As you know, our Shape Your Pregnancy campaign is all about dismantling the myths and misconceptions surrounding exercise in pregnancy and creating a platform where women from around the world can access the resources, motivation, and understanding needed to shape their pregnancy their way.
We have to start by busting these myths apart and changing not only how we view ourselves during pregnancy, but by changing the larger conversation around pregnancy and how everyone thinks of prenatal exercise. We want no more judgment, no more shame, no more criticism – and in its place a whole lot more support, understanding, and championing of healthy, active pregnancies.
So let’s crack these myths wide open and get to some real truths – because that’s where the fun is!
1. Exercise during pregnancy can harm your baby.
The truth is, your baby is really well protected in your womb. The amniotic fluid that surrounds baby acts like a shock absorber, so when you’re moving around, your baby is quite content within his or her cushioned little bubble. There is no evidence that exercise harms baby during pregnancy – and in fact, the evidence strongly suggests otherwise (read more here, here and here!).
Things to consider: if you have a high-risk pregnancy or other complicating conditions where your doctor has specifically advised you to not engage in rigorous exercise, then that is guidance you should take very seriously. It doesn’t mean you can’t stay active, but it may mean your exercise routine looks a bit different – and that’s perfectly OK. Most pregnancies are not considered high risk and exercise is definitely recommended in all 'normal' pregnancies. Be sure to follow along with our stage-specific guidelines for things you can do to exercise effectively throughout your pregnancy!
2. Exercise will take nutrients away from your baby
Totally not true. Your body and baby’s body are pretty amazing and in constant equilibrium with each other. It’s definitely important to eat a nutrient-rich diet (lots of fruits and veg and healthy protein ladies!) but your body will deliver the nutrients baby needs to grow while making sure you have a healthy supply yourself. Plus, exercise increases blood circulation, and guess how your baby gets all those nutrients anyway? From your blood supply of course.
3. Exercise will just make you more tired
Remember how we just said exercise increases blood circulation? That blood carries oxygen to all parts of your body – including your brain. And what that increased oxygenation does is help wake you up, making you, yes, less tired! Now if you work out to a point of complete fatigue and exhaustion, then you will be more tired after exercise. But there is no need to push it that hard, and you shouldn’t exercise yourself to a fatigue while pregnant. You can challenge your body and get a good workout in by doing it from a place of positivity and listening to what your body tells you. Exercise is about rewarding your body and keeping it strong – not punishing it by pushing it past its limits.
4. You need to double your food intake (aka, the ‘eat for two’ mindset)
Think nutrients for two, not calories for two. Your caloric needs during pregnancy really aren't that much higher than when you're not pregnant. It’s more about getting a balanced diet of macro and micronutrients and getting enough energy to keep you feeling good while growing a baby. You’ll gain weight naturally from baby’s growth (OK, OK, you’re probably thinking ‘duh’!) but your body will also go into a natural fat storing process to make sure you have enough energy stores to support your pregnancy. Once again, listening to your body goes a long way. It will tell you when it's hungry and needs energy. It's your job to give your body a balanced diet that emphasizes healthy protein, healthy fats, a diverse array of vitamins and minerals, and unrefined whole grains - because that will give you the energy and nutrition you need without an overload of calories.
5. Being pregnant means you can eat whatever you want
Think of it this way: everything you put into your body as going into baby’s growing body as well. Your little one is in an environment that is helping him or her lay the foundation for future health – so now, more than ever, it’s incredibly important that what you put into your body is healthy for you and your baby. Trust us, the healthier and smarter you eat, the better you’ll feel when managing pregnancy symptoms and you’ll lower your risk of prenatal complications. In doing so, you'll be promoting healthier outcomes for you and your little one for the long term.
6. You can gain as much weight as you want
Obesity in pregnancy is a really serious subject and needs to be treated accordingly. Being overweight or obese during pregnancy directly increases your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, premature birth, and other serious complications. Plus, all that weight gain will be harder to take off after baby and your future health will take the hit for it. Promoting healthy weight gain in pregnancy is not about getting back into those pre-baby jeans, or needing to look a “certain way”; it’s about your health. It’s about being your healthiest self so you can give your baby a healthier advantage while living vibrantly yourself.
7. You can’t play sports while pregnant
Tell that to Serena Williams! Or Kerri Walsh Jennings. Or all the other athletes who competed and kicked butt while pregnant. Now these women compete at a high level every day and they are in a position to continue with rigorous exercise during pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue with your sport as well.
Things to consider: High-impact, contact sports where you could easily lose your balance or be struck in the stomach aren’t the best idea while pregnant. But there are loads of low-no contact sports you can play and enjoy throughout your pregnancy. Listen to your body, know your limits, and make sure you think critically about the level of contact and falling risk involved in your sport and use that to guide you. You can always ask your healthcare professional for their guidance on the matter as well.
8. You can’t exercise your abdominals while pregnant
We’re not going to suggest powering through 50 crunches in your second and third trimesters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work those abs. There are definitely abdominal exercises that are best avoided later in pregnancy because your abdominal muscles are being stretched so much that they don’t have the same tensile strength as your non-pregnant abdomen. But you absolutely can exercise your core throughout pregnancy. Don’t forget that your glutes, back, and pelvic floor are all important parts of your core muscles! So kegels, squats, and lunges will all help your core strength. Exercises like the bird dog yoga holds, seated stomach pulls, and kneeling stomach pulls are great ways to work your abdomen to keep them strong without putting too much strain on them as well.
