Since I’m now in my third trimester, I thought I’d dedicate this story to some dos and don’ts of exercising during pregnancy.
If you’re already an active person, in most cases you can continue what you’re doing with a few simple modifications—of course, just consult your doctor first. If you’re not an active person, your doctor can advise you on how to (safely) get moving. Trust me, your pregnant self will thank you when you’re leaner, more energetic, and have fewer aches and pains than you would sans exercise. And so will your baby! Studies have shown that children who were exposed to exercise in utero are less likely to be overweight and are at a lower risk for diabetes. Exercise is not only a way to start connecting with your baby, but it’s a way for you to stay connected to your own body.
Granted, there may be a few bumps along the way (pun intended), but if you take it one day at a time and embrace the changes your body is going through, you will come out stronger in the end.
Warm up and cool down
Warming up your muscles is crucial before a workout, especially when pregnant. It prepares your muscles and joints for exercise and prevents muscle strain. Warming up also builds your heart rate at a more moderate pace. Since your heart rate is naturally higher during pregnancy, be sure to give yourself extra time to warm up and also time to cool down at the end of your workout. Allow at least 5 to 10 minutes of light stretching afterward to allow your heart to return to its resting rate and prevent post-workout soreness.
Drink water before, during, and after a workout. Hydration is especially important once there’s a baby on board. Becoming dehydrated can cause contractions or raise your body temperature to a level that is unhealthy and could potentially be dangerous for you and your baby. While there’s no official recommendation for how much water you should be taking in, a good guideline for pregnant women would be to drink 1 cup of water before, 1 cup after, and 1 cup every 20 minutes throughout the duration of your workout.
Avoid lying flat on your back
After your first trimester, you’ll want to avoid lying on your back. Lying in this position puts pressure on a major vein called the inferior vena cava. Too much pressure on the vena cava can reduce blood flow to your heart and uterus, causing you to feel dizzy or nauseous. This usually applies to women who have ‘popped,’ as it’s the weight of the belly that puts strain on the other body parts, but it would be best to avoid it altogether, especially for women who were not very active before pregnancy. (So, sorry, no shavasana.)
Don’t overdo it
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just beginning your fitness journey since becoming pregnant, you should know that pregnancy is not the time to lose weight or begin a rigorous workout routine. Pregnancy is about maintenance and feeling healthy for you and your unborn. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise is an average amount for every day of the week, as long as you have the go-ahead from your doctor. Beginners should start with 5 or 10 minutes a day and then slowly build up to 30 minutes on all or most days of the week. Stop and call your doctor if you experience dizziness, chest pain, increased shortness of breath, uterine contractions, or vaginal bleeding.
Play it safe
Avoid contact sports and any activity that might throw off your balance like skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics—as your belly grows, you’re likely to be less stable on your feet. And even if you’re normally graceful, be mindful that during pregnancy the hormone relaxin, which loosens your pelvic joints to get you ready for childbirth, will also relax other ligaments and joints in your body, making you more susceptible to injuries.
Avoid workouts that have you standing in the same place, like lifting weights or holding yoga poses for prolonged periods of time. When you stand still for too long, you can decrease blood flow to the uterus and start to feel dizzy. Instead, stick to workouts that keep you moving. Los Angeles-based personal trainer Kourtney McCullough suggests exercises like swimming, walking, a prenatal ‘yoga-flow’ class, or Pilates.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more info about working out during pregnancy.
Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants’ to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show, Extra, The Doctors and Good Morning America. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and on Pinterest.