Exercise during pregnancy – myths vs truth

exercise-pregnancy-weightsPregnancy is a crazy, scary and challenging time! There are so many changes happening with your body, physically, hormonally and emotionally. On top of that, when you’re feeling your most self-conscious and vulnerable, for some reason everyone seems to think you are public property and that they can put in their 2 cents worth about everything from your appearance, to what you’re going to name your baby, to what you should eat, and what it is and isn’t ‘safe’ for you to do – and worst of all they think they can TOUCH you! Why are your hands on my belly??

Here are some comments I heard during my pregnancy

  • (Entering the gym) “You’re not working OUT are you??”
  • (Entering a group exercise class) “Don’t give birth in my class!”
  • (Going to lift a barbell) “Oh gosh you’re not going to LIFT that!!”
  • (Looking at my lunch) “Should you be eating that?”

Firstly, unless a pregnant woman asks for your opinion on her diet, exercise routine, her size and shape or the name she has chosen for her baby, keep your opinions to yourself! Secondly, if you wouldn’t touch a stranger’s stomach as a general rule, then don’t touch a pregnant woman’s stomach without her permission – EVER! (Not that I’m still bitter about any of these things!)

OK now that we have that out of the way, let’s explore some of the myths surrounding this crazy time in a woman’s life – and get to the bottom of the actual facts!

Myth: “Now you’re eating for two!”

The truth is that although there are some nutrients you need to increase (like folic acid, calcium, vitamin D), you don’t actually need much additional calorie intake until about mid-way through the pregnancy. Towards the end of the 2nd and into the 3rd trimester, the total number of additional calories required might be around 300. This equates to about 1 sandwich or two pieces of fruit a day = not a whole lot extra. While gaining weight is normal, gaining TOO much weight can actually put the mother and infant at risk of thinks like gestational diabetes. You will actually need more calories when you’re breastfeeding than when you’re pregnant.

Myth: “It’s not safe to exercise during pregnancy”

Not only is it SAFE to exercise during pregnancy, it is RECOMMENDED by doctors and professional organisations worldwide. While there are some common-sense things that should be avoided, like sports with a high risk of falling or abdominal trauma – the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that pregnant women without complications be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy. Some of the benefits of exercising during pregnancy include:

  • Improved mood and energy levels
  • Reduced risk of excessive weight gain
  • Reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduce back pain
  • Reduce risk of constipation
  • Returning to pre-baby weight more quickly
  • Prepare body for labour and delivery
  • Improved recovery from labour and delivery
  • Reduce risk of pest natal depression

Myth: “You need to put your feet up and rest”

While it is important to listen to your body and rest when you’re tired during pregnancy (you might take an afternoon nap when you didn’t before), it is also important to maintain a regular exercise routine to help prepare your body for labour, and the demands of being a new mother. Spending your whole pregnancy resting is a recipe for excessive weight gain and muscle loss, and will make the post-delivery recovery process much longer and more challenging.

pregnancy-exercise-walkingMyth: “It’s not safe to run during pregnancy”

While pregnancy may not be the best time to BEGIN training for a marathon, if you already love to run, it’s generally fine to continue running throughout your pregnancy. It’s obviously important to listen to your body, and stop if it starts to feel uncomfortable. There are some precautions to be aware of if you run throughout your pregnancy

  • Avoid overheating particularly during the first trimester
  • Wear supporting shoes and sports bra
  • Your centre of gravity shifts forward making you less stable so stick to running on flat ground to reduce risk of falls

Myth: “You have to keep your heart rate below 130bpm”

Pregnant women should aim to meet the physical activity levels of the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines, which is 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, or a combination of both. While monitoring heart rate has been used in the past, no research to date has identified a ‘safe’ upper-limit to exercise intensity. Rather than heart rate, the ‘rating of perceived exertion’ scale or ‘talk test’ may be better ways to monitor intensity, and help pregnant women avoid over exertion.


Bottom line – It is absolutely safe, and recommended that women exercise right throughout pregnancy. What you choose to do will depend on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels, any risks in your pregnancy, and your personal comfort level. So don’t be afraid to get out there and exercise mumma!