7 Pregnancy Exercise Myths Debunked

There can be a lot of overwhelming information regarding staying active and exercising during pregnancy.  Your friends and family may tell you something that is different from you provider...who's right?

Many people are still following the old American College of Gynecology (ACOG) guidelines for exercise during pregnancy, when these guidelines have been revised. Or are making suggestions when there is no evidence to support the action because they don't know what else to do.

I'm here to walk you through some common myths about exercising during pregnancy to reassure you what is safe.

As always, you'll want to discuss your current health status with your OB or midwife prior to starting a new exercise regime to make sure you don't have any of the conditions that make certain exercise during pregnancy unsafe.*

So let's get right to it...

Myth 1

You need to keep you target heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute.

This is an old guideline.  During pregnancy your heart rate increases naturally because of the cardiovascular changes that occur to accommodate the growing fetus. So for many women it won't take much activity to increase above 140 bpm.

A better way to monitor exertion is the "talk test". If you can say a full sentence without gasping for air or overheating your ok.  Another considering is if you were exercising pre-pregnancy, you can keep do the same activity because your body is used to it. However, you may need to modify based on how you feel and safety, like not running outside in the winter when it's icy.

Myth 2

You can't lie on your back to exercise after the second trimester.

During pregnancy you are constantly told "don't lie on your back, lie on your left side."  This is because the weight of the growing uterus and fetus presses down on a large artery and vein in the abdomen and can slow or cut off blood flow to your body.

The best thing to do is listen to your body, if you feel light headed or nauseas whenever you lie on your back, avoid this position.

For those who feel fine on your back here are a few modifications you can do:

  • Perform one or two exercises then roll onto your side and perform a few on your side or on hands and knees.  Then you can return to your back.
  • Fold up some blankets to make a "ramp" or incline.  Lying on an incline where your head is highest reduces the weight on your abdomen, so you can perform more exercises. (psst, this is also a great way to sleep if you have heartburn!)

Myth 3

Too much exercise will take away nutrients from your baby.

When we are pregnant our bodies number one job is to provide for the growing baby.  Everything we ingest will go to the baby first then to us.

This is why it is important to get the appropriate amounts of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, so we don't loss out on our own nutrition. For those who exercise, this is even more important because we burn more calories by having a higher metabolism.

But our bodies will let the baby starve.  Our gauge if you are getting enough nutrition is if you start to loss weight (if you are exercising and not vomiting daily).  That means you personally are not getting in enough calories and need to boost your intake.

Myth 4

You need to stop running when you are pregnant.

Running is one of those activities that many people do if they exercise or at least aspire to do.  If you were a runner pre-pregnancy keep running girl.  Just take care to listen to your body.  Here are some things to do to stay safe while pregnant:

  • Where appropriate sized shoes to accommodate swelling.
  • Always double knot your laces to avoid tripping.
  • Avoid outdoor running during the winter...ICE is not your friend.
  • Avoid outdoor running when it is super humid..during pregnancy we have a harder time regulating heat, so the best thing to do is run in the early morning or late evening during the summer.
  • Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing to help with heat dissipation.
  • Bring water...there are some great small strapped hand held water bottles.

If you did not run before pregnancy, I would advice against starting up now, but substitute it with walking to get your cardiovascular. Then work on your running goal post birth, when you've been checked out by a specialist PT to make sure your body is ready.

Myth 5

You can't exercise when on bed rest.

The current ACOG guidelines advice to avoid any form of exercise during a high risk pregnancy.  However, it also states that exercise can prevent or reduce the risk of some of the same complications it lists as high risk, such as pre-eclampsia.

However, since pregnancy is a musculoskeletal event being placed on bed rest for your and your babies safety may lead to even high risks during birth and after.  When you are not able to stay active your muscles start to atrophy, this reduces your stamina and strength.  Both of which you need for birth and to take care of your new baby. You may also see a loss in bone density, which may lead to a increased risk of postnatal osteoporosis.

Studies are now supporting moms continue normal activity with rest through the day rather than full bed rest because of the number of side effects and no evidence that bed rest actually helps.

So if you are placed on bed rest, ask your practitioner if it is truly the best course of action and if they are adamant then demand to see a specialist PT for prescribed exercises.

Since bed rest can mean varying levels of inactivity, this will effect what exercises are okay to do. There are easy, gentle, and safe exercises that you can do while in bed or don'e require you to be jumping around, to keep up your strength, stamina, flexibility, and mood.

Myth 6

Ab crunches are safe to do.

I'm a little biased with this one, because I don't believe anyone should be doing ab crunches.  They put a lot of strain on the spine and can actually increase the intra-abominal pressure which can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and back pain.

However, people want "tight" abs.  Well, ladies, you'll get tight abs during pregnancy, it's called they stretch out and become hard because of the growing baby.

Doing ab crunches is a sure way to increase your risk of a diastasis recti abdominus (DRA) post birth. Every time your pull into a crunch the linea alba, that tissue that connects the two sides of your abdominals is pulled apart.  So add that pull to the stretch that is naturally happening with the growth of your baby and that is a recipe for abdominal separation.

The best thing to do is avoid ab crunches and do core cylinder exercises that target the transverse abdominus and pelvic floor.  These muscles will reduce your risk of a DRA post birth, as well as a myriad of other "mom" problems like incontinence.

Myth 7

Exercising will make you more exhausted.

The opposite is actually true.  Exercising improves your stamina and energy levels by increasing your metabolism and endorphins.

So by getting in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity a day you'll be improving not only your chances for a better recovery from birth but also your energy level.

As always, check in with your practitioner or a maternal specialist PT prior to starting any new exercise routine during pregnancy.

I leave you with some benefits to exercise...

  • Improved energy
  • Faster recovery time after birth
  • Easier birth
  • Reduced low back pain
  • Reduced chances of complications - gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, etc.
  • Regulates weight gain

Happy exercising!!!