Story by Jeffrey Howard
Photos by Jillian Clark
Your back is aching, your ankles are swelling and you’re having some trouble sleeping. In other words, you’re pregnant! Exercise can be the perfect remedy to minimize the aches and pains of pregnancy. Working out while you’re pregnant offers many benefits – a boost in your mood, a decrease in many symptoms (including fatigue, constipation and morning sickness) and a quicker postpartum recovery.
It’s also perfectly safe as long as you get the okay from your practitioner before hitting any new or familiar workout routine.
I recently sat down with Dr. Monica Brown, an obstetrician and gynecologist who works for Norton Healthcare, to find out the dos and don’ts. Monica has delivered thousands of babies in her career and an average of five to seven newborns per week. I have trained numerous clients through this milestone in their lives but wanted to learn more.
When should a pregnant individual start working out?
Ideally, you would want someone to have worked out their whole lives. You want someone who comes to pregnancy fit. But that shouldn’t hurt someone who’s not a regular exerciser or maybe who is overweight. Pregnant women want to do everything right for their baby, giving them every advantage they can with exercise and eating correctly. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training, but whatever exercise they practiced prior to getting pregnant should be continued throughout the pregnancy.
Do you prefer if your patients take the first trimester off?
They don’t have to. They can exercise throughout pregnancy as long as they don’t have medical reasons that they shouldn’t. I know a lot of women don’t feel well in the first trimester; they feel very tired and very sick. Exercise has been shown to decrease depression and increase well-being, so if they feel like they can exercise, they should. It will not increase the risk of miscarriage and it does not increase the risk of pre-term delivery. Basically, if you were active before, you can stay active as long as it’s not a high risk.
What are some things people should be careful of when exercising while pregnant?
Your joints are looser, so you’re more likely to sprain an ankle. You also have back pain, but people who exercise tolerate labor better and they go through labor more quickly. They will also recover quicker. You do need to be careful of your joints with certain jumping exercises, like jogging or repeatedly pounding, so be careful.
How much exercise should someone get during pregnancy?
I suggest that expecting moms get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day, most (if not all) days of the week.
What are some of the modifications a pregnant participant should be aware of when exercising?
One thing they want to concentrate on is limiting the weights they lift. You don’t want to strain what we call a Valsalva maneuver (holding your breath and pushing down in your lower abdominal area). You want to avoid heavy lifting; 10 pounds or less is usually good. Also, avoid prolonged intense exercise in the heat, like hot yoga or hot Pilates. (They are great exercises), but not really recommended during pregnancy because you don’t want to increase your core temperature and get dehydrated. Since your joints are looser, you need to be careful with a lot of jumping. Be careful if you’re in a step aerobics class or are jumping a rope. The ligaments remain soft about six weeks post delivery.
I’ve always been told to keep the baby’s heart rate below the mom’s. Is this true?
The simple way to look at this is through what’s called the talk test. I tell my patients you should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation with someone without being out of breath. One position you want to avoid is lying flat on your back, and that’s really more in the third trimester. When you’re lying flat on your back, you have this large belly that lays on your vena cava, which is returning your blood to your heart. That presses on your vena cava and can cause low blood pressure.
What are the benefits for mom and child when it comes to exercising?
1. Less weight gain.
2. Less risk of gestational diabetes.
3. Less risk of hypertension disorder pregnancy.
4. Less risk of a C-section.
5. Less risk of a long labor.
6. Less risk of postpartum depression.
7. Less risk of stillbirth.
Pregnant women who are obese have an increased risk of their children being obese, so staying fit sets the stage for an active child to become an active, healthy adult. VT
Quick Pregnancy Workout
Here’s a little workout I designed with my beautiful friend Carson Lawrence, who is in her 27th week of pregnancy.
Go for a walk for at least 10 minutes.
Squat overhead press
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend at your knees with arms by your side. Straighten your legs, lifting your hands overhead. Make sure when in a squat to sit back into your bottom.
16 reps x 3
Plié upright row
Stand with your legs wide and your toes pointing in opposite directions. Bend at the knees with your arms extended in front and palms facing the back of the room. Straighten your legs and lift your arms up.
16 reps x 3
Deadlift reverse fly
Stand with your legs wide feet, facing forward and bending at the hips with your knees slightly bent. Lower your arms towards the floor. Lifting up from the hips, take the arm slightly out to the sides, recruiting your scapulas. Go only as low as you feel comfortable.
16 reps x 3
Right lunge bicep curl
Standing in a lunge position with arms by your side, bend the knees towards the floor. Lift the body upwards towards the sky, bending at your elbows into a bicep curl. Lower the body back down and extend the arms towards the floor.
16 reps x 3
Left lunge tricep extension
Stand in a launch position with arms reaching up towards the sky. Lower the body towards the floor as you bend the elbows. Move the body upwards and extend the arms up toward the ceiling.
16 reps x 3
Lying prone, place your elbows under your shoulder, lifting the body off the floor. Stay on your knees if needed.
Count to 20 x 3