Inspirational shots of pregnant mamas working out are everywhere. They are rock-climbing, surfing, and running marathons. Some are even filming action movies while pregnant. (I'm looking at you, Gal Gadot—a true Wonder Woman). It's inspiring, to say the least, to see pregnant women utilizing their bodies and showing us that pregnancy is not an illness, but a normal process. But for some women, exercising while pregnant, even in a more moderate sense, is not always an option.
While staying active during pregnancy is typically ideal, we don't get to choose how our bodies adjusts to creating a person. Some mothers will have pregnancy complications that limit their physical activity. Some mothers suffer from severe morning sickness or even hyperemesis gravidarum, which makes lifting their head off the pillow without throwing up a challenge, let alone working out. According to Leah S. Millheiser, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, California, there are a variety of conditions that can make exercise unsafe, such as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, vaginal bleeding, placenta complications, heart or lung conditions affecting pregnancy, or preterm contractions.
While we've been taught to view the most active mother as the most healthy, listening to our bodies (and our care providers) is truly the healthiest option for Mom and Baby. "A woman should always discuss her exercise program with her OB during pregnancy," Dr. Millheiser says. In the case that a mom-to-be can't be as active as she'd like, there are still plenty of good ways to take care of your body during pregnancy.
Here are a few:
1. Maintain a well-rounded diet.
Of course, if you're too sick to exercise, you may be too sick to eat a well-rounded diet, too. When it comes to pregnancy nausea, sometimes crackers and ginger ale are just plain necessary. Most pregnancy complications shouldn't affect your ability to consume nutritious food, though, which is an important part of your health and wellness. Whenever possible, especially when exercise is not an option, eat nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, lean protein, calcium- and iron-rich foods, and plenty of fiber to increase your energy and ensure you are meeting your and your baby's nutrition needs.
2. Keep sugar in check.
Likewise, eating too much sugar can have negative effects on your pregnant body (and possibly your developing baby). While a special treat once in a while to indulge those pregnancy cravings won't do damage, consistently eating high levels of sugar could. "In general, women should limit sugar intake [during pregnancy]," Dr. Millheiser says. "It is important to keep in mind that excessive caloric intake in the setting of little to no exercise can lead to higher-than-expected weight gain during the pregnancy." The risk of developing gestational diabetes and birthing larger babies are also associated with the consumption of too much sugar. And some research has even pointed to putting the child at greater risk for developing heart disease.
Aside from a hard workout, there are other ways to achieve mental clarity if you are unable to hit the gym. "Meditation is always a good way to relax and reduce anxiety," Dr. Millheiser says. "Sustained, elevated stress levels in mom can negatively impact a developing fetus." If you don't have a meditation practice, try a local workshop or even check out an online or audio practice. Focusing on your breath and letting go of your thoughts, even for a few minutes a day, can help expecting moms stay calm, centered, and relaxed through the various stages of pregnancy (and beyond!). Also, taking a few minutes to think positively about your body is a good practice, too. You'll need that positive energy when it comes to birthing your baby.
4. Stay hydrated.
During pregnancy, it becomes extra important to stay hydrated. Water helps your body to absorb and transmit essential nutrients. So when you're dehydrated, your baby can't get all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrient-rich blood cells it needs to develop. Pregnant women should aim to drink 12 to 13 glasses (8 oz. each) per day according to the Institute of Medicine, but in hot temperatures when frequent sweating occurs, drinking more is essential. Bring a water bottle everywhere you go or set a timer to make sure you are drinking enough throughout the day. If you are feeling thirsty, it's a sign that you may already be dehydrated. So drink up!
5. Get a prenatal massage or visit a chiropractor.
Taking time for a few feel-good measures, like a prenatal massage or a chiropractic adjustment, can do wonders for your pregnant body. Some women claim the relaxing benefits of massage helped them enjoy even the more uncomfortable stages of pregnancy (hello, third trimester aches and pains). Many also believe proper alignment (achieved during chiropractic care) can help ensure a smoother delivery, too. Before scheduling your appointment, make sure your practitioner is experienced and certified to work with women during pregnancy. And be sure to consult your OB-GYN before seeking the services of a massage therapist or chiropractor, to make sure it's safe for you.