Pregnancy is a unique time of life. Your body is changing rapidly, your hormones are surging faster and stronger than they ever have or ever will in your life; and most notably, you’re growing a person. There’s one way, however, that pregnancy is just like any other time for some women: you know you should be exercising, but you’re not.
You could be pulling on many good reasons to forgo the trip to the gym. You’re really tired, you’ve been beat by morning sickness, your body is different right now. The most common reason women give isn’t usually about them, though, it’s about their baby.
Most women feel very unsure of what it is they can and can’t do during pregnancy, for fear of harming their little one. In a study performed to find out why it is women stop their exercise regime during the nine-month growth spurt, one mother replied:
“I’ve heard don’t raise your arms up too much because you can get the cord wrapped around the [baby’s] neck. Because I do my own hair and … my boyfriend’s sister is like no you can’t. Like after so many months you can’t do it because the cord will get wrapped around…I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what she said.’’
Now, depending on your background, this might sound about right. If it’s sounding a little foreign, stop and think about what it is you think is taboo during pregnancy. Lifting things? Sit ups? Squats? I assure you that there is very little truth behind these restrictions. Beliefs like this come from a poor understanding of prenatal physiology. It’s these very beliefs that keep women off the treadmills and “safely” tucked away on couches.
So why pull out the stroller and insist on a family walk? There are three big reasons:
Pregnancy is kind of like second puberty in some ways. You’re having a new realization of hormones, your tastes are changing rapidly, growing new hair, all sorts of things that may leave you feeling out of sorts. Then there’s the bonus of a growing baby in your belly. This pregnancy body simply won’t feel the same as it did previously. A lot of women feel downright uncomfortable, and they can’t seem to find a position that feels good. This won’t go away completely. However, a good workout can certainly help. Spending time in your body being conscious of how it feels will help you feel more comfortable with it. Moving your body daily will build up the muscle around your joints, and support them better. It also means better blood flow, and a nice dose of endorphins that help you feel just…better.
This is a big draw for a lot of women, especially while living in a culture that leads people to believe that birth is nigh impossible. I assure you that it’s entirely possible, and can be even better than you thought if you keep your body toned during pregnancy. To borrow from the words of researcher Meredith Nash “you don’t train for a marathon sitting on the couch”. Birth is a major physical event, and you have to be ready for it. Getting some cardio every day, in combination with exercises like squats and kegels will help prepare your body for birth. If you exercise consistently, it means a shorter labor, an easier birth, and less likelihood of complications.
Bonus benefit: keeping fit during pregnancy also means that it will be easier to be fit after pregnancy. Birth recoveries are quicker for active moms, which means you’re back on your feet and back in your jeans much sooner than you would be otherwise.
Lifetime Health for Baby
Perhaps the most enticing reason to get moving is because of the huge benefits it will have for baby. Infants born to mothers who exercise are born longer with more lean body mass. They have better respiratory function, heart function, and brain development than their less-active-mother counterparts. This extends beyond the time of birth, children were shown to retain these benefits five years out and more. If you’re thinking to yourself, “too late, I’m already pregnant”, I’m here to tell you it’s not too late! Children can display these healthy outcomes, even when exercise only began during the third trimester.
Now, there could be some mamas out there thinking “too late, I already have kids. I didn’t exercise and they turned out fine!” And that’s true, they probably did, but here’s the thing: I’m not talking about minimum health, I’m talking about optimum health. Children turn out beautiful and healthy without exercise every day. But they won’t have the extra advantage that babies of active moms have.
Every day application
Some exercise guidelines are rather complicated, with determinants based on internal temperature, max heart rate, etcetera, etcetera. I don’t know about you, but I don’t take my temperature when I head out for a run. It just isn’t practical.
Currently, the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetrics recommends that pregnant women who don’t have any complications engage in leisure-activity exercise 20-30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Vague, right?
The thing is, there isn’t a lot of high quality research out there yet on what’s “proper” and what’s not during pregnancy. For now, we just know that getting out and moving is highly beneficial for both mom and baby. Wondering how it works?
What happens to your body during exercise is this: when you start moving your heart rate rises and blood is redirected from internal organs to the skin and muscles, which is what gives you that rosy glow. Now, if you’re pregnant, the blood redirection means that there’s an initial drop in blood and oxygen from your uterus, and ergo, your baby. This sounds scary, right? I promise it isn’t. Though there is an initial drop in blood flow, if you’re an active lady, it means that your baby enjoys an overall better flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients during resting periods. This better flow far outweighs anything they’d be lacking during actual exercise periods.
Knowing this, do whatever it is you love to do. Whether that’s hiking, biking, running or spiking on the volleyball court, there’s very little that you can’t do. It could be a simple walk around the neighborhood with your partner, or it could mean being at CrossFit with your crew. Just be conscious of your body. As long as you’re feeling sublime, you’re probably doing sublimely.
There are some splendid examples in the world of women who make exercise part of motherhood. Paula Radcliffe is a world-renowned runner who doesn’t let pregnancy stop her from pursuing her passions. Paula runs and races, pregnant or not.
Or take Emily Baer, who finished 8th out of 500 men and women in the 2007 Hardrock 100 (which is, yes, a 100 mile race) while stopping at every station to breastfeed her infant. Pretty tough lady, eh?
For perhaps a more local taste, there’s Laura at marathonmomma.com. She’s a strong mother and marathon runner! Check out her blog to learn more about thoughts on fitness and pregnancy. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
These women carry full-term, and have beautiful babies. Don’t let pregnancy myths keep you from the real-life evidence. Being active will help you and your baby to be healthier, happier people. If you’re ever feeling wary, be sure to check in with valid sources such as acog.org, or asking your doctor or midwife. Keep in mind that some doctors feel unsure about informing their patients on exercise guidelines. Be an active participant in your healthcare, ask for the information you need.
My hope for you is that you find this information both comforting and inspiring. Being pregnant should never mean being afraid to use your body for all the wonderful things it was designed to do. Be cautious of those who try to instill you with fear over exercise, and tell them to check their facts, like you do!
Best of luck,
3. Nash, Meredith (2011). “You don’t train for a marathon sitting on the couch”: Perfomances of pregnancy ‘fitness’ and ‘good’ motherhood in Melbourne, Australia. Women’s Studies International Forum 34(1), 50-65.
5. Artal, R., & O'toole, M. (2003). Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. British journal of sports medicine, 37(1), 6-12.