Regular exercise will help keep weight gain in a healthy range, while strengthening the muscles that support your growing baby and preventing stress on your back and joints. Exercise also reduces your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and other prenatal conditions. Figuring out what’s safe can be tricky, so we’ve busted three of the most common prenatal fitness myths.
Myth #1: If you weren’t active before conception, you should stick to walking.
Some women assume they should wait until after the baby arrives to shape up. But now is the perfect time to get fit — regular exercise helps you recover quickly post-delivery. Your baby will benefit from boosted oxygen levels in utero and will feel less stress during labour. Start with one or two weekly prenatal yoga or aquafit classes to complement an amped-up walking routine. Aim for 20 minutes at a brisk pace, five days a week.
Myth #2: Ab crunches are the best way to prepare for labour.
Strong abdominal muscles will better support the weight of your growing belly, and assist you during labour, but sit-ups should be avoided during pregnancy. As you get bigger, and the space behind your abdominal wall gets tighter, crunches can force your muscles to separate (a condition known as diastasis recti), which can contribute to chronic back pain and a postpartum “mummy tummy.” After the 16-week mark, Karen Nordahl, a family doctor in Vancouver, recommends modifying any workouts that require you to lay flat on your back because the weight of your uterus can put too much pressure on your inferior vena cava, slowing the flow of blood to your baby. Focus on core moves (like planks) to safely strengthen your midsection.
Myth #3: Cardio is dangerous for your baby.
Workouts that get your heart pumping are safe for you and baby. How much your body can handle depends on your fitness level preconception. Take the “talk test” to gauge whether you’re exerting yourself too much,” says Andrea Page, mom of three and founder of Fitmom, another pre- and postnatal fitness business. You should be able to have a two-minute conversation without gasping for air. You can cycle, swim and run right through your pregnancy, as long as you scale back according to what feels comfortable.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2012 issue with the headline “Fit to deliver,” pp. 79.