Pregnancy: The Do’s and Don’t’s For Exercise and Nutrition

Pregnancy the dos and donts

21 Aug Pregnancy: The Do’s and Don’t’s For Exercise and Nutrition

You may see pregnancy as the perfect time to sit back, relax, eat some junk, and watch movies all night, but I ensure you that that is not the case! Exercise during pregnancy will help you stay in shape, prevent excess weight gain, prepare you for labor and delivery, help you sleep better, boost your mood and energy levels, prevent back pain and other discomforts, and also may reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure. There are a good amount of questions out there about what guidelines to follow for exercising and eating while pregnant, so I’m going to write this article in a question and answer format. I’ll provide you with some of the most common questions that come up from ‘mothers-to-be’ and provide you with the latest science and research to ensure that you are on the right path toward a healthy delivery!

Is it okay for me to exercise while I’m pregnant?

To get straight to your answer, it is absolutely okay for you to exercise while you’re pregnant! Before starting an exercise program, I advise you to get your healthcare provider’s ‘okay’ before doing so. In most cases, exercising while pregnant is very healthy for mother and baby, but there are some things you need to watch out for. You should stop exercising immediately if you experience any of the following: dizziness, headache, decreased fetal movement, vaginal bleeding, fluid leaking from the vagina, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven or rapid heartbeat, difficulty walking, sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, or face, or if you feel cold and clammy.

Are there any exercises, movements, or activities that I should avoid?

In general, most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as you do so with caution and do not over do it. I would say that some of the safest forms of exercise during pregnancy are swimming, walking, stationary bicycling, low-impact aerobics, and jogging (in moderation). Here are some things you should absolutely avoid during exercise: holding your breath during any activity, contact sports such as basketball, volleyball, and football, activities that require jumping, hopping, skipping, or sprinting, activities that pose a high risk of falling, scuba diving, exercises that require you to lay flat on your back (after the first trimester, lying on your back for an extensive amount of time can put pressure on a major vein called the Vena Cava, which decreases blood flow to your brain and uterus), the Valsalva maneuver (when you forcefully exhale without actually releasing air) which can result in a drastic increase in blood pressure and intra-abdominal pressure, and may decrease blood flow to the uterus, knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, toe touches, and exercise in hot, humid weather. Research has shown that 30 minutes of moderate activity on 5, or most all days of the week, is a great starting point.

If I am resistance training during pregnancy, what guidelines should I follow?

I wish I could give you specific guidelines to follow, but to be honest, there really aren’t a whole lot. After doing extensive research, and reading through many pregnant mother’s comments and suggestions, the one thing that continued to pop up from them was, “LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!” In one article I read, the article stated that you should avoid walking lunges while pregnant. About three mothers replied to that statement saying that they have been including walking lunges in their program throughout their pregnancy and have never experienced any discomfort or injuries, and they actually attributed the tone in their legs to that exercise. Another statement that got a great amount of debate was that you should lighten the weight and increase your reps. Again, more mothers replied, and some said that they were figure competitors and power lifters and did not lighten their weights at all. They continued to use a heavier weight with a rep range from 8-15 and felt that they kept their strength and muscle throughout their pregnancy. In my opinion, there’s no reason you have to go extremely light, but I also do not think that you should be going any lower than 8 reps. By doing so, with a very heavy weight and high intensity, you tend to execute the Valsalva maneuver, which I indicated in the previously answered question to completely avoid. The best advice or guideline I can give you is the same guideline that the mothers have given me; listen to your body and pay attention to what is going on physically. If you’re feeling muscle strain during a certain exercise, stop doing that exercise and modify your program. If you feel excessive fatigue and shortness of breath during a certain activity or intensity, modify the movement so that it is more comfortable for you. Pregnancy isn’t the time to push your limits and for you to try and gain a ton of muscle mass. It’s more so about maintenance and ensuring that you have a healthy delivery when the time comes. If you were weight lifting before you got pregnant, there is no reason you cannot continue. If you’ve never weight lifted before and now you want to start once you got pregnant, follow the guidelines of starting with as little as 15-20 minutes a day, 3 times per week of moderate physical activity and then slowly work your way up.

Are there any nutritional changes I have to make once I am expecting?

This is probably one of the most common questions I get. One major adjustment you have to make when pregnant is that you have to eat more; around 300-400 extra calories to provide for your newly developing fetus. However, this DOES NOT mean you just go eating a bunch of junk because you are granted a few hundred extra calories per day. Consider this: whatever you eat, your baby will be eating too. Do you really want to go feeding yourself processed, chemically filled foods? Drinking soda with hundreds of unknown chemicals and fillers? Filling yourself with sugar and high fat foods because they taste good but have no nutritional value? If anything, being pregnant should make you want to change your lifestyle for the better! It’s not just about you now. You should completely avoid alcohol. I’m not saying that one drink is going to hurt your baby, but there still have been no studies showing that any level of alcohol is safe for your baby. It has been shown that mothers who drink alcohol have a higher risk of miscarriage. An excessive amount of alcohol during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, which can result in facial deformities, heart problems, low birth weight, and mental retardation. It is better to just avoid it completely. Avoid excess caffeine, as it can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate (further research needs to be done on this topic). Your healthcare provider might limit you to 200 milligrams per day while pregnant, which equates to about two 8-ounce cups of coffee. Avoid large quantities of vitamin A as this can cause birth defects. Avoid any unwashed fruits and vegetables and any undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs as you are at an increased risk of bacterial food poisoning during pregnancy. You should also be avoiding seafood that is high in mercury as this can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury it is likely to contain. Be smart about your food choices.

As you can see, there are very few changes you need to make to your exercise and nutrition programs during pregnancy, but there is enough where you need to proceed with caution. Pregnancy is not the time to completely stop exercising and become a lazy bum. It is not the time to drop everything you know about living a healthy lifestyle and start snacking on your favorite ice cream every night. It is a time to really take care of not only your health, but your baby’s health as well, and to prepare your body for a smooth, healthy delivery when the time comes.

Paul Hovan Jr., B.S., NASM CPT, CSN


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