The experts say that regular physical activity in all phases of life promotes healthy benefits. What about during pregnancy? As a mom and personal trainer I was lucky enough to experience first hand the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy. While I never lifted weights when I was pregnant with my girls ( I was uneducated about weight training then), I managed to stay active by walking everyday, swimming, or just doing daily activities.
For the past 9 months I was fortunate to train my client Liz who is expecting her first child any day Now! Being part of Liz's journey was so inspiring to me and the other women in the gym! We often joked about having to keep up with "The pregnant lady" :)
I've decided to write this blog because so many women have concerned or just don't know if they should exercise during pregnancy. I have asked Liz to answer some of the questions you may have concerning exercise and how to deal with changes that happen during pregnancy. Along with the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (OCOG), we are going to see what is safe and what's not to stay fit during pregnancy.
Question 1: Did you discuss continuing your workout routine with your OBGYN and what did he or she recommend ?
Yes I discussed it from the first visit. In the first trimester they pretty much say you can continue as usual, just making sure to hydrate. As the belly grows their only real restriction was doing exercises on your back. My doctors were extremely encouraging of me continuing my exercise regimen through out my entire pregnancy and would ask me during visits if I was continuing to work out.
Here are the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
A thorough clinical evaluation should be conducted before recommending an exercise program to ensure that a patient does not have a medical reason to avoid exercise.
Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.
Question 2 : how did working out with a growing belly or added weight feel?
Luckily it did not get in the way of my workouts too much but I did slow my intensity down & I used lighter weights just to be safe earlier on. Later in the pregnancy I would have to concentrate on breathing or slowing down if I felt I needed to. My goal was to try to keep my muscles, not build them and to not over do it. The belly gets in the way going from standing to sitting and vice versa, but taking it slow was key and it was fine. Also I made sure to go slow getting up so I would not get dizzy or light headed. You helping me pick up weights off the floor was a HUGE PLUS as the belly got real big 🤣
For me the extra weight made it harder for me to walk longer distances or standing in place for a while (2 hr maternity photo shoot made me sore!!). I did try to minimize steps but working out never was uncomfortable and I did show up to the gym on Saturday morning, the day after the killer photo shoot and working out actually helped ease my soreness.
Here are the recommendations of the ACOG:
Physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary because of normal anatomic and physiologic changes and fetal requirements.
Regular physical activity during pregnancy improves or maintains physical fitness, helps with weight management, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, and enhances psychological well-being
Question 3 : Did you have to slow down and what kind of safety rules did you follow?
I definitely slowed down and l do think I turned the intensity down earlier than maybe I needed to but I wanted to play it safe. Also because I was 38 when I got pregnant, so older, I felt I should stay active but not push it. I stopped any jumping, lowered my weights all around, no running & cut out exercises on my back early on. I generally did elliptical, bike or rower for cardio. Drank a ton of water before and during workouts. Also, I always ate a snack or a fiber/protein bar prior to working out to ensure that I did not get dizzy or light headed. Prior to being pregnant you wouldn’t see me eating a bar on the way to the gym, but during it was definitely my new thing and I think it helped as I never felt bad during a workout.
Recommendations from the ACOG:
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. Signs of dehydration include dizziness, a racing or pounding heart, and urinating only small amounts or having urine that is dark yellow.
Avoid standing still or lying flat on your back as much as possible. When you lie on your back, your uterus presses on a large vein that returns blood to the heart. Standing motionless can cause blood to pool in your legs and feet. Both of these positions can decrease the amount of blood returning to your heart and may cause your blood pressure to decrease for a short time.
Avoid becoming overheated, especially in the first trimester. Drink plenty of water, wear loose-fitting clothing, and exercise in a temperature-controlled room. Do not exercise outside when it is very hot or humid.
Question 4: can you suggest any pregnancy exercises essentials? (Such as types of bras, shoes or belt...)
My number 1 pregnancy essential was my Belly Bandit Flawless Belly layering piece. I bought 2 black ones because a lot of my wardrobe is black and they helped me to stay in normal clothes longer and I never had to buy maternity workout clothes, I just used this as a layering and support piece under my workout clothes.
I did also have a support belt that really helped as my belly got bigger and I would wear that for long walks or during my workouts. It looked like one of those belts people wear when lifting heavy things. I got it on amazon for around 10 bucks.
I personally needed my belly supported during my entire pregnancy to be comfortable and these were the 2 ways to do it.
The OCOG also suggests the following:
Question 5: How did staying active during your pregnancy impact your mood and sense of well being?
Oh my gosh! I cannot imagine not working out during my pregnancy! I had morning sickness, which was all day feeling green for about 6 weeks. I still pushed 4-5 workouts a week during that time and it was the only thing that made me feel better (pineapple and ginger water was my savior during this time also). The days I didn’t work out because I just couldn’t get there were the harder & more exhausting days. And then after the first trimester exercise replenished my energy and cleared my head. My temperament during this pregnancy was very even. My anxiety level was super low, I felt calm, happy, clear headed after a workout & energized. I attribute my mood a lot to working out, in addition to my support system of course.
The OCOG lists the additional benefits of Exercise:
Reduces back pain
May decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery
Promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy
Improves your overall general fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels
Helps you to lose the baby weight after your baby is born
From witnessing Liz's daily commitment to her exercise program it is clear that aiming for 20 to 30 minutes per day on most or all days of the week is safe for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Exercising during pregnancy helped Liz manage her morning sickness, it helped her clear her head, and made her feel like herself despite the physiological changes her body was going through. Experts also recommend exercising even if you never worked out prior to getting pregnant. Something as simple as walking for 20 minutes each day is enough to improve your fitness, strength, and sense of well being.
I hope this blog helped clear some misconception about exercise and inspired you to begin a workout routine whether you are expecting or planning to. We are going to miss seeing Liz into the gym for the next few months but I'm confident she will continue to workout post pregnancy as it has become part of her healthy lifestyle!