My final piece for our three part series on The Good, The Bad and The WTF advice soon-to-be parents receive can be filed under bad as well as WTF. This advice extends to expectant mothers, and it is given by everyone from authors, friends, strangers to family. But, there is one tidbit that is quite possibly the worst advice I have ever received while pregnant, and the one that personally has the greatest (negative) consequences.
“Don’t work out. If you already are, stop working out.”
You read that sentence right. Don’t work out, pregnant ladies.
I first encountered this advice when reading a horrible book passed on to me by a massage therapist called, “The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy,” by Vicki Lovine. The premise of the book is that the author has complied a list of everything your girlfriends should tell you about pregnancy and labor. I should have stopped reading at the chapter where the author suggested your husband should reward you with a push present for having the baby. (Gross) I went on to read how the author urged women in labor not be heroes (and give birth as women have for millenia), and “just take the drugs.” Great, so the author is basically telling women to lie on their backs drugged, awaiting their diamond tennis bracelets while their babies are cut out of them. I put down the book in disgust, however, when the author wrote that pregnant women should stop working out. The author lists 8 main reasons why women should stop doing one of the healthiest things they can. The most insulting are reasons number three, you will get fat anyway, and eight, our compulsion to exercise when we are pregnant is a reflection of our inability to surrender and let nature run its course.
Why is this book in print and why did 78 out of 139 people give it five stars on Amazon? I thought this book was a joke, but as I kept reading I could see the author was serious. You’ll get fat anyway? First of all, you aren’t getting fat, you are growing a baby. Working out while pregnant isn’t about trying to have a six pack, it’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle so you can be mentally and physically prepared for labor and the postpartum period. Second of all, wanting to exercise and be healthy doesn’t mean you aren’t letting nature run its course. This implies that being physically fit is somehow an anomaly, and as humans we are supposed to sit on the couch and not move for nine months while we grow a baby. Do you think animals, including humans, have historically sat around while pregnant? If they did they would be vulnerable to predators, and they would starve, and they would be left behind by their tribe.
As much as I’d like to believe other women aren’t taking this advice, I see firsthand that they do in fact believe this nugget of stupidity. I have a third trimester pregnancy video (which you can watch here), that I filmed while about 37 weeks pregnant, and it focuses on toning and sculpting the butt and arms. In the video there is a five minute warm-up followed by 5 exercises intended to be done for 30 seconds to 1 minute each. If you did the whole video at 1 minute per exercise you’d be looking at about a 20 minute at home work-out. While the video has almost 100,000 views and 500+ great reviews, there are about 30 dislikes. A few women have commented on the video that they were looking for something more “mild,” and the video was too hard for them. One woman went as far as to say I wasn’t even really pregnant in the video to have maintained the pace I was moving at. A few disliked the fact that I included bridge lifts at the end of the workout, stating that one shouldn’t be lying on their back that far along in the pregnancy. Let me clarify that the amount of time on your back (and you are doing bridge lifts so you are never fully on your back for an extended period of time), is approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute.
The majority of women (myself included) end up giving birth on their backs, which I do not recommend because it’s working against gravity to push the baby out as opposed to squatting, and pushing for up to three hours. Even when you get a check up during your pregnancy you are laying on your back to be measured. It seems many women, and men, are opposed to working out and will come up with any excuse to avoid doing so.
Why are we discouraging other women from working out while pregnant? Why are we talking ourselves out of working out and using pregnancy as an excuse? As a fitness instructor of yoga, spin, kettlebells, and barre, I am someone who enjoys working out. I am passionate about working out because I found exercises that I enjoy, and thus it doesn’t feel like a chore to me. I knew gaining weight was inevitable while pregnant, but that didn’t mean my arms couldn’t be toned, my legs couldn’t be in shape and my butt couldn’t be perky. I was not going to “give up” just because I was pregnant; I saw it as training for two, and me being strong meant a strong healthy baby, and an easier delivery.
As your best friend, someone who has been through pregnancy and labor, I implore you to work out while pregnant. It ain’t called labor for nothing, having a baby is a lot of work both mentally and physically. After Charlotte was born every single muscle in my body ached from the contractions and pushing her out. My labor was eight hours long, which all things considered is relatively short. The reason the exercises in my video were timed at one minute is because that is how long a contraction lasts. Once in active labor they will last for one minute and be spaced out, about four minutes apart. The contractions start coming closer together as you get ready to push, and if you must be induced and have an artificial stimulant like Pitocin your contractions will be erratic. If you cannot breathe through an exercise for one minute than you are in for a bumpy ride, my friend. Having been through it I can tell you there is no burpee, plank, jumping jack, leg lift, box jump, pull up, sprint or push up that compares to the pain of a labor contraction. None. You know those blood pressure cuffs they have at the doctors office they put around your arm? It’s like having one of those around your abdomen squeezing you until your eyes water, then releasing. Just like an intense workout, labor has an end in sight, and the reward is a beautiful baby. But, you will work for that baby. No doubt about that.
Unless you have resigned yourself to laying on a table drugged up, having your abdomen cut open while your arms are pinned down by your side, awaiting someone else to pull your baby out and your diamond tennis bracelet push present… I suggest you prepare your body. Ask any woman who has had an involuntary C-section, it’s painful, and it’s not fun. More painful than a natural birth for sure, and you can suffer years down the road because of the results of it.
So ladies, best friends, can we make a promise? Can we please stop telling our friends not to work out while pregnant? That would be the equivalent of signing up for a triathlon, not training, and expecting to finish in one piece. Can we please stop recommending books to other women that tell them exercise won’t help them in labor? With advice like this and such an aversion to working out, it’s no wonder the US has the highest unnecessary C-section and obesity rate. It’s all related, folks.
I remember when I was pregnant I had so many women at the gym come up to me and tell me I inspired them. They saw me in class working hard and taking care of myself, and they said it motived to work harder. For all of you pregnant women out there taking classes, running, working out, please know you are not only doing the best thing you can for you and your baby, you are inspiring those around you. Leading by example is powerful and when other women (and men!) see what you can do, they will do the same for themselves.
Give others a reason to work out… not an excuse.
Filed Under: Blogs
About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.