As a pre/postnatal trainer, it is (was) my job to keep women healthy and fit during their pregnancy. The question I’m asked most often, especially now that I’m working out with a bump myself is:
How much should I workout while pregnant and what exercises should I avoid?
There seems to be a lot of worry and fear about overdoing it and hurting both mom and baby when it comes to a fitness routine. In most cases, there needn’t be. A pregnant woman simply needs to pay attention to her body, it’s cues and the overall need for movement during these 9 months.
The Benefits of Prenatal Exercise
The benefits of exercising during pregnancy are vast and they impact both the mother and the fetus. Studies show exercise in pregnancy boosts energy, aids in sleep quality and duration, reduces stress & discomfort, and eases childbirth. Working out can also have positive impact on baby as well. For example, as early as age 5, children score higher on general intelligence tests if their mothers worked out while they were pregnant with them. The odds of obesity, in mother and child, are also reduced with a prenatal exercise plan.
Now that we know WHY we should exercise while pregnant, here are some simple guidelines to help you get started:
Start slow or MAINTAIN!
If you’ve never stepped foot into a gym before you got pregnant, right now is probably not the best time to start a major overhaul. Start slow with exercises like walking, biking, light weight lifting or water aerobics. If you’ve already been working out, maintain your current fitness level. Essentially, keep doing what you’re doing (within reason) and don’t make any goals to lift more weight or run longer during this time. After delivery, you can turn into an exercise machine, but for now, aim to maintain your current fitness level.
Fuel your body properly.
During the second and third trimester, your body needs about 300 extra calories per day. Make sure you factor in what you are burning into your daily calorie needs so your baby is getting the proper nutrition for development. It’s also important to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. If your body gets dehydrated, it could cause contractions or raise your body temperature to dangerous levels for you and your baby (source). I LOVE LOVE LOVE Contigo bottles – they have this valve that basically pushes water down your throat (in a non-scary way).
Listen to your body!
Trainers and physicians used to tell pregnant clients to monitor their heart rates when exercising to see if they were pushing themselves too hard. Now, we use a Scale of Perceived Exertion. In a nutshell, the pregnant client learns to listen to her body and it’s cues (sweat rate, ability to talk, pain, etc) and is in charge of determining how much is TOO MUCH. Be sure you’re exercising to stay fit and not to lose weight or meet fitness goals – there will be time for that later!
Avoid prone and supine exercises.
After you’ve passed that 12 week mark, you’ll want to steer clear of any exercises that require you to lay flat on your back (think bench press or crunches) and/or flat on your stomach (think BOSU Back Extensions or some yoga poses). These types of exercises put strain on various blood vessels in your body and should be avoided. A few other exercises/sports that should be avoided? Skiing, snowboarding, skating, and contact sports!
Buy a supportive sports bra!
Be sure you’ve got a supportive sports bra, especially if you’re running or doing group fitness. Two of my favorites include the Handful bra and the La Leche League sports bra line which can also be used while nursing later on. Believe me – your “growing friends” will thank you!
Ask for help!
If you need help determining how hard you should work out or what exercises are on the Do/Don’t list, ask a certified personal trainer to assist you! There may even be someone at your gym with a Pre/Postnatal Fitness Certification (I received mine last year as part of my continuing education for my NASM cert). Many gyms will offer free or discounted rates for training when asked. A trainer can show you exactly what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and can also help you in developing a plan for getting that postnatal body back into fighting shape!
QUESTION: If you’re a mama, did you work out during your pregnancy (or pregnancies)?? Do you think it helped you “bounce back” quicker during that postnatal period?