How exercise helps you gain weight (healthily)

The amount of weight you need to gain in pregnancy varies, depending on your pre-pregnancy weight. Regardless of what specific amount of weight gain your healthcare provider recommends, the best way to gain a healthy amount of weight is by eating a balanced diet full of nutrients and getting regular exercise.

Along with helping you manage your pregnancy weight gain, exercise keeps you physically strong, and prevents certain health problems that come with gaining too little or too much weight while you are pregnant.

Not much of a gym-goer? No problem! You absolutely do not have to be much of an athlete to start an exercise regimen that will carry you through pregnancy. You just have to talk to your provider to make sure that it’s safe, and to get any advice they have about exercising while pregnant.

What the experts say about exercise during pregnancy

In 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released guidelines stating that for most pregnant women, physical activity is a great way to maintain fitness levels, manage the amount of weight that they gain, reduce their risk of certain health conditions, and improve their mood. These guidelines recommended that women work with their providers to come up with an individualized exercise program that combined aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises, modified for pregnancy.

In general, pregnant women should get moderate-intensity exercise for at least 20–30 minutes per day, on most or all days of the week, although this can be adjusted depending on one’s individual needs and health.

Talk to your provider ahead of time

In order to set your pregnancy fitness plan in motion, you’ll need to get the go-ahead from your healthcare provider. Walking and swimming are generally safe during pregnancy, as is strength training for pregnant women and a lot of different fitness classes – but again, you’ll want to clear these with your provider. Work with them to make an exercise program that is safe for you.

Exercise can be difficult in the first trimester, due to your body’s changes, and your provider may recommend that you wait until your second trimester to start. If you’re ever doing any kind of physical exertion in the first trimester, you should pay attention to your body and stop as soon as you feel like you need to.

You might experience some setbacks after you make this plan; maybe your joints will hurt, or maybe you don’t have the energy you need to work out. Whatever the case, be willing to let your provider know, and to work with them to make changes to your exercise plan.

Things to keep in mind

Your provider can give you tips, but here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about how you’re going to stay active these next few months.

  • Trying something new: With your provider’s approval, now is a great chance to step out of your exercise comfort zone. Don’t feel like you have to stick with the same old routine just to play it safe while pregnant. Consider trying things you haven’t done before, like pilates, light workout classes, or prenatal exercise classes.
  • Breathing techniques: Learning some breathing techniques can help you get less winded while exercising; while you exercise, you can practice for labor. Ask your provider for tips.
  • Personal trainer: A personal trainer can help you modify exercises so that they’re easier and safer to do over the course of your pregnancy.
  • At home: Some days, physical activity may just feel like too much for you. On these days, you could improvise and come up with ways to do light exercise at home, whether it’s a few squats, ten minutes of a free online gentle exercise video, or just taking a few extra steps around your home.
  • Adjust for what you need: Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, you might need to tweak your workout a little bit. For example, if balance is an issue and you’re lifting weights, switch from free weights to the machines. If you’re at the point in your pregnancy where it’s hard to hold your bladder, move your workout closer to the bathroom. If you’re experiencing pregnancy-related joint pain, stop your workouts and talk to your provider to come up with a less intense plan.
  • Know thyself: Above all, it’s important to be aware of your own personal limits and boundaries. Even the most active women will have to cut back at some point in their pregnancies, so anticipate that your workout plan will change as your pregnancy changes. Stay active and pay attention to what your body tells you. If it tells you to do something different, try and roll with the changes and know that they’re temporary. 

Getting “unsolicited advice” from friends and strangers

As a pregnant person, it can be extremely difficult to go through the whole process of talking to your provider about exercise, planning out everything you’re going to do, finally working up the energy to get outside or to the gym – and then to have a well-meaning friend, family member, or stranger say something along the lines of, “pregnant women shouldn’t be exercising.”

It’s tough, but it could happen. If it does, you can choose not to respond, or you can engage and tell them that you’re going by your healthcare provider’s advice, and that’s the advice you’ll trust.

Final thoughts

Essentially, there are three final takeaways regarding exercise during pregnancy.

First, for most women, exercise is extremely beneficial during pregnancy. Second, before you do any kinds of exercise, you should talk to your healthcare provider. They are the best person to help you figure out what kind of exercise is right for you. Lastly, as long as you’re going by what your provider recommends, any kind of exercise is better than nothing, and you should always be proud of what you do accomplish when you fit some physical activity into your day. And if you can’t exercise one day, take a break and commit to physical activity the next time you’re feeling better.


Sources
  • “Managing your weight gain during pregnancy.” MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, Nov 2016. Accessed 7/5/17. Web. Available at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000603.htm.
  • “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” ACOG. Committee opinion no.650 from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dec 2015. Web. Accessed 7/5/17. Available at https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Physical-Activity-and-Exercise-During-Pregnancy-and-the-Postpartum-Period?IsMobileSet=false.
  • “Healthy Eating, Exercise and Weight Gain.” SOGC. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, Jun 2011. Web. Accessed 7/5/17. Available at http://pregnancy.sogc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/PDF_healthyeatingexerciseandweightgain_ENG.pdf.
  • S L Nascimento, et al. “The effect of physical exercise strategies on weight loss in postpartum women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” International Journal of Obesity. Web. 19 Sep 2013. 
  • “Pregnancy and birth: Weight gain in pregnancy.” NCBI. PubMed Health, US National Library of Medicine, Mar 19 2014. Web. Accessed 7/5/17. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072759/.
  • Michael R Stengel, et al. “What My Doctor Didn’t Tell Me”: Examining Health Care Provider Advice to Overweight and Obese Pregnant Women on Gestational Weight Gain and Physical Activity.” WHIIJournal. 22(6):e535-e540. Web. Nov-Dec 2012. 
  • “Weight gain during pregnancy.” MarchofDimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Nov 2016. Accessed 7/5/17. Available at http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/weight-gain-during-pregnancy.aspx. 
  • “Preventing Excessive Weight Gain During Pregnancy.” CooperInstitute. The Cooper Institute, 2012. Web. Accessed 7/5/17. Available at https://www.cooperinstitute.org/2012/04/preventing-excessive-weight-gain-during-pregnancy/. 
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