTH. The woman’s body is built to grow babies and protect them while in utero. You will feel overheated, dizzy, light-headed, and nauseated –signaling you to stop activity. Even at this point, your baby is safe and healthy in a perfectly kept temperature of amniotic fluid. Listen to your body, drink water, and rest when needed. Pregnancy actually reduces the risk of the mother's body temperature getting high enough to bother the baby, because she has an increased ability to get rid of excess heat (through increased blood volume and sweating at lower temperatures) or store it (as mom gains weight, the tissue needs to be kept warm). These combined forces allow pregnant women who are physically active to better manage heat stress than non-exercisers.
The placenta can be displaced or rupture: MYTH. Placenta previa cannot be caused by exercise, neither can a rupture. Studies show that exercising provides blood higher in nutrient volume to the placenta, helping to create a healthier supply for baby.
The umbilical cord may become tangled: MYTH. The cord may become knotted and twisted throughout pregnancy even if you are confined to your bed. An active baby is the cause of this, not your workout routine.
Exercise can cause a low birth weight for baby or a premature labor: MYTH. The length of pregnancy will not be affected by exercise. There is no data showing exercise is linked to low birth weights either.
You can only perform at the level you were at pre-pregnancy: MYTH. Your body will tell you what feels right. Increasing frequency or length of workout is fine as long as you feel good.
Walking is enough: MYTH. Walking around at a leisurely pace is not enough to count as exercise. Your heart rate needs to increase, breaths quickening slightly, and the body needs to work.
I Have Gestational Diabetes, I can’t exercise: MYTH. Studies show that exercising while having gestational diabetes poses absolutely no risk to mother or baby. Research states that women with GD benefit just as those without do through exercising.
You cannot perform abdominal exercises: MYTH. Your abdominals and your entire core, including your pelvic floor, should be strengthened throughout pregnancy, and doing so will help not only during pregnancy, but also aid in labor, delivery, and recovery. Abdominal exercises also help with posture support, which will benefit you throughout pregnancy and afterward.
Nutrients will be depleted and baby won’t get what he needs: MYTH. Baby will get what he needs. Your body will take the nutrients from you, but not your baby. Eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Your heartrate should not go above a certain point: MYTH. There is no specific target heartrate that suites every pregnant exercising woman. ACOG abandoned the "target heart rate" concept a long time ago. What they and most experts now rely on as a guide is RPE, or rate of perceived exertion.
You can’t lie on your back: MYTH. While you should try not to be on your back for long periods of time (like overnight), there is no reason to avoid this position while exercising. The body will cut blood supply to your legs before depriving the baby of anything. You will feel tingling and numbness, dizziness, and nausea if the body needs to move.
Women should not try any new exercise regimen once pregnant: MYTH. There is no research to warrant this claim. If anything, exercises should be added to ensure that working out lasts the entire pregnancy. If you are a runner, add in the elliptical or bike. That way you have options throughout pregnancy. Adding new strength training exercises is fine as well, using natural body weight is always a great option.
I have to stop after the second trimester: MYTH. Some of the best outcomes associated with exercise during pregnancy occur when fitness continues until the end of pregnancy. (See the benefits listed below).
The benefits of why you need to get your bump moving NOW!
- Lowers excess weight gain
- Increases blood flow
- Reduces pregnancy-related discomforts
- Improves calcium absorption, preventing hypertension, preeclampsia, and future osteoporosis: Studies show that physical activity during the first half of pregnancy is likely to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension.
- Relives tension, stress, and depression
- Increases general strength, improving the ability to carry the baby belly with a strong posture
- Reduces the strain on the upper back
- Reduces the strain and pressure on the lower back and sciatic nerve
- Prevents improper posture
- Improves Sleep
- Increases energy, particularly in the third trimester
- Improves immunity
- Improves self-image and self-esteem
- Provides a sense of achievement
- Provides a positive outlook on pregnancy
- Strengthens, tones, and gives better control of the pelvic floor muscles during labor
- Improves endurance, and muscle control for a less painful labor
- Lowers risk of c-section
- Reduces rates of birth defects
- Increases chances of high APGAR scores for baby
- Minimized stretch marks: HOORAY!
- Minimized Baby Blues
- Minimized urinary leaking (incontinence)
- Faster Recovery time
- Increases energy
- Improves child’s health: Researchers have determined that exercise during pregnancy prevented a damaging epigenetic effect of the mother’s obesity – an effect believed to put chemical marks on genes and lead to diabetes in the offspring.
- Improves child’s neurological, mental, and physical development
Always consult your healthcare provider with questions or concerns. No more excuses – get that BUMP MOVING!
Resources and Research Studies:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7913067 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7154893 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1748256 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7817462 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7723638 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2592903 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7925542 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9575323 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595006/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26272327 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26256135