At one time, I believed that exercise must be dangerous for pregnancy. Everyone treated me as if I was a delicate item made of glass, and so I acted accordingly. In truth, I was imprisoning myself in my own body as the aches and pains of not only pregnancy but also inactivity began to creep in. By the time I became pregnant with my fourth child, I was in the best shape of my entire life. I had worked hard for my level of fitness, and was using exercise alone to control my tendencies for anxiety and depression. I combed through studies published in the years since I had my first child, and discovered that not only was most exercise now considered safe during pregnancy, but also beneficial to both mother and baby. I exercised until the week my son was born, had the easiest pregnancy of the four, and my recovery was just as great.
And yet, the myths and misinformation surrounding pregnancy and exercise still circulate. Here is the truth behind the most common myths, according to modern day research.
Myth #1: Don’t lift anything heavy or overhead.
Women who lifted weights before pregnancy can continue to lift as their pregnancy progresses, modifying movements to accommodate their changing bodies.
A study of expecting women performed in 2011 found no increased risk of injury when strength training was of mild to moderate intensity. Because of increased joint flexibility, it’s important to maintain proper form and not push past your level of control. If you plan to lift through pregnancy, it would be greatly beneficial to hire a personal trainer who specializes in prenatal exercise for at least one session.
Myth #2: Don’t let your heart rate rise above 140 beats per minute.
In the 1980’s, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) made this recommendation regarding heart rate, but revised it years later. If you’re a very fit athlete, 140 bpm might be reached simply during a warm-up. The ACOG recognized this and advised to gauge your level of intensity instead, known as your Rate of Perceived Exertion. Instead of watching your heart rate, pay attention to your body and stay at a level of intensity you’re used to. You should be able to converse during exercise. Pay attention to your body temperature too, stay hydrated and stop exercising immediately if you feel faint or dizzy. It is especially important to avoid overheating in the first trimester when the fetus is most vulnerable to the effects.
Myth #3: Women who weren’t active before pregnancy cannot start working out once they become pregnant.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy by far outweigh the risks of it, so most doctors and medical caregivers now advise that even if you’ve never exercised in your life, you CAN begin once you’re pregnant.
With your doctor’s guidance, you can begin with something basic like walking and build up slowly to a mild to moderate exercise program. If you’d like to strength train, start with light weights and basic movements.
Myth #4: Exercising during pregnancy is selfish and puts the baby at risk.
In fact, quite the opposite is true: exercising during pregnancy provides multiple benefits to the baby:
- Babies whose mothers exercise have a lower heart rate, a sign of good heart health. [source]
- Women who exercise during pregnancy tend to have babies with a healthier weight and are less likely to develop childhood obesity. [source]
- New research shows that moms who exercise during pregnancy have babies with more active brains, possibly meaning a higher intelligence. [source]
- Babies whose mothers exercise during pregnancy tend to be less stressed during labor and delivery, resulting in higher Apgar scores and less interventions. (Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Dr. James F. Clapp III M.D., Catherine Cram MS)
- Exercise reduces stress to mother, and chronic stress has been shown to be harmful to baby’s development and increases risk of pre-term labor. [source]
Your baby is well protected within your body, with the amniotic fluid acting like a shock-absorbing pillow. As long as you avoid contact and high-risk sports, you can safely pursue your exercise of choice.
A sedentary lifestyle is the real risk in pregnancy, found to increase the chances of experiencing health problems, complications, and interventions during pregnancy and postpartum [source].
I decided to make my decisions regarding pregnancy and exercise with a combination of scientific research, how my body felt, and common sense. I refused to once again allow fear and rumors to rule my choices.