Nine Myths about Exercise and Pregnancy

Not sure about exercising while you’re pregnant? This post is here to clarify your questions by busting nine myths regarding exercising while you’re pregnant. Before diving in though, let’s take a quick look at what the research says.

Unfortunately, there is an abundant amount of misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of exercising during pregnancy on Google. This leads women to avoid exercise for a variety of reasons. Some moms-to-be have told me that they’re afraid it will make their back and hips hurt even more. However, a meta-analysis of numerous research studies reveals that a functional and progressive 10-12 week exercise program consisting of regular core stabilization exercises actually reduced pain and improved function in pregnancy related low back pain patients (1). And it’s easy. The great news is that there was no significant difference between a supervised program (e.g., weekly prenatal yoga classes) and an independent home exercise program containing hip and pelvic floor exercises.

Therefore, you do you.

If you’re one who thrives in group settings and feeds off of the energy of those around you, find a pregnancy-safe exercise class in your area to join. However, if you’re one who’d rather not be caught breaking a sweat in public or just can’t commit to a specific time each day and would rather do it when it fits into your schedule, work out at home. It doesn’t matter what environment you’re in, it just matters that you’re exercising.

This isn’t the only research that supports exercising during pregnancy. Studies show that exercise also helps address a common issue that is prevalent amongst pregnant and post-partum women – the separation of abdominal muscles or Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA). The occurrence and size of DRA is much greater in non-exercising pregnant women than in exercising pregnant women. This occurrence rate is 90% compared to 12.5% (2). That’s a big difference!

Now let’s dive in to busting the myths that may be holding you back.

MYTH 1: When it comes to exercise, I should take it easy and keep my heart rate under 140 beats per minute.

FACT: The recommendation for heart rate at 140 bpm is outdated. Instead, use the “Talk Test”. Can you carry on a conversation while you’re exercising? If it’s challenging, but you are able to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” with minimal to no lapses in speaking, you are working at the right level of exertion.

MYTH 2: Running during pregnancy is unsafe.

FACT: Running is not unsafe for your baby, but you are at higher risk for injury because of hormonal changes that lead to ligamentous laxity (loosening of the ligaments that stabilize your pelvis and other bones) if you don’t have an excellent base of core strength, stability, and motor control. Additionally, your pelvic floor is at risk of damage if you run as your pregnancy progresses due to the increased weight of baby exerting pressure downward. This could lead to direct pelvic floor dysfunction such as incontinence or pelvic pain like pubis symphysis dysfunction. If you’re concerned running might not be the best idea for you, reach out to a pelvic floor physical therapist to be evaluated.

MYTH 3:  I will get overheated and dehydrated if I exercise.

FACT: Overheating during pregnancy is dangerous, but you can stay safe by drinking water before, during, and after you exercise. Additionally, wear loose-fitting, breathable clothes and avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day.

MYTH 4: Exercise will only make me more exhausted.

FACT: Exercise brings numerous benefits to mom including improved cardiovascular function, lower risk for gestational diabetes, improved strength and lean muscle mass, improved sense of well-being and mental state, enhanced sleep, reductions in bone density loss and limits physical discomfort like hip, back and pelvic pain. Exercise won’t only reduce your energy, but it may provide benefits that will actually recharge you throughout the day.

MYTH 5: I can’t play sports when I’m pregnant.

FACT:  You should avoid sports that are at a high risk for falling like skiing, rollerblading, gymnastics, racquet sports, and horseback riding, as well as any contact sports such as ice hockey, soccer, and basketball due to the higher risk of collision. For these more risky sports, maternal trauma could lead to placenta abruption which is life-threatening to the fetus (3). For leisure sports not mentioned above, you are able to play while reminding yourself not to go “full throttle” as you are in a different body than you had while competing in the past.

MYTH 6: It’s too dangerous to lift weights.

FACT: In reality, it’s actually extremely beneficial to strength train to adapt for the anatomic and physiologic changes unique to your body during pregnancy. This helps prevent injury as well as prepare you for labor/ delivery and recovery after (4). It’s vital that you learn proper breathing techniques for weight lifting though such as avoiding a Valsalva maneuver to prevent potential complications.  Talk to a physical therapist to learn how.

MYTH 7: Exercising may harm my baby.

FACT: There are numerous benefits for baby too if mom safely exercises regularly including decreased resting fetal heart rate, improved viability of the placenta, increased amniotic fluid levels, lower birth weight, increased gestational ages, potentially improved neurodevelopment, and decreased risk of diabetes (5).

MYTH 8: I can’t exercise my abs during pregnancy.

FACT: There are safe ways to strengthen your abs during pregnancy. In truth, it very important in order to prevent back or hip pain from developing and decrease the risk of diastasis recti complications as mentioned above. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to talk to a women’s health physical therapist to learn how to train your core with “tummy safe exercises” during this season of life.

MYTH 9: Exercise may cause complications with my pregnancy.

FACT: The benefits of exercise may actually reduce the risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus, and gestational hypertension (3). *Always be sure to talk to your medical provider to ensure you don’t have any contraindications prior to beginning a new exercise program.

Even as an expecting mom, if you move better, you will feel better, and inevitably mom better. Do yourself a favor and make exercising while you’re pregnant a priority  to work towards being the best version of yourself when baby arrives.

Resources

  1. Belogolovsky, et al. The Effectiveness of Exercise  in Treatment of Pregnancy-Related Lumbar and Pelvic Girdle Pain: A Meta-Analysis and Evidence-Based Review. Add year and journal, pages etc.
  2. Chiarello, Cynthia, et al. The Effects of an Exercise Program on Diastasis Recti Abdominis in Pregnant Women.  Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2005; 29:1.
  3. Bo, Kari, et al. Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 1- exercise in women planning pregnancy and those who are pregnant. B J Sports Med; 2016;50:571-589.
  4. Artal R, O’Toole M, White S. Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. B J Sports Med. 2003; 37: 6-12.
  5. Prather, H, Hunt, D. Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2012; Vol. 4, 845-850.
Enjoying a rest break to give little sister a hug while on a hike together.

2 thoughts on “Nine Myths about Exercise and Pregnancy”

  1. I was one of the exceptions where my pregnancy was deemed so high risk from the get-go that if my OB could have wrapped me in bubble wrap and left me horizontal for 9 months, she may have. That didn’t mean adopting a sedentary life from the first pregnancy test double lines though. Until I was really made to be down, I made the most of walking and stretching. And I can attest to the toll that being sedentary takes on the body. When I did go on full bed-rest, my body never felt worse….until I got to labor and delivery and recovery! Take it from me – staying active, to whatever degree possible – is the most precious gift you can give your body.

    1. I love how you point out that being active is a “gift you can give your body”. Your genuine perspective is most meaningful because you’ve been in the position where you weren’t able to be as active or move like you desired. Having the health to exercise truly is a privilege. It is one that a lot of us take for granted on a daily basis. Thanks for reminding all of us of this!

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