Exercise in Pregnancy: Staying Motivated

How has your pregnancy been? My pregnancy has gone well! I initially felt a lot of fatigue and nausea every two hours that wouldn’t go away until I ate something. The first few months felt harder for me since I was a high energy person before who enjoyed being productive. Pregnancy set me back a few notches – I actually had to take naps a few times.

Back in January of this year, four months before I got pregnant, I went skiing with my husband and fell many times. I noticed slight pain during exercise in my right hip and a clicking sound when doing certain leg workouts. The chiropractor said I had done something to a tendon and that I would just need to stretch a lot. It still was doing this when I got pregnant, and so around 18 weeks when I was running, I landed funny on my right foot and exacerbated the problem, especially since everything was shifting so much easier with being pregnant. Sciatic-nerve-type pain kicked in and every step was painful. Doctor said to take a week or two off running and that it would most likely last till the end of pregnancy. I did take a break from running and decided to walk as much as I could. One 3-mile walk later that week was all it took – each step was painful but I somehow worked out whatever was off in my hip. I was able to run again and all the clicking and previous discomfort in my hip is now gone.

I know this won’t work for everyone, but I guess my advice would be, don’t give up on staying active just because you experience a set-back. If it is serious and your doctor says you should stop then obviously listen to them, but at least walk as much as you can. I have a standing desk at work and I am able to stand still almost the entire day (minus a lunch break which usually includes taking my dogs for a walk). If standing is an option for even part of the work day, I highly recommend it. It has helped my have more energy, both before and during pregnancy. Just be careful not to lock your knees and make sure to move around a little – not stand still the entire time, especially during pregnancy since it can lead to fainting.

I have been blessed with a good pregnancy – no throwing up, no major pains or limitations and only two really emotional (sobbing-type) days so far and I am 28 weeks along. I think that staying active and eating for the baby has really helped. I didn’t get much veggies (major food avoidance for me) in the first few months, but I was able to eat a lot of protein and took prenatal gummies with DHA every day plus an Emergen-C pack each morning. I have yet to get sick during my pregnancy and I have only put on 17lbs.


How long have you been exercising?

I have exercised my whole life – from running 6 miles and swimming every day, to P90x and similar workout programs to just walking every morning. I was bulimic for 6 years (age 15-21) and mainly walked during those years. I lost almost all my muscle mass and it wasn’t until I met my husband in 2011 that I began to go to the gym and really change my eating habits. I stopped being bulimic and slowly but surely built my muscles back up.


How did you stay motivated to exercise during the first trimester?

The first trimester was very difficult due to fatigue and feeling bloated. I obviously nixed the 1,000 calorie workout right away to protect myself and the baby, but still maintained 4-5 days a week of exercise, 2 or so with weights and the other cardio. I would run a mile and then do weights or bike for 45minutes on a stationary bike. The elliptical is also great for keeping in shape but not straining your body, mainly being gentler on your joints.

Once I got past the first trimester, I increased my exercise to 6 days a week with the 7th one always including several 10-15 min walks with my dogs or an activity like raking or picking up the house, etc. I have a step tracker on my phone and throughout pregnancy I tried my hardest to get to 10,000 steps each day. I get above that now that I am past the first trimester, but there were several days during the first few months where 8,000 was as high as I could get.


Are you exercising to prepare for childbirth or overall staying in shape?

I initially was exercising to staying in shape because I strongly believe a woman should be healthy during her pregnancy and should make every effort to bounce back after giving birth. Pregnancy should not be an excuse to become heavier long-term or to become unhealthy and lethargic.

As my pregnancy progressed and I started thinking about the birth process, I became more determined than ever to stay as active and as strong as I could. Whatever I can do now to make giving birth easier I am all for even if I don’t always feel like it.


Did you have to get approval from your care provider to exercise?

My doctor said that I could keep doing whatever I was doing prior to getting pregnant and to just keep tabs on how I was feeling. He said I would know by the next day whether I had overdone it and if that was the case, to scale back. I normally can tell as I am doing it if it is too much and ease back till I feel more comfortable with the level of intensity.


Are there any exercise books or web resources you would recommend to women wanting to exercise during their pregnancy?

