Over the course of pregnancy, it seems like we have so much to worry about. Between vastly differing opinions, old wives’ tales and pregnancy books dishing out contradictory information, it really can send your head into a spin!
Many of these anxieties are centered around what we should be eating and how we should be exercising. The thought that your behavior could potentially be harming your baby is a mother’s nightmare. So, when it comes to fitness and nutrition, just what is considered safe? How do we know if we’re pushing too much and will that slice of cake really make it all better?
As a Pre and Postnatal Specialist, ACSM-certified trainer and expectant mom, I’m here to put your mind at ease regarding a few of these pregnancy myths:
Myth 1: Pregnancy is a time to put your feet up.
It’s important to give your body adequate rest, especially since pregnancy fatigue can be so debilitating. However, resist keeping your feet up throughout your pregnancy unless it’s doctor’s orders- it’s so important to get up off that couch and get moving!
According to American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, we should aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise most days of the week during pregnancy.
Exercise not only prepares you for labour and delivery, but helps keep you in shape, increases mood and energy levels, relieves constipation, swelling, and muscle aches and can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Remember, each woman and each pregnancy is different and there are contraindications to exercising for some people, so please consult your doctor if you’re embarking on a new exercise program, especially if you are having complications.
Myth 2: Exercising too hard will harm your baby.
It's a common belief that too much exercise will pull nutrients away from your baby. Don’t worry, your baby will be fine! Our bodies are great regulators and it’s you who will experience a dip in energy if nutrient stores are low. To avoid this, keep blood sugar levels balanced, eat small frequent meals and ensure you’re not exercising on an empty stomach.
Another similar concern is that exercising too strenuously will deprive your baby of oxygen. Again, it’s you who will feel the effects of this first. The blood containing oxygen will be shunted to baby before mom. If you’re pushing it too hard and feeling exhausted, then it’s time to stop and your body will tell you so.
So how do you know if you’re overstepping the limits? This usually equates to gasping for breath or unable to talk.
Health professionals recommend using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to measure intensity during pregnancy. This is a scale that corresponds with how hard you’re working based on how you are feeling. For example, are you able to hold a conversation? If not, it’s time to stop!
Try to avoid being fixated on target heart rate zones; there is no true fixed target heart rate for pregnant women as our exercising and resting heart rates are effected so much by the demands of a growing baby.
Myth 3: Running during pregnancy is bad.
So many moms, myself included, love to run. The health benefits from running are immense and the release of endorphins can be addictive. The thought of giving this up for 9 months is depressing!
But, is all that jarring movement really ok for baby?
Yes! You can carry on running throughout pregnancy if you were a runner before, and some marathon runners maintain their sport all the way through pregnancy. However, if you did not run prior to pregnancy, now is not the time to take it up.
As always, listen to your body and take into account the many changes that you’re physically going through. Some women find it uncomfortable to run as they gain weight and the pressure of the growing uterus on the pelvic floor muscles can create some undesirable situations, including incontinence! Also, be aware of the added pressure on joints- knee and ankle injuries are not uncommon during this time. Keep hydrated and monitor exhaustion levels carefully. Now is not the time to press for that PB!
Myth 4: You should avoid all abdominal exercises during pregnancy.
Core training is SO important during pregnancy and will help with a speedier labour, delivery and recovery postpartum. You just need to be mindful of the type of abdominal work you partake in.
The muscles we need to strengthen during pregnancy are the deep inner core muscles, which comprise of your pelvic floor, transverse abdominals, diaphragm and multifidus. These muscles form a unit which work together to stabilize the spine and pelvis ahead of movement.
The main abdominal exercises we need to avoid are the abdominal crunch and front loaded plank. Both exercises can cause intra-abdominal pressure leading to a splitting of the recti muscles (Diastasis Recti).
For more information on how to safely train your core muscles through each trimester, please see my blog:
Myth 5: Pregnancy is a time to eat for two.
You’ve probably heard this expression a zillion times! While you do need extra nutrients during pregnancy- particularly additional protein and calcium- piling on the calories is not the way to go.
During the first trimester, your baby does not require additional fuel. Trimester two is a period of growth but nothing to get excited about- an extra 300 calories daily will suffice. Your intake should increase to an added 500 calories during trimester three to accommodate for your baby’s growth.
The real issue here is how worthwhile those additional 300-500 calories are towards feeding your baby, so aim to choose your food sources wisely. As I mentioned, protein and calcium are essential for the growth of your baby. Try incorporating the following in your diet: Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, nuts, sweet potato, lean meat, eggs and salmon.
Pregnancy should be a time to think about eating smarter rather than just eating more.
Myth 6: It’s fine to indulge in sugary, fatty foods throughout pregnancy.
Unfortunately, like any time in your life, a diet high in fat and sugar can have disastrous health consequences, as well as contributing to unwanted weight gain.
Remember, you don’t have to put on a ton of weight in order to have a healthy baby. If you’re starting out at an average weight and body fat percentage for your height and frame, a weight gain of between 25-35 pounds over the course of nine months is what’s generally recommended.
Putting on too much weight during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and varicose veins while making natural labour much more difficult.
And, before you reach for a bag of chips, some researchers have found that what happens in the womb doesn’t just stay in the womb. Women on high fat, high sugar diets throughout pregnancy are more likely to give birth to larger babies who are at increased risk of diabetes and childhood obesity.
My bottom line advice: Be sensible during pregnancy and listen to your body. Try to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet and continue to enjoy any exercise which your body is already used to. Avoid sports by which you have an increased risk of falling or abdominal injury- for example, horseback riding, skiing, gymnastics or rollerblading. And, please consult a health professional if you’re concerned about any aspect of exercise in pregnancy.
Thanks for reading! If you're ready to embark on a pre- or postnatal exercise program or have any questions, email me at Anna@tangramwellness.com . I offer weekly small group classes and private sessions for both expectant and new moms.