Old Wives' Tales of Pregnancy Exercise

Alexandra Powell Allred's picture


Dear Fitness Expert,

I have several questions about types of exercises can be safely done on an exercise ball in pregnancy.

Is it safe to put my tummy on the big ball to do exercises during the 1st Trimester?

I understand side crunches can be done on big ball during pregnancy. How about twisting of spine with legs on the ball (knees bent) while lying on a mat?

Can extension of spine be done, too?

Also, I have heard arms should not be raised above head during exercises especially in the third trimester as it will affect the milk production. Is it true?



I'll take the last question first. No. This is not true. I swear, I don't know where people come up with stuff. One of the reasons we, at Pregnancy.org, got into Questions and Answers, and why the founders of Pregnancy.org developed this site in the first place is because we ALL have been where you are right now, wondering what is true, what is safe, what to do ...

Once upon a time, there was so little information about obstetrics and with primarily male doctors at the helm, it seemed reasonable to them that a woman shouldn't move while pregnant, she put up her feet and eat a lot!

Fortunately, we know better today and many myths are being dispelled. In fact, you WANT to work out your arms for circulating reasons but here's another: when your baby is born and you are suddenly carrying an 8 or 10 or 12 pound baby (who will grow everyday!), you will become tired. Working out your arms is a smart strategy for the future and even more important than that is the labor and delivery.

The statistics of women getting c-sections are growing for two shameful reasons: It is easier/better for hospitals to do scheduled c-sections, get you in, get you out ... boom. Done! The insurance companies love it, too. And, American women are in worse shape than ever and cannot bear down and push like they did 20 years ago. You want to be able to be strong in the labor room.

Studies show that the women who worked out while pregnant, had faster, easier deliveries AND recoveries than those who did not. Sometimes, life happens and you must get a c-section. Sometimes the baby has moved in such a way this is a precautionary measure.

But what I wish doctors and moms-to-be would know is that personal trainers across the country deal with so many women who have issues with core muscles (unable to move in different ways) because of the scar tissue caused from c-sections. I have many women clients who cannot do leg throw downs because of scar tissue from c-sections. So, keep the weights light but stay fit and strong for the event that is to come.

That all said, there are many things that have stayed the same. Sit ups. Your questions regarding sit ups are good ones. Yes, in your first trimester, work on the ball is safe. Our #1 rule is exercise to comfort. If you're doing something that is NOT comfy, stop.

But the issue of twisting has not changed. Quite simply - don't do it. It's not worth the risk. There is a very certain "we don't know" factor here so don't do it. Just how much strain or pressure is put on the baby when we twist is unknown.

I have my clients work the sits and do crunches on a ball. The idea is NOT that you're trimming tummy fat. That's ridiculous. But we are working on keeping your core strong so that when you need to push, you can really push.

Upper body strength, core strength and legs are important throughout your pregnancy. Do not work out with the idea that you are minimizing fat. Work out with the idea that you want to be strong.

Again, we know from studies that you could gain 20 or 60 pounds in your pregnancy -- that doesn't matter -- but it is the woman who exercise who will have a better birthing and recovery experience than the woman who did not. By working your sides and crunches (on the ball) and upper body (light) weights, you are taking care of your back as well.

Good luck and have fun.