I honestly haven’t read any exercise books or used any web sources. Walking, biking (I recommend stationary to prevent possible falls), running if you can, elliptical, swimming and most strength training exercises with weights are fine to do. Obviously, listen to your body and pace yourself. I stopped doing ab-focused exercises around 16 weeks but still do exercises like pushups and squats that engage my core. I just stopped doing sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, etc. that really worked my abs.

There are plenty of great resources out there if you are unsure of what to do or not do, but if you’ve never worked out try walking and lifting light weights (curls, triceps extensions, shoulder raises etc.) and if you’re comfortable shift into jogging or elliptical with higher resistance and light weights. Maintaining muscle mass is just as important as cardio. Pushups, lunges and triceps dips are just a few body weight exercises that you can do to maintain muscle mass without getting into weights if you would prefer not to. The key is to stay active, get your heart rate up, sweat some when you’re working out (sweating is good for you and the baby) and make sure to drink lots of water and eat protein.


Do you think that exercising has kept your pregnancy so healthy and easy for you?

Exercise has been my “saving grace” – it has helped me stay stable emotionally, keep my brain clear and alert, help me feel “normal”, been an outlet for me, prevented constipation, enabled me to be socially active and energetic, allowed me to maintain my housewife responsibility levels (I can assist in outdoor chores as well as keep up with my indoor housekeeping) instead of dumping on my husband, kept my weight and heart healthy and overall made pregnancy not too bad. J I am not someone who “loves” being pregnant but I am almost certain that exercising has kept me from having a miserable time too.


How often and how long do you work out for?

I work out 6-7 days a week and anywhere from 20min to an hour. As I mentioned earlier, if I do something on the 7th day, it might be helping rake for an hour or two or working around the house on various projects (just staying on my feet and moving around a lot) or going for an extra-long walk. I generally 1) stand most of the day at my desk Monday-Friday, 2) take my dogs on 2 or more 10-15 minute walks every day, 3) do a dedicated workout at least 5 days a week, usually 6 and sometime 7 if I am up for it.


What does your workout routine look like?

My most common workout was running a few miles but now my calves are getting tight and sore when I run so I am taking a break and now doing the elliptical the most for 20-30 minutes using one with arms so can try to engage my upper body too. It’s really not hard to do something for at least 20 minutes/5 days a week – the committing to do it is hardest part.

A normal week in workouts would be something like Sunday: elliptical 20 minutes/2 miles and do weights for 20 minutes, Tuesday: elliptical 45 minutes/4+miles, Wednesday: bike for 1 hour/18 miles, Thursday: run 20 minutes/2.2 miles and do body weight exercises for 10-15 minutes, Friday: elliptical 40 min/4 miles, Saturday: rake for 2 hours and help move leave or do housework for an hour or go for a long walk etc. Cardio is definitely easiest the bigger my bump grows.


Do you have any tips for moms who are just beginning exercising?

Try to take walks, use stationary bikes or use workout machines (i.e. elliptical, treadmill, etc.) much as much as you can. Be active even when you don’t feel like it. Be sure to eat protein every time you eat if you can – cheese sticks/crackers, yogurts, peanut butter/crackers or pretzels, cottage cheese and crackers/bread, refried beans and chips, apples and peanut butter, a protein bar, etc. Protein will keep you from feeling as sick, will help the baby be healthy and will keep your energy levels up.

Don’t let the first trimester dictate the other two – if you feel bad in the first, just do what you can, even if it is only one or two days a week, but once the fatigue and morning sickness subside as you enter the second trimester pick up your activity. The more active you are the more active you can become.


It can’t be easy to stay this dedicated, so what motivates you to keep going and adjust your routine as needed?

A healthy birth that is as easy as I can make it, a healthy baby and being able to bounce to my physical state pre-pregnancy are my main motivators. Each time I would rather just veg on the couch I remind myself of these three things and honestly, the more you do the more you want to do it. You want the feeling that comes from working out and the results you know it brings – endorphins are released, sweating flushes out toxins, you don’t feel as bloated or gassy, you sleep better, you have higher energy levels, you are keeping your weight healthy and you know that maintaining your overall health is good for the baby’s health.