When you're pregnant, you often find yourself the recipient of a lot of unsolicited advice. It's all well-intentioned, but not always particularly accurate. Tips about exercise and nutrition are no exception.
Here are five prevalent myths about pregnancy and fitness, helpfully debunked by Stacy Adams, personal trainer and studio owner at Fitness Together Central Georgetown.
Myth #1: You Have to Keep Your Heart Rate and Exercise Levels Low
It's easy to get lost in sorting out what is best for your body and the baby when you’re pregnant. With so many different theories from old school to new age swirling around, it can be difficult to decipher which ones are based on factual information and which ones aren’t, says Adams.
“You hear all of the gimmicks about training and nutrition, which can scare and confuse people,” explains Adams. “But, if you go back to the science of training and nutrition, then you’re going to get better results.”
For years, it was believed that pregnant women should maintain a heart rate of 130-140 beats per minute while exercising and focus on adopting a fairly sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy. However, new guidelines released within the last decade from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) point toward the importance of focusing on your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) when monitoring exercise intensity during pregnancy.
Recommendations from ACOG also support that women continue being active during pregnancy by exercising at least 30 minutes per day to reduce backaches and swelling, as well as increase energy, mood, posture, muscle tone, strength, endurance and sleep patterns.
“You don’t want to start something brand new when you’re pregnant,” advises Adams. “Stick with what you’re doing and monitor how you feel when you’re working out. If you get your body healthy and active before pregnancy, it makes it a lot easier to stay active and enjoy your pregnancy.”
Myth #2: Abs Are Off Limits
While it's typically a good idea to avoid being on your back or belly during your pregnancy, it is never a good idea to ignore your abdominal muscles as you prepare your body for delivering your bundle of joy. Abdominal muscle and pelvic floor strength not only help with enduring the challenge of delivering your baby, but they also help to get your body back to pre-baby condition quicker.
When your belly begins to pop out and begins to pressure your lower body and back, it’s important to focus on good posture and strengthening your core muscles on the front and back of the body. Some good core work that Adams suggests when you’re pregnant includes sitting on a stability ball and pulling your knees to your chest, modified TRX core movements, pelvic lifts, glute pulses and hamstring contracting movements.
Myth #3: You’re Eating for Two
A lot of women mistakenly take on the mentality of "eating for two" when they're pregnant, which can ultimately lead to increasing food intake and portions substantially. In reality, though, you shouldn’t have to increase your calorie intake by leaps and bounds since you shouldn’t be taking on additional activity beyond what your body is normally used to enduring.
Adams advises pregnant women to increase their daily food consumption by an average of 250 calories, depending on a person’s metabolic rate. This would equate to just an extra yogurt and two servings of whole grains per day.
“The most important thing nutrition-wise is to keep your blood sugar stable with small frequent meals,” advises Adams. She also believes in listening to your body and adjusting the times of your food intake throughout the day depending on your workout schedule and your body’s energy needs.
Myth #4: The Second Trimester is When You Can Really Turn Up Your Exercise Routine
After being tired and sluggish during the first trimester of a pregnancy, many women feel revived and rejuvenated once they hit the second trimester mark. Even though you are feeling great once you surpass week 12, it’s important to take it easy and not ramp up your activity levels beyond your normal pre-pregnancy and first trimester routine. The ligaments that support your joints loosen during this time and your center of gravity shifts as you carry more weight in the front of your body. These changes in your body composition can increase your risk of injury due to losing your balance, falling or stressing your body’s joints and muscles.
Myth # 5: Working Out Isn’t Good for the Baby
When you work out during your pregnancy you’re being healthy not just for yourself, but for your baby as well. Walking, swimming, aerobics, jogging and basic strength training moves can be safe and effective exercises for when you’re pregnant, advises Adams, as long as you make it a point to listen to your body and honor how it feels. Impact and contact activities should be avoided, though, as you don’t want to run the risk of getting hit by an object like a ball or falling due to a shift of balance during pregnancy.
“I’ve had three women who I was training when they were pregnant who worked out with me the day they delivered,” said Adams. “They were right back to their pre-pregnancy weight within six to eight weeks after delivery. Having a personal trainer hold your hand through the process of working out when you’re pregnant can be so valuable.”
Pregnancy brings about natural changes to your body, emotions and hormones. But, when it comes to changing your workout routine, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and consult with your doctor and a trained fitness professional who can help guide you through each trimester and customize your specific workout routine to your pregnancy.