A friend of mine dropped by the other day just as I was stretching and finishing up my workout. When she saw the sweat dripping from my skin and my damp clothes, she frowned; not the response I usually get when I’ve just conquered another exercise routine.
I looked at her in confusion. What was the problem? Then she opened her mouth and I understood.
“Are you sure you’re not going to hurt the baby?” she asked.
Oh okay, now I see. I’m pregnant, therefore I’m supposed to be chained to the couch, my bed or any other similar lounge-inducing piece of furniture for nine months. Gotcha.
What is it about being pregnant that strikes exercise-related fear into the hearts of those around us or maybe even ourselves when we’re with child? I can offer you a few theories, based on what I’ve been told or what I’ve heard from others. Here are a few of the best.
“The baby is going to get brain damage from being shaken up too much.”
“All those squats you’re doing are going to cause the baby to fall out.”
“You really shouldn’t be working out so much. The baby is going to get overheated.”
Need I go on?
The reality is a great number of people still think exercise is harmful to a fetus during pregnancy. I’m here to tell you that a great number of people are wrong. Now before I launch into all the reasons mums-to-be should exercise while pregnant, let me make this disclaimer: any pregnant woman should first check with her doctor before launching an exercise programme, particularly if she hasn’t worked out before or it’s been a long time since her last sweat session. That being said, the vast majority of healthy women experiencing normal, low-risk pregnancies are not only permitted to work out while pregnant but are encouraged to do so. Why? Because regular exercise has a multitude of benefits for both you and baby.
Let me name a few.
• Gives you a much-needed energy boost when you feel as though you might lapse into a coma at any given moment, particularly during the fatigue fest that is the first trimester.
• Helps you to sleep better, which we all know is essential and crucial as our bellies grow and sleeping becomes more and more difficult.
• Helps to relieve the common aches and pains of pregnancy through muscle-strengthening cardio, strength training and relaxing stretches which soothe tight muscles that are working overtime to support the new weight of your body.
• Makes your body stronger and more fit, thereby increasing your chances of a shorter labour.
• Helps you to lose the baby weight more easily after you’ve given birth.
• Means your child is more likely to be born healthier and remain at a healthier weight than children whose mothers don’t work out.
• Helps to reduce your stress levels, protecting your baby from the adverse effects of stress as well.
• Increases your body’s overall blood flow, which aids in carrying needed nutrients to your child.
Now that I’ve convinced you to pull your overgrown belly off the couch, let’s talk about what types of exercises are most appropriate during the nine months you’ll spend growing a baby inside of your body.
During the first three months or so of your pregnancy, you may find your workout routine either unchanged or easy to start if you’re a novice or severely compromised for a variety of reasons. If you’re one of the lucky women who have little to no pregnancy symptoms – nausea, extreme fatigue or morning sickness to name a few – then most exercises will be deemed safe and doable during this time, including jogging and weight training. You’ll even be able to continue to lie on your back for abdominal crunches or other moves performed in this position. Just monitor your energy levels and work out accordingly and you’ll likely be fine. However, if your newly forming baby is wreaking havoc on your hormones and making you miserable in the process, your ability to exercise may be severely limited. If this is the case, I advise you to listen to your body. If you need to sleep, then sleep. If vomiting is part of your daily routine, then exercise may not be, depending on how long you can go without throwing up. And if the nausea is just too much, lying down may be a better option than trying to make it through an aerobics class. However, oftentimes nausea can be effectively combatted by heading outside in the fresh air and taking a nice brisk walk. Consider trying this if you have no other barriers to exercise.
Along with the next three months of pregnancy usually comes a decrease or complete disappearance of first-trimester woes along with an uptick in energy. Your belly is likely not that big or, for some women, not showing signs of pregnancy at all and you’re probably feeling the best you have in months. If this is you, I encourage you to take advantage of this sense of well-being and get moving, especially if you just couldn’t for the first three months. All of your normal exercises will still be appropriate, but as your belly grows you should start cutting back on more jarring and jumping movements, modify exercises that call for torso rotations and eliminate those that put you on your back. You may also find you need to lighten up on how much weight you lift, but that is something you will determine only through trial and error. If you are struggling to lift with your normal dumbbells, consider lightening up and you should be fine and able to maintain your muscle tone. Walking and running are still good options, as are most classes you’ll find at your local gym.
However, the second trimester is a good time to start thinking about pregnancy-specific exercise classes or workout DVDs. These programmes are specifically tailored to your changing body and are usually a bit gentler in terms of the cardio components. If this feels better for your body or just makes you more mentally comfortable, then by all means do them. I know as my baby has grown I’ve experienced limited lung capacity and had to tone down my higher-intensity workouts. Workouts developed strictly for pregnant women have been a great addition to my workout repertoire and have helped to keep me motivated.
The end is now near and your belly is likely reaching never-before-seen proportions. That energy burst you were enjoying in your second trimester may have gone into hiding and your aches and pains have probably increased, as well. Welcome to the last three months! It’s hard, I know, and exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But if you can manage it, I urge you to try some exercise, even if it’s just a light walk a couple of days a week, swimming (which is very relieving during the last months of pregnancy), light stretching and seated upper-body weight training and leg lifts. Prenatal Pilates is also another excellent way to gently but effectively tone your muscles and keep your abdominals and back strong. In other words, just do what you can when you can and your baby will thank you.
Carissa D. Lamkahouan is a career writer and journalist and mom of two children, a son and a daughter. She enjoys fitness, reading and travelling to Morocco, the homeland of her husband. She has been a Muslim since 2005 and lives in Houston, Texas.