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Nicole Moneer’s first pregnancy got her prepared for those middle-of-the-night baby feedings that come with bringing home a newborn. The IFBB bikini pro found that eating fruit and small meals in the wee hours helped prevent nausea the next day. But nothing about being pregnant could slow Moneer down. “Being active has been a huge part of my life for the past two decades, so I saw no reason to stop when I was pregnant!”
Not too long ago, doctors told women that the best thing they could do to stay safe during pregnancy was to rest up. Workouts were limited to walking or other low-impact activities. Today we know much more about what it takes to support a healthy pregnancy, and staying fit is a key part of that. Exercise has been shown to help reduce pregnancy-related aches and pains, improve blood pressure, lower the risk of gestational diabetes, make for easier labor and delivery, and more. In fact, more than 92% of obstetricians advise their patients to exercise.
“Women used to be told to rest as much as possible and eat as much as they want,” says Raul Artal, M.D., a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “Now we know that women should continue to live normal lives—which includes regular exercise—while listening to their bodies.” If you sense changes or feel discomfort or pain you need to get checked out, he explains. But otherwise, healthy women should be doing 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise most days a week.
While exercise is important, even the fittest woman needs to make some adjustments to her workout regimen when pregnant.
Routines that were your “easy workouts” before pregnancy may be significantly more difficult. A healthy woman who suddenly has an extra 30 pounds of weight on her frame will need to change some aspects of her routine, notes Artal.
“It’s also important to consider what level of fitness you were at pre-pregnancy,” says Melissa Paris, a prenatal fitness trainer. If you were already exercising regularly, you can still do most of the same exercises during the first trimester (stop immediately if you feel discomfort or pain).
But as you approach the second trimester, the rules can start to change. Avoid situps and twists, as they can strain the abdominals, which are already getting stretched out. Stick with exercises like planks and side planks to work the core. You may need to also gradually reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting: As your center of gravity shifts with your growing belly, it could throw off your balance, which may lead to a strained muscle or fall. Certain moves can be modified, like overhead lifts and presses, whereas their traditional mechanics can put excess stress on your lower back. Simple shifts such as lifting just one weight during an overhead press, or taking moves from a standing position to a seated one, can help keep you on track. It’s also important to be more aware of maintaining proper form with each exercise and making sure you don’t hold your breath, says Paris.
As long as your pregnancy is progressing normally, as indicated by your doctor or midwife, and comfort isn’t an issue, it’s fine to maintain your current level of activity from the second to the third trimester, says Artal. If not, now is the time to cut back. Decrease your workload by 10–20%, switch activities (e.g., use the elliptical instead of the treadmill), and eliminate high-intensity intervals. Be on the lookout for warning signs such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or lethargy, which can mean you should slow down and take a short break. Of course, if you experience abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, or any other dramatic symptoms, call your doctor or midwife right away.
It’s also important to keep the super-intense cardio activities to a minimum throughout your pregnancy, including during your first trimester, Artal explains. Overheating now can lead to serious complications, so keep your heart rate low, have a water bottle close at hand, and remember to allow five to 10 minutes for a cooldown to help your heart rate return to nearnormal levels. Note that hot yoga is off the table altogether, along with activities like scuba diving and contact sports.
Although you might be “eating for two,” even active women shouldn’t use pregnancy as an excuse to eat with abandonment, Artal says, since too much weight gain can hurt you and the baby. On average, you should be taking in about 200 additional calories per day if you have a normal diet. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, underweight women should gain 28–40 pounds during pregnancy, normal-weight women should add 25–35 pounds, and overweight women 15–25 pounds. Remember, most pregnancy weight is due to amniotic fluid, water retention, and other pregnancy-related issues, which can total 15 pounds of weight in addition to the baby’s weight, says Artal.
In addition, don’t try to make up for any nutritional deficiencies solely with supplements. “Many exercisers will continue to diet during pregnancy—and they’ll try to replace their deficient diet with extra vitamins, when in reality, they need to get nutrition from food,” Artal explains. While prenatal vitamins are important, avoid taking vitamins A, D, E, and K in large amounts, as they can cause birth defects, he adds.
Still, don’t be afraid to give yourself the occasional indulgence. Moneer gave into cravings early in her pregnancy. “I ate everything and anything against my religion—pizza, cupcakes, chips.” After that, she went back to craving salads and found that bell peppers, kale chips, and cucumbers soothed her nausea, along with healthy fats like grass-fed butter and gluten-free bread and pastas. By her third trimester, she was back to her regular clean-eating regimen.
As for working out, Moneer exercised up to four times a week through her second trimester, teaching cardio kickboxing once a week, and instructing her Pilates clients. As her pregnancy progressed, she slowed down a bit, cutting back her workouts to one to three times a week in her third trimester. She delivered a healthy baby boy six weeks early.
Being prepared both mentally and physically helped ease her journey, but so did keeping up her workout routine. “I was training for the biggest marathon of my life and all my healthy habits helped me get through it!” she says. “It also made it a lot easier to get back into the gym—and get my pre-baby body back once I was given the all clear.”