Pregnancy is one of the most exciting and beautiful times in a woman’s life, but for a lot of women, it also presents many challenges and difficulties! Many things will be out of your control, and even more things will feel that way, because your body is growing and changing daily. It can feel like you have very little control over your symptoms, your energy level, your mood, your cravings, and your body in general.
Despite the obvious struggles, there are three very important things that you can control to a great degree that will positively impact your pregnancy:
Now, you may be wondering why sleep is not included in this list! Sleep is of course essential for pregnant women to feel their best, for the same reasons that non-pregnant women do. Unfortunately, many pregnant women find sleep challenging, especially in the later months as it becomes more difficult to get comfortable. Most mamas will tell you that all you can do is the best you can, and your body will take over from there.
For now, your focus should be on controlling what is within your control, like your training, nutrition, and stress management, and doing the best you can with everything else.
Exercising during pregnancy may raise fears and concerns, especially after a so many years of telling women to “take it easy!” or “sit down and put your feet up!” You’ve probably asked yourself, or others have asked you, “Is it working out while pregnant safe”? Trying to imagine safe workouts during pregnancy, especially in the later months, might be daunting. Even when safe, you probably want to know the best kind of exercise to do during pregnancy.
The answer to the question “is working out during pregnancy safe?” is a resounding “YES!”, assuming you have no contraindications to exercise in pregnancy. From a very broad perspective, exercise and movement in pregnancy improves your mood, your ability to deal with the physical changes that occur in pregnancy, and your psychological health. Exercising in pregnancy can also help you manage weight gain and certain pregnancy symptoms, and decreases the likelihood of conditions such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and depression, and improves your experience of labor and delivery as well as your ability to recover! There are potential health benefits for the baby as well, including the possibility of decreased risk of adverse outcomes for the child in mothers with gestational diabetes. Exercise during pregnancy may also provide opportunities for social engagement with other pregnant women if done in group settings, which you may find crucial for helping you through the long months and challenges.
Girls Gone Strong advisory board members who have worked with pregnant clients have found that following a very specific exercise protocol can help improve your posture and alignment, reduce the discomfort that often accompanies pregnancy weight gain, and help to ensure your baby is sitting in a good position, which can make for an easier labor and delivery experience. Regular exercise can also improve your stability, strength, and movement patterns, helping you to disperse the extra stress from your growing belly throughout your body instead of relying on your lower back to take the load. With so many physical and psychological benefits to be had, every woman should consider exercising during pregnancy, even if they never have before. However, the volume and type of exercise that is appropriate will vary based on your training history and fitness level.
When it comes to safe workouts in pregnancy, you may have heard the age-old advice: “Just keep doing what you were doing before you were pregnant, but don’t start anything new.”
While this isn’t exactly poor advice, it’s not entirely accurate, and here’s why:
If you were training before you were pregnant, you can absolutely continue now that you’re pregnant, but that doesn’t mean you can continue doing the exact same exercises all the way through pregnancy. You can continue with many of same exercises in pregnancy, but there are definitely adjustments to be made.
For the most part, if you feel well enough, your exercise during the first 20-24 weeks can look very similar to how it looked pre-pregnancy. However, as the belly grows, you’ll want to avoid exercises that put extra pressure or stress on your anterior core (i.e. your abs), and exercises that put a lot of downward pressure on your pelvic floor.
Exercises that put extra stress on your anterior core are ones where your belly “hangs” down, like Front Planks or Push-ups, or “bulges” out like Sit-ups or Crunches. Both of these can worsen Diastasis Recti, which is the abdominal separation that occurs during pregnancy to accommodate for your growing belly.
You also want to avoid exercises that put a lot of downward pressure on your pelvic floor including plyometrics, running, box jumps, etc. As you get further along in pregnancy, you may find that exercises like Back Squats and Overhead Press fall into this category as well. Because your pelvic floor is already experiencing increased downward pressure from your growing belly, you’ll want to avoid exacerbating this pressure. Some “fit pregnancy” websites or books will advise avoiding lifting heavy weights all together, and stick to cardiovascular exercises that reduce risk of tripping or falling, which all make logical sense due to the changes in your gait, center of gravity and posture in your third trimester. Bear in mind that there will always be exceptions. Women have had perfectly healthy babies while running regularly up until delivery, but generally all decrease the volume and intensity. Thus, individual results will vary, and seem to depend largely on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels and regimen. Before beginning exercise, or assuming you can continue to exercise at the same intensity or type, you must speak to your doctor for clearance.
