If you’re pregnant, there’s a good chance you’re looking for answers about the safety of prenatal workouts. Most importantly, you want to know, “Can I still workout?”
If so, you’re not alone.
Many moms-to-be begin their pregnancy journey with many questions. They are bombarded with information from their social circle, medical professionals, social media, and other sources. Each offers an abundance of opinion about what to do — and what not to do — but which sources provide you with the right answers?
What is the truth about what’s safe and what’s not while growing a human being inside of you?
I’m On This Journey With You
Not only am I a doctor of occupational therapy and a Research Occupational Therapist for Harvard University, I am also 30 weeks pregnant and know exactly what it means to be confronted with the opinion of our society.
Often, I heard phrases like, “You shouldn’t do this anymore,” “This is not safe,” and, “You should protect your baby.”
I was shocked by all the judgment.
Everyone seemed to know best — better than my healthcare provider, my midwife, and, most importantly, me — about what is good for me or not. I remember telling an acquaintance about the sensations in my body and their response was actually, “You can’t feel this.”
My jaw dropped!
As a researcher, I like to ask questions and educate myself through social media and evidence-based studies. I want to know facts — not just opinions. So, that’s what I’m sharing with you today on the important topic of prenatal workouts.
I hope this short guide helps you step in the right direction and feel more comfortable on your journey of becoming a healthy parent.
Start Here: Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
The first thing you should always do before exercising is to talk to your healthcare provider or supports person (midwife, doula etc.) about your lifestyle before pregnancy, your health, limitations, and worries.
Ask questions and inform yourself!
Tell them exactly what you do for exercises. They know your medical history and your routines — the person on social media probably doesn’t — so this is the place to start.
Keep Doing What You’re Doing (Mostly)
There has been much research on the types of exercises you should do during pregnancy, but it basically comes down to this: continue the exercise programs you have been following before your pregnancy.
There is no evidence, for instance, that continuing an inversion practice has a negative effect on your pregnancy. You can find similar information about running, Pilates, or weight lifting.
The most important questions you should ask as you consider your current routine are:
- Do you know what you are doing?
- Are you performing the exercises in a safe alignment?
- Did you establish your exercise program and know the effects on your body?
- Does this program carry a high risk of tripping or falling?
If the answer to the last question is yes, you might consider pausing this type of program during your pregnancy. You may also want to avoid incorporating more weight, adding new exercises, or continuing exercises you were not comfortable with before pregnancy.
The most important thing is to be honest with yourself!
Although there is no evidence supporting it, some healthcare providers and other medical professionals recommend not doing crunches after the first trimester, as it might increase the degree of diastasis recti.
Likewise, some also recommend excluding exercises which include jumps, most likely because it incorporates the risk of falling. However, researchers have conducted few studies on this risk.
But Be Careful with New Exercise Routines
These recommendations do not mean that you shouldn’t start something new, such as prenatal yoga, but you should do so with care. For instance, you might want to avoid a new inversion practice, like handstands, as they are a more advanced pose and also carry a risk of falling.
Even established pelvic floor muscle training, which many expectant mothers start, seems to be questionable.
There is insufficient evidence to state that it is effective in preventing and treating urinary incontinence during pregnancy and after childbirth (Soave et al., 2018). Nevertheless, it might help you to create an understanding of the pelvic floor muscles and the importance of not just strengthening them, but, more importantly, relaxing them.
Listen to Your Body
Once you’ve gotten to this point, you may be wondering, “How long should I workout?”
Guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the latest exercise guidelines for Americans, suggest that pregnant women should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week (Liu et al., 2019).
That said, every pregnancy is different, and you might feel that your ability to exercise changes significantly during your journey.
So, be kind to yourself and listen to your body.
You might, likewise, wonder if some exercises are safer than others.
When compared to land-based exercise, water-based exercises showed a decrease in pregnancy-related lower back pain and is less stressful on the joints (Granath et al., 2006). On the other hand, while many instructors and medical professionals recommend that you cut your exercise back to 50% of your pre-pregnancy levels, researchers have not found evidence to support this recommendation.
The Health Benefits of Prenatal Workouts
Taking this common-sense approach to continuing your routine during pregnancy is critical because performing exercises brings a variety of health benefits for you and your baby!
Research by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (as well as others) states that there is a strong link between exercise and:
- Reducing obesity and gestational diabetes (Mottola, 2007).
- Reducing constipation, bloating and swelling
- Boosting the mood and energy levels
- Better sleep
- Preventing excess weight gain
- Promoting muscle tone, strength and endurance
Moreover, regular exercise might even:
- Shorten your labor
- Reduce the risk of having a C-section
While exercising in pregnancy is a controversial topic, it needn’t be.
Most research supports the importance and the positive effects on the pregnancy progress, and recommends some type of movement.
The facts are clear. Just remember:
- Talk to your healthcare provider or your support person (midwife, doula etc.)
- Pace yourself
- Approach activities with care
- Listen to your body
Decide what is best for you and your baby to stay healthy and to cope with the physical changes of pregnancy. Staying active and listening to your body will help you build stamina for the challenges ahead.
Image credits: lucas Favre, Bokskapet, and Astrid Pereira.
Liu, N. et al. (2019). Effects of exercise on pregnant women’s quality of life: A systematic review. European Journal of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (242), 170-177. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejogrb.2019.03.009
Lohmeyer, D. (n.a.). The benefits of water-based pregnancy exercise. Australian Midwifery News, 41-41.
Mayo Founation for Medical Education and Research (2021). Pregnancy and exercise: Baby , let’s move! https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/
Mottola, M. (2007). The role of exercise in the prevention and treatment of gestational ddiabetes mellitus. Current Sports Medicine Reports (6), 381-386.
Oktaviani, I. (2018). Pilates workout can reduce pain in pregnant women. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (31), 349-351. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2017.11.007
Soave, I. et al. (2019). Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary incontinence during pregnancy and after childbirth and its effect on urinary system and supportive structures assessed by objective measurement techniques. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetricts (299), 609-623. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00404-018-5036-6