Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy? 5 prenatal fitness myths, debunked

The truth is that exercising during pregnancy has a whole host of benefits, so skipping it because you've heard otherwise may not be the best bet.

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Congrats, mama, you're pregnant! Now the first thing you might do if once you find out is a quick Google search to see what is safe for pregnancy, particularly when it comes to exercise. What you'll find can be downright scary, but there's a lot of outdated and misinformation out there.

The truth is that exercising during pregnancy has a whole host of benefits, so skipping it because you've heard otherwise may not be the best bet.

As always, be sure to check in with your provider to learn about your specific guidelines and any potential restrictions.

Here's a breakdown of some of the more popular fitness during pregnancy myths, debunked.

Myth 1: If you didn't work out before pregnancy, you shouldn't start once your pregnant.

Just because you weren't working out before your pregnancy does not mean that you can't start now. A positive pregnancy test is sometimes the motivation some women need to take control of their health. The key to starting an exercise routine during pregnancy is to begin simple and work your way up.

If you need some convincing on why now is the time to start, here are some of the benefits exercise can provide during pregnancy:

Myth 2: You need to keep your heart rate under 140 beats per minute

Years ago, it was recommended by some providers to keep your heart rate below 140 BPM while exercising. That recommendation is no longer imposed for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies.

The Department of Health & Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week and does not set a specific heartbeat limitation.

Our recommendation for monitoring exertion is to use the talk test. You should be able to carry on a brief sentence without being completely out of breath. If you can't, then we recommend taking the intensity down a bit and taking longer breaks.

Myth 3: Exercise takes away nutrition from the baby, so it's selfish

On the contrary, exercise during pregnancy has been proven to be beneficial for both mother and baby. A long-term study done by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists shows that moms who maintained a healthy level of exercise during their pregnancy had healthier children with lower body fat. Those children were also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, learning disorders and other issues associated with childhood obesity.

Additionally, a study by James Clapp in 2002 found that women who worked out in their early to mid-pregnancy had higher functioning placentas than healthy women who didn't exercise during pregnancy.

Myth 4: Avoid ab exercises during pregnancy because it causes abdominal separation

While there is some truth to this, it is important not to swear off all core strengthening exercises, which can have adverse effects when it comes to diastasis recti (when abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy).

There is a very specific set of ab exercises you shouldn't do after the first trimester and those are supine flexion core exercises: think crunches and sit-ups.

Outside of that, all core strengthening exercises should be managed on a personal basis, depending on your existing core strength and ability to control intra-abdominal pressure. For example, exercises like planks can be completely tolerated throughout some women's entire pregnancy, while other women will not have the core strength to perform a plank correctly after week 14. Talk to your provider or a prenatal fitness expert to get personalized recommendations for you.

Building a strong foundation in these areas is what will get you through pregnancy and postpartum without the worry of a rogue sneeze, sending you to the bathroom to change your underwear.

Myth 5: Lifting weights while pregnant is unsafe

Strength training is an important part of a prenatal fitness program as it will help build the strength and endurance needed to support the postural changes and weight gain that can come with pregnancy.

Of course, as with anything, there are a few things to look out for:

  • Reduce the weight you are lifting as your pregnancy progresses to compensate for your growing belly. Switching to high repetitions of low weight is a great option.
  • Make sure you're performing exercises with the correct form; improper form can exacerbate back and hip problems that are common in pregnancy.
  • Proper breathing is critical to training. Holding your breath increases the weight on your pelvic floor and could cause pelvic floor dysfunction. Exhale with the effort, and inhale when returning to the starting position.

Again, a prenatal fitness expert can help you design a program that is safe for you, and teach you how to do the exercises without getting hurt.

Overall, most women should be able to be active during their pregnancies. Very few people can stick to an exercise routine if they don't like what they are doing, so find something that you enjoy and get started! Your baby and back will thank you.

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