First and foremost, if you are thinking of getting pregnant or are pregnant, your first plan of attack should be to have a thorough discussion with your doctor about your particular situation and health conditions. Based on that, you can move forward with a smart fitness program throughout your pregnancy with constant supervision. But it will likely need to be modified from what you’re doing now, because your body will go through many changes.
As a fitness professional and a woman who wants to be a mom one day, I’m incredibly interested in this particular topic. Not only so I can help others work out while pregnant, but also so I can modify and safely amend my own fitness regime as I think about and enter the stages of pregnancy in the future.
Let me start by saying that exercise is a good thing for everyone. The stronger you are as a person, the better vessel you are for a growing fetus and the better example you’ll set for your children once they’re born.
Now, let me offer this disclaimer: This information is not designed to replace the help of a professional nor your doctor’s medical direction. This is merely a general overview on things that I’ve learned while getting a Pre- and Post-Natal Personal Trainer Certification. So enjoy the tips and insight, but please seek out advice tailored directly to you, if you become pregnant or are pregnant.
The main considerations from the experts
The big thought-leader in this space is The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), one of the best resources for all things pre- and post-natal. Much of what I’m about to share with you comes directly from ACOG. Now I’ll start with the science stuff:
- According to ACOG, as long as you are cleared by your doctor and have no major medical issues, like preeclampsia, restrictive lung disease or placenta previa to name a few, you should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise every day. That’s right, they recommend movement.
- Avoid contact sports, exertion at high-altitude levels and any activity that puts you in a position in which you could fall or have abdominal trauma. And scuba diving? That’s out too.
- Never get too hot. Avoid saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, heating blankets, Bikram yoga or very hot environments, in which your body temperature gets above 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Getting too hot, or maternal hyperthermia, has been associated with birth defects.
- While ACOG does not recommend a certain heart rate to stay under (although some doctors still go by the outdated rule of 140 or below), during exercise, pregnant women should never go past the moderate intensity zone. You can test that by doing the “talk test.” You should be able to comfortably talk during exercise without losing your breath. If you go over this limit, you could risk maintaining adequate blood/oxygen flow to the uterus and fetus.
- Due to the presence of the hormone relaxin in the body when pregnant, pregnant women may feel that they’re more flexible. Relaxin is responsible for loosening the hips to allow the fetus and uterus to grow and can also offer greater range of motion throughout the ankles and wrists. While this may seem like a good thing, pregnant women should still only work through a traditional range of motion, in order to keep their stability and strength. Sometimes the more flexible you become, the less strong, so it’s a difficult balance.
- Due to the presence of hormone progesterone in the body when pregnant, which decreases smooth muscle activity in the intestines, veins and arteries, pregnant women should not stand still for too long. ACOG recommends women avoid motionless standing and consistently do calf raises, walk around or put their ankles up, so blood doesn’t pool in their lower regions.
- After child birth, women need to be cleared by their doctor before returning to or starting an exercise program. It’s typically four to six weeks after delivery, however if you’ve had a c-section, it’s closer to six to eight weeks. Sometimes doctors will clear you earlier, but it’s not advised that you do anything above moderate intensity until the uterus has shrunk back to its pre-pregnancy state.
Working with a personal trainer while pregnant
If you work with a personal trainer, he/she will have a lot of questions for you on a daily basis, in fact, more so than normal. Your personal trainer will require that you show you have direct medical clearance via an official form from your doctor. Your trainer will consistently ask you about your exertion levels and will modify and shape your workout program to be best designed for you and your body as it grows. There are some great moves and modalities that are super effective for pregnant women, which will likely make it into your program, but you won’t be doing a ton of new skills while pregnant. And there are some things that need to be avoided in the later trimesters, like spinal rotation during core work as well as lying on your back. As I’ve mentioned before, working with a personal trainer has many perks, and finding someone skilled in pre- and post-natal to help you during your pregnancy could be a very beneficial investment.
General exercise tips for pregnant women
Now for some broad tips to keep in the back of your mind:
- Talk to your doctor. Describe exactly what your current fitness routine looks like. Explain the moves, the way you feel while doing them and let your doctor tell you what you can and cannot do. In order for your doctor to advise, they’ve got to really understand what you do, so don’t be vague. Their advice on your limitations will change as you move along each trimester and your belly gets bigger.
- Listen to your body. Don’t max out. If something doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it. There’s never a need to push to your max when pregnant. Don’t try any challenging new skills, max weights or complex movements during these few months. It’s not the time for that. You may feel a little imbalanced at times, and that’s totally normal, so be extra careful. It’s advised that you do some strength training, but keep normal range of motion and avoid super heavy weights.
- Don’t exercise on an empty stomach, and take more water breaks. Due to hormonal changes that make pregnant women more susceptible to blood-sugar level drops, you should always have food in your belly when getting active. You should also try to eat smaller meals throughout the day and drink more during your workouts.
- Don’t stand still! Always keep moving.
- Take deep breaths. Don’t hold your breath. You should never be doing moves so hard that you have to hold your breath or lose your breath. It’s just not safe. Dial it back a bit.
- Kegels are your best friend. Don’t know what a kegel is? It’s the action done when you contract your muscles in the pelvic floor, as though you’re going to pee then stop. You should do kegels when you brush your teeth, when you’re riding in an elevator or when you’re sitting at your desk. Any time you get a chance to strengthen your pelvic floor, do it. A strong pelvic floor will help you carry a growing fetus.
- Work ambidextrously. If you choose to breastfeed, you’ll need to learn how to use both your hands and arms to counteract the weight of having a baby on both sides. If you begin strengthening both sides, you’ll feel more balanced.
- Careful with the core. Even though you may feel great continuing your workout routine, you’ve got to be careful to look for separation of your abs during movement. If you can see something protruding from between your rectus adominis, a situation called diastasis recti, then avoid doing that move.
- Avoid high impact. You can still run when pregnant if it feels right, but remember that impact sports could eventually affect the strength of your pelvic floor and lead to incontinence post pregnancy. If you feel pain or discomfort, it’s not worth doing. Consider regressing your impact in group fitness classes and during any exercise that requires jumping or running, especially after you enter the second and third trimesters.
How do I know all of this? Recently, I became a Pre- and Post-Natal Certified Personal Trainer through an Equinox In-House workshop conducted by Annette Lang Education Systems. The information in this post is not intended to replace professional advice, it’s just a chance for me to share some stuff I’ve been learning and get the conversation started for you. I hope you enjoy it.
Questions of the day
What’s one important thing you’ve learned lately?
Moms out there, what did you do for exercise during your pregnancy?