Top 5 misconceptions about exercise during pregnancy

Exercising properly during pregnancy benefits both mother and baby, says Dr. Jaime Arruda
May 6th, 2016
photo of pregnant woman with a water bottle.
Five reasons water is good for your health. Photo: Getty Images.

1. “You should not get out of breath or do cardiovascular exercise during pregnancy.” Getting out of breath is actually a good sign that you are challenging yourself and getting adequate exercise. The recommendation is to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. Believe me; you do not want your first out-of-breath exercise to occur in labor. Several studies have shown that women who exercise to their pre-pregnancy exercise limits (typically heart rate 100-150) do better in labor. This means that they push for less time in delivery. Other benefits for women who exercise during pregnancy include less risk of gestational diabetes, typically more normal-sized babies and a quicker return to their pre-pregnancy weight postpartum.
2. “You can’t run in pregnancy.” Most women who ran for exercise before pregnancy can continue to run during pregnancy. Many women run half marathons, and even full marathons, while pregnant. You may find that you need to adjust the way you exercise, such as taking shorter strides, needing more water than normal and more bathroom breaks. There is also an increased level of a hormone called elastin during pregnancy, which can cause your joints to loosen, making it more common to trip and fall. I would recommend that you run on a predictable surface so you are less likely to trip. Finally, listen to your body. If you are feeling contractions, bleeding or decreased fetal movement, it’s time to stop running.
3. “You can’t lift weights in pregnancy.” Recently, studies on weightlifting in pregnancy have increased as more women are participating in rigorous weightlifting programs such as CrossFit, Orange Theory or Boot Camp. Similar to running, weightlifting during pregnancy can be safe with a few modifications:

  • Avoid lying directly on your back when you lift weights as the pregnancy progresses. The weight of the uterus can compress the large blood vessels in your abdomen and decrease blood flow to both mom and baby.
  • Avoid any weight lifting maneuvers that may lead to direct abdominal trauma.
  • Modify your weight to accommodate your body changes in pregnancy.
  • Protect your back with correct body mechanics to make sure you avoid injury as your center of gravity changes with the increased weight of pregnancy.

4. “You should not do abdomen workouts.”  The abdominal muscles remain intact throughout pregnancy and are important to keep strong. Your abdominal muscles support your back and reduce back pain. They are also the muscles used to push during labor. Even if you have a C-section, these muscles will usually not be cut or torn and will be important in strengthening your core as you recover. Women can do abdominal muscle workouts during pregnancy, but need to make some modifications:

  • Do not lie directly on your back in late pregnancy for a long period.
  • Work on holding a plank or try hanging abdomen workouts.
Jaime Arruda

5. “Exercise makes your baby smaller, oxygen-starved, etc.” There have been several studies looking at the immediate and long-term effects on the baby with exercise during pregnancy. One study looked at the baby’s heart rate while their mothers were running and found that the baby had similar compensatory heart rate changes that we would expect during exercise. However, all babies returned to normal heart rate after exercise stopped. Babies born to mothers who exercise are a more normal weight than babies born to mothers who are more sedentary. Finally, mothers who exercise during pregnancy tend to have a less complicated, shorter labor periods to deliver their healthy babies.

Have fun with exercise, and get moving with your baby! You’ll both be healthier for it.

Jaime Arruda, MD, practices at University of Colorado Hospital.

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.