Things to consider: What you do have to be aware of is that baby’s rapid growth can cause a separation of the abdominal wall late in pregnancy, something called diastasis recti. This does not affect all women, but you do have to be aware of how to safely exercise if you have diastasis recti, as there are core precautions you need to take. The Baby2Body app has guided exercises and information to help you through diastasis recti of course!
9. If you didn’t exercise before pregnancy you shouldn’t exercise while pregnant
You absolutely can and should be as active as possible while pregnant, even if you weren’t the most active before. If you didn’t exercise at all before becoming pregnant we wouldn’t recommend going to a spin class, HIIT class, or starting half-marathon training. But you can gradually introduce your body to physical activity. Think about where your fitness level is now and set small incremental goals to get active and in a fitness mindset. During pregnancy, it’s all about maintaining healthy physical fitness and moderate exercise 3-4 days a week can help you get there. You can start by going for a 10-minute walk, 3 times a week at the start. The next week up it to 15-minute walks. The next week try to do 4 days a week at 15 minutes. The next week push for four 20-minute power walks... You catch our drift. Start gradually and keep at it!
10. You can only do prenatal exercise classes during pregnancy
You can totally do “regular” exercise classes while pregnant. Because you are pregnant does not mean you are suddenly relegated to doing only activities that have a “prenatal” label on them. That said, prenatal classes are an awesome way to meet other women in your area that are in a similar stage as you, so we definitely encourage trying some out! But it’s OK to stick to your regular classes as long as you discuss any health concerns with your doctor ahead of time and get clearance, let your instructor know you are pregnant, and listen to your body while in the class. You might not push yourself as hard as you did before pregnancy, but you can still get a great workout and stick to the things you love.
11. You shouldn’t do any weight-lifting while pregnant
It's not a good idea to go to a gym and start lifting weights if you've never done it before and don't know how to do it properly - but that goes for all people, pregnant or not. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t go to your local gym to work with a fitness professional who can teach you how to lift weights safely. If you're new to using weights in your workouts, you can definitely use light weights and high repetitions while pregnant, and it's a great place to start. Adding weights will help you build and maintain muscle tone, which will help with a lot of pregnancy-related back pain and will help you keep weight gain in a healthy range. Muscle tone is also really important in helping you shed the baby weight more quickly after birth. If you're experienced in weight lifting, practice good form and have trained spotters as needed, there's also no reason you can't continue to lift heavy weights while pregnant. For more on this, check out Nichole's story.
12. You can’t do yoga inversions while pregnant
Again – if you’ve never tried a handstand or inversion before, it’s probably not the best time to start when you’re halfway through your pregnancy. Inversions require a lot of balance and a growing bump means a changing center of gravity, which makes balancing (even on your feet) a bit harder than usual. That absolutely doesn't mean you can't continue with your yoga practice, and if you're accustomed to inversions and know how to do them properly and safely, you can definitely still do them. Listen to your body, know your limits, and don't try to push yourself to do things that don't feel comfortable. Keep in mind that your blood pressure is naturally higher during pregnancy and you are more prone to lightheadedness. So, if you ever feel dizzy in your practice, stop right away. Yoga more than anything is about being in touch with your body - so let it guide you. For more on prenatal inversions - check out Lore's story.
13. You can’t run while pregnant
Years ago, healthcare professionals used to advise that you shouldn't let your heart rate get over 140 beats per minute during pregnancy. This recommendation has been disproven and today doctors will tell you that it's just not true. There is no longer a heart rate limit imposed on women during pregnancy, as long as they were active before becoming pregnant and do not have a 'high-risk' pregnancy. However, the "under 140 bpm rule" is still a myth that's part of the conversation around pregnancy - and it's partly why people give expecting moms who run a sideways look. There's also the thought that running is too jarring for baby - but remember, s/he is pretty safe in that cocoon of amniotic fluid. In later stages of pregnancy running generally reduces to a slower-paced jog and even power walking by your late third trimester. But this is because things can get pretty uncomfortable - I mean you have a nearly full-sized baby inside of you by that point, and that's a lot of pressure on your hips, your abdomen, and your bladder! If you ran before becoming pregnant and love running there's no reason for you to stop once pregnant unless you've been advised to do so due to complications or high-risk conditions. As always, listen to your body and do what's comfortable and makes you feel good. For some running with a bump inspiration - check out Lauren's story.
14. It’s best to just sit on the couch during your entire pregnancy
For Baby2Body, this is where it all started. When founder and CEO, Melinda Nicci, asked her doctor how she could maintain her exercise routine when she was pregnant with her first child nearly 20 years ago, she was told she'd be better off sitting on the couch and eating biscuits. As a lifelong athlete and professional fitness trainer, that answer didn't suit her, and thus, Baby2Body was born. Somehow this is still a myth that's kicking around (check out Mace’s story), and it is so. not. true. We're not knocking couches or getting rest when you need it (all those hormone changes and the work of creating a human is seriously draining), but one thing is for sure: active pregnancies are healthier pregnancies.
15. By exercising, you're putting your body first over what’s best for your baby
We hope you never believe this, and we hope no one ever makes you feel this way. Your growing baby is a part of your body and taking care of yourself as best you can is one of the very best things you can do your child. You matter mama, and you deserve your health and happiness - don't ever forget it.