My mom actually cried when I told her I was going out to run the bridge at 7 months pregnant. She was so worried about me “doing too much”, and I can’t fault her.
Although the perception is slowly changing, the typical idea of exercise during pregnancy is to 1) do kegels so you don’t pee yourself and 2) make sure the exercise is light intensity and gentle. And although there is some truth to that, it’s not the case for most healthy women. We need to do a better job promoting exercise during pregnancy and making sure women are comfortable being active (and that pregnant athletes aren’t an anomaly). My goal is to help pregnant women exercise safely. Here are the top 3 myths I’d like to address:
Myth 1: If you didn’t exercise before pregnancy you shouldn’t start now
This is not true! If you began your pregnancy with eating healthy and exercising then you should continue those healthy habits during pregnancy. If you didn’t exercise prior to being pregnant, now is an ideal time to focus on being healthier and more active. For most women, exercise during pregnancy has very little risk, although some modification is usually necessary due to the changes to your body during pregnancy (your joints are more relaxed, your balance may be off, your breathing may be more difficult). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising up to 30 minutes per exercise session, accumulating 150 minutes per week (and remember these are general guidelines so you might accumulate more exercise or need to work at a lesser intensity if you were overweight prepregnancy). Check with your obstetrician and make sure you don’t have any contraindications and then do you and your baby a favor by continuing to exercise or by becoming physically active during your pregnancy. Don’t wait for your provider to bring up exercise. It isn’t their priority and many of them will not.
Myth 2: Your heart rate shouldn’t go above 140 beats per minute (bpm)
The maximum 140 bpm rule is an old and conservative recommendation that shouldn’t be one size fits all, however, some of the medical community is still giving this advice. If your doctor recommends a maximum heart rate, please make sure to question why. Is it because you are at risk? Is it based on old guidelines? Is it because your doctor is still hesitant to give physical activity advice? Most new guidelines will not specify a maximum heart rate, but rather suggest that if you habitually perform vigorous exercise or are highly active before pregnancy, you can continue with that type of more intense physical activity during pregnancy.
If you are new to exercise and plan to progress to moderate intensity exercise, I suggest using the 1-10 perceived exertion scale or the talk test (you can talk, but not sing during activity) to determine your intensity. If you’d prefer to use heart rates as a guide, please reach out to me and we can discuss your age, fitness level and whether you started your pregnancy overweight. All of those should be factored into recommendations. Using 140 bpm as a maximum is most likely not relevant for you.
Myth 3: Kegels are the most important exercise
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, rectum, uterus and small intestine. This is one of the most common exercises associated with pregnancy. Although kegels tighten the pelvic floor, which are good (for some, but not all women), kegels are just part of the equation. Your entire pelvis shifts during pregnancy, which then affects all of the 40 something muscles attached to it! So to only focus only on tightening the pelvic floor through kegels is not enough to sufficiently support your changing body during pregnancy. The way you move, sit, stand and your posture will all be changed and for you to avoid pregnancy pains, discomforts or worse conditions,
My final note: Being physically inactive and excessive weight gain during pregnancy are risk factors for obesity and complications like gestational diabetes. You (and your doctor) may be concerned that exercise can cause miscarriage, poor fetal growth, premature delivery or injury, however those concerns have not been substantiated. Please remember exercise in most adults far outweigh the risks and considering the physical toll pregnancy takes on your body, it is not the time to be inactive. Pregnant women should most definitely exercise.