If you’re sporting a baby bump at the gym these days, first of all, congrats! Research shows that exercising while pregnant can keep your heart and lungs healthy, and may also improve your mood. Yet, whether you’re sticking with your bi-weekly spin class, working on your downward dog or running half-marathons, your body will feel different with a baby on board. That’s why we asked a few of our favorite fitness bloggers (and two Olympians!) to share the truth about what it’s like to exercise while pregnant — and what they wish they’d known. (Spoiler alert: Your bladder is going to be a problem.)
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Yes, pregnant women should take some precautions (see guidelines here and talk to your doc, please). But many active moms-to-be can still keep up a solid gym routine. “I think the most surprising thing, frankly, is how capable my body is,” says TV producer and blogger Katy Widrick, who’s expecting her second child.
“The main thing to remember is to not compare yourself to others,” says blogger, running coach and founder of Mamalete, Gia Alvarez, who’s expecting her third child later this year. “You do you!”
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1. Buy a new sports bra (you’ll need it).
Your belly isn’t the only thing that’s growing rapidly as your pregnancy progresses. Pick up a new sports bra, stat. “I spent a little too long trying to wear my pre-pregnancy sports bras and one day I caught a glimpse of myself during a Pure Barre class and felt so self-conscious. Boobs everywhere!” says blogger Julie Fagan. “I’m pretty sure I ran out and bought a few larger sports bras immediately after that class!” You might need to make these purchases sooner than you think — many women reported needing a new sports bra within the first trimester.
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2. Pick up a “sports bra” for your belly, too.
Blogger Janae Jacobs kept up an intense fitness routine while pregnant with her daughter, completing six half-marathons and continuing to teach cycling classes. Yet, as her belly grew bigger, she started to feel ligament pain in her lower abdomen. “I had no idea what was going on and so I stopped exercising until I could talk to my doctor about it,” Jacobs says. “He recommended a belly band and it made exercising feel great again!” (If you’re feeling unusual aches, take a cue from Jacobs and consult your doctor about your exercise routine and any products you’re considering — they’re the experts, after all.)
So what’s a ‘belly band’ exactly? Whether you call it a pregnancy support belt or a sports bra for your stomach, these Spanx-like garments are worn under your clothes to prevent tummy bounce when you’re on the go. “In this pregnancy, I love the Bao Bei Belly Sports Bra,” Alvarez says.
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They’re not just for runners, either. Blogger and group fitness instructor Gina Harney, who’s now pregnant with her second child, says, “While teaching Zumba, I felt like my belly was moving around and wasn’t well supported.” An athletic maternity sports belt helped her stay active until she was about 40 weeks along with her first child, Harney says.
3. Know that running might not feel right.
While some women run right up until the day they give birth, logging miles isn’t realistic for everyone. Marathoner and ASICS athlete Deena Kastor, a bronze medalist at the 2004 Olympics, assumed she’d be fine to keep up a casual running routine throughout pregnancy. “The most surprising thing about exercising while pregnant was that I couldn’t do it!” Kastor says. “I had witnessed so many women before me running through their pregnancies and although I had no intention of training, I thought I would be able to run 30 to 45 minutes a day just for the health of it.”
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Instead, Kastor ended up being mostly sedentary for about five months of her pregnancy. “It was easy not to run because I felt so good not running,” she says. “…My biggest and most frequent lesson in pregnancy was flexibility. I had ideals planned in a lot of instances and in every instance I had to re-assess and be flexible.” For other women, running while pregnant might require adding more recovery days. American middle-distance runner Alysia Montaño, an ASICS athlete who competed at the 2012 Olympics, says, “I changed my routine when I became pregnant by taking a lot more time to rest between running or higher impact days.”
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While Fagan, who documents her healthy lifestyle on the blog Peanut Butter Fingers, says she always hoped to be a pregnant runner, she knows it’s important to listen to her body. “Running simply feels awful to me at the moment due to an uncomfortable feeling of heaviness I get every time I even attempt to jog.” And while Alvarez ran throughout her first pregnancy (with twins), she says she’s had to modify her routine this time around. “Running has turned into ‘wogging,’ which is something of a walk/jog hybrid,” she says. “I’m really enjoying a good hilly walk these days, when before I would have loved running up those hills.”
4. Realize that your bladder is boss.
Newsflash: Once baby is pressing on your bladder, there’s not much you can do about the fact that you’ll need to pee — a lot. “The worst thing is having to use the ladies’ room. All. The. Time,” Harney says. “This can be slightly annoying when you’re on the treadmill or taking a group class.”
Jacobs says she had to plan her running routes around public restrooms so that she could keep up her routine, despite “feeling like my bladder was going to explode!” The problem might get worse near your due date, too. “The end of pregnancy is tough because just walking around could make you wet your pants —let alone taking an intense dance class!” Widrick says.
5. Remember: It’ll be worth it.
Despite the bladder issues and the extra support for your belly and chest, many women still say exercising during pregnancy feels great. “The best [part]? Knowing that it will make my labor and delivery — the hardest workout I’ve ever undertaken — even a little bit easier!” Widrick says. “Keeping those pushes in mind keeps me motivated when lifting weights or taking a class.”
Exercise also helped Jacobs relieve some of the discomfort she felt during her pregnancy. “Running while pregnant eