Pregnancy itself can be rough — you’re tired, your body aches and you’ll likely have morning sickness and nausea at some point. You may wonder why you’d add running or other workouts into the mix, but the easy answer is it can actually help you prepare for labor.
When it comes to the fitness aspect of pregnancy, there are a lot of dos and don’ts but generally speaking, much of it is individual. First and foremost, it’s important to talk with your doctor before starting a workout routine when pregnant. Every body and every pregnancy is different, and your doctor can help make the best recommendations for your unique needs.
Three professionals share the most common myths they’ve heard about running or working out while pregnant, which can help serve as the jumping-off point for conversations with your doctor.
MYTH #1: DON’T WORK OUT (OR CUT DOWN THE INTENSITY)
This is the biggest myth that Brian Salmon, a doula and lactation consultant, hears. “For some that are starting out when pregnant, they should not overdo it — just like anyone starting out a new routine,” he shares. “Of course it is best if you continue your workouts if you were in a regular routine, because that decreases stress and prepares you for the physical trials of labor.”
Women — and their partners — may be concerned that exercise will somehow harm the growing baby, but according to the American Pregnancy Association, “exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage in a normal low risk pregnancy.”
Salmon also says the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists promotes exercise after seeing the difference regular workouts can make not only in the birthing experience, but the overall health of mom and baby.
MYTH #2: MORNING SICKNESS MAKES EXERCISE NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE
Of course, morning sickness, which we know can strike any time of day despite its name, can affect every expectant mother in different ways. However, thinking that you can’t work out due to the nausea is just not true, according to Brooke Cates, founder and CEO of The Bloom Method, a pre– and postnatal fitness program.
“During the first trimester and into the second, the circulatory system dilates to double its size. This bigger circulatory system now demands a larger blood volume to fill the larger system, hence the light headedness, nausea and lack of appetite,” she explains. “The more exercise and movement that the mother can withstand during the first trimester will allow for the individual to produce more blood, thus filling the circulatory system with the correct amount of blood, while decreasing the sickness systems that are being experienced.”
Cates shares that if you have been sedentary prior to pregnancy, walking, hiking and low-impact exercise are ideal, as your body is already going through enough changes. If you have been active, however, you can absolutely stay that way.
Additionally, Cates notes that in that same transition period between the first and second trimester, there is another thing to pay attention to when it comes to your stomach: Core exercises. Many traditional core exercises should stop, but you can work your deep core muscles. “This will help women learn how to rewire the way the core muscles activate to help avoid abdominal separation, low-back pain, incontinence, pelvic issues and potentially achieve a smoother pushing phase during birth.”
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MYTH #3: KEEP YOUR HEART RATE UNDER 140 BPM
When it comes to working out, many people use their heart rate to determine how successful the workout is. This is often done in zones, with Zone One being easy and Zone Three being hardest. When it comes to working out while pregnant, however, Erica Ziel, author, creator of Knocked-Up Fitness® and The Core Rehab Program and mom of three, says it is an inaccurate way to determine intensity.
“There are so many variables that affect a prenatal woman’s heart rate,” she notes. “One being that her heart rate has naturally increased from the beginning of the first trimester, and including fitness level, age and more.”
So what exactly should you be doing to track the intensity of your workout when pregnant to make sure you aren’t pushing your growing body too hard? Ziel recommends the talk test method.
“Research has said for years now to follow this method,” she says. “The talk test is a better indicator of how hard a pregnant mama is working out. She should be able to carry on a light conversation while exercising. If she is having a hard time catching her breath, she needs to slow down.”
If you skipped working out in the first trimester completely, Ziel also notes that you shouldn’t just completely give up until your baby is born. Like Cates, she emphasizes working those deep core muscles, and says as long as your doctor gives you the OK, you should start doing light workouts of even five minutes to prepare your body for the physical challenge of childbirth.