On the flip side, even if you were not exercising before pregnancy, by all means, you can start now—assuming you’re cleared by your doctor for exercise, which you would need to be even if you weren’t pregnant.
The catch here is this: If you were sedentary pre-pregnancy, you should be exercising at a low to moderate intensity throughout pregnancy; whereas someone who was training at a moderate to high intensity pre-pregnancy, can continue training at a moderate to high intensity throughout pregnancy. While exercising in pregnancy is important, a safe workout should always be your priority, and any amount of exercise will have positive benefits. Pregnancy can even help women improve aerobic fitness because of the added challenge on the cardiovascular system from the baby! While a baby should not be viewed as a backpack thrown on during a run to increase the intensity, it can result in fitness improvements without having tried.
A really popular misconception is that women should just walk and do yoga during their pregnancy. While we think walking and yoga can be great pregnancy exercises to have as part of your prenatal exercise routine, you just can’t beat the benefits of a cardiovascular and strength training and program.
You need to be strong to support your changing body, maintain your strength as you carry extra weight, help your postpartum recovery process, and to prepare yourself and your baby for intense moments of labour and delivery. You also need aerobic exercise to improve your endurance, help control your weight, and reap the benefits of improved glucose control and blood pressure control.
Just as your body will experience a multitude of changes as you progress through pregnancy, your pregnancy exercise program will need to go on a journey too. What you did in your first trimester might not be working for you in the third. Do you have to lower your intensity by decreasing your weights or repetitions? Do you need to go for a shorter walk or run, or lower the intensity on your elliptical or stationary bike? That is totally necessary and normal. You will absolutely get back to where you were and likely, an even stronger version of your new-mama self.
Ultimately, if hitting the gym, or using machines or weights at all just isn’t your thing, just keep your body moving through regular daily physical activity, and do as much as you can of the activities that you enjoy that get your heart rate going. If you see a personal trainer to set up a strength training or cardiovascular exercise program, make sure they have experience with pregnant women, and success with those clients.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out this great resource about safe exercise in pregnancy.
Weight gain is a fear for many women, and debate continues to exist over how much weight, or how little weight, is safe to gain during pregnancy. What you don’t hear much about is losing weight during pregnancy. If you struggle with morning sickness (or all-day sickness) you may have a hard time keeping food down in the first trimester of pregnancy, and you may find yourself losing a bit of weight instead of gaining. This is normal, and generally OK, but make sure you stay hydrated, and keep an open line of communication with your Doctor about how much weight you’re losing. If it becomes significant, it can absolutely become cause for concern.
In addition, you may have heard that women who carry significant amounts of excess body fat can safely lose weight in pregnancy and have a healthy pregnancy, However, the most recent research does not recommend weight loss during pregnancy. Instead, the recommendation for gestational weight gain in obese women is 11 to 20 pounds, compared to the 25 to 35 pounds recommended for women who fall into the “normal weight” category.6 Of course, there can always be an exception where an overweight or obese woman gains no weight and has a healthy pregnancy, but every woman’s pregnancy is a unique experience, and the best recommendations are those based off of thousands, not one!
There is a lot of misinformation about how much food you need during pregnancy, or what type of foods to eat during pregnancy. While there is no official “pregnancy nutrition guide”, (each website or book will vary) there are guidelines established in research, and an overwhelming amount of anecdotal information to choose from.
What is well established is how much more food you may need during pregnancy, based on the trimester you are in and your physical activity level. If you are gaining the expected, healthy amount of weight, then it is safe to assume you are meeting your calorie needs, but this doesn’t tell you much about the quality of that nutrition.7
Nutrition during pregnancy is not very different than the general nutrition recommendations for a healthy, active lifestyle. Pregnant women simply need more of some nutrients and more total energy than they did before pregnancy. There are also some foods that pregnant women are recommended to avoid.