“Oh, you must be having a boy, I can total tell from looking at you from behind.”
“It must be a girl based on how you have gained all your weight in your face.”
“You know you don’t have to eat for two.”
“You’re planning to work after you have your baby? Aren’t you scared your baby will think their sitter is their mom?”
“You know getting your heart rate up while pregnant causes birth defects …”
Any woman who has been pregnant probably can recite a few of the most annoying, unsolicited advice or comments they received while pregnant. The above quotes were just a few of the gems that were said to me during my first pregnancy. Now, don’t get me wrong, not all advice is dripping with passive aggressiveness and biased opinions, but I do feel like now-a-days, it can be so hard to navigate this new, scary time of life, especially when it comes to exercise.
First and foremost, every pregnancy is different. Every day needs to be treated individually as well. My comments today are geared towards healthy, uncomplicated births. Every single momma needs to be in conversation with their OBGYN, always listening to your body and giving yourself grace each and every day! Go ahead a give yourself a high five. You’re growing a human. Good job.
I want to spend some time clearing up so myths that are so flippantly thrown around from know-it-all to know-it-all across the land. I am a self-proclaimed know-it-all and I will admit, in the past, have fallen victim to breathing life to these myths with patients and friends. The cycle ends today.
So here we go. The first bit of fiction we commonly hear:
FICTION: If you did not work out before getting pregnant, you cannot work out once becoming pregnant:
150 minutes of moderate intensity exercises/week is recommended for all pregnant women. That. Is. A. Lot. So, are we banishing women from wanting to do good by themselves and their child by shaming them to think they are not allowed to participate just because they haven’t exercised before? Or maybe, we hide behind this myth as a reason to sit around more often than maybe we should when we are “with child”.
“Nowhere in the medical literature does it say that moderate exercise such as walking Is unsafe, even for previously sedentary women,” says Raul Artal, M.D., chairman of the OB-GYN department at Saint Louis University in Missouri and lead author of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guidelines on prenatal exercise. I loved this quote and you can read more and where I got it from here.
The real shame of this myth is that it is feeding the fire of what we should be most fearful of as pregnant women, and that is inactivity. Sedentary lifestyle or lack of exercise has some pretty serious effects on us as mothers and to our babies as well. Inactivity causes risk of many things including:
Increase in weight gain
Risk of gestational diabetes
High blood pressure
Increase risk of unplanned C-section
You can read more about inactivity during pregnancy and the side effects here!
Just like any person starting a new activity, a pregnant mom needs to proceed with caution, start slowly and build exercise tolerance.
So, for those of you who find yourself newly pregnant and never been active, please do not let words like these keep you from moving. Pregnancy is a wonderful time for a lifestyle change and new habits! Start by a walk around your neighborhood, or maybe a stationary bike ride at your local gym. Talk with your doctor about your potential options to ensure safe progression to exercises. Either way. Move.
So I would like to change that fiction into something factual….
FACT: Exercise is a great time to start to exercise. Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercises/week to help myself and my baby to be as healthy as possible!
FICTION: You can exercise, but do not get your heart rate above 140 bpm
When has assigning a blanket statement to an entire group of people ever been a good idea? Never. Heart rate, like everything else, is so different from person to person. 140 bpm for me might be me gasping on the floor while for you, might be what you feel like after climbing a set of stairs. In the past, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ guidelines on prenatal exercise did recommend this but it has long been debunked.
What we are really needing to decipher is what “moderate intensity” exercise is. Moderate means: elevated heart rate, sweating, respiratory rate up, but also means we aren’t gasping for breath.
As opposed to pulling out your heart rate monitor (or shaming those who you see aren’t monitoring – yeah, I’m talking to you lady who always eyed me at the gym), what is suggested is something much easier (and free) and that is the talk test! If you are able to carry on a conversation during your exercise, you can be certain you are in a heart rate safe zone for you and your baby.
Ensuring blood flow and oxygen to your baby is key when it comes to exertion during exercise. If you are huffing and puffing, unable to speak, this tells is oxygen is low for you, and most likely for your baby.
I would like to change that bit of fiction to the following:
FACT: I should exercise as I can during the week, allowing myself to sweat, move, breathing hard but still be able to talk to my neighbor as I train.
FICTION: Because of new hormones in my body like Relaxin, I cannot strength train and should stick with aerobic exercise.
Anyone who comes into my clinic with excessive mobility, the therapy is to stabilize! Strength training = increased stability. As pregnant women, we are doing ourselves a disservice by shying away from strength when in all reality, pregnancy is when we need it the most! Excessive, loosy-goosy joints are the last thing we need.
A purposeful, appropriate strength program is paramount in pregnancy and has a slew of benefits! It helps to reduce or alleviate aches and pains, helps decrease the risk of C-section, and increases recovery rate greatly for those that do have C-sections.
And let us not forget, once we have the baby…they send you home with them. They are yours. You now have this 8-10# ball of mess that you now have to carry, pick up, move etc. This takes training. If we want our hips and backs to support weight well, we have to practice it!
Incorporating a few days a week of strengthening will not only prep you for labor and delivery, help you recover quicker as well as decrease rate of injury once you return home.
FACT: Incorporating an appropriate and safe strengthening program into my pregnancy exercise regime is key to ensure my body is ready for delivery and taking care of my baby. Strength training will allow me to support my joints and bones as my body changes and my baby grows.
Anytime I speak, I always feel like I am talking to two camps. Those who do too little, and those who do too much. For those of you who are pregnant and exercise is a foreign concept, I hope you can take away the emergency situation you are in to move. It is good for you. For your baby. Babies who had mothers who exercised during pregnancy tolerate labor better, have increased APGAR scores and have a better chance of not having diabetes or cardiac issues later in life. There are so many great benefits for you and your baby when you exercise! Please sweat, lift things. Find someone to help you navigate if needed!
And for those of you who struggle with slowing down, first of all, remember you are now responsible for a new life. If you wake up and are feeling crummy, it’s okay to skip your work out and rest. Drink water. Mix up your high-intensity regime with some easy walks or yoga. Find a friend to chat with during your workouts to help keep you accountable.
And most importantly, love and encourage your fellow momma. Too often I found myself comparing, judging worrying about what others were doing and thinking. Ain’t nobody got time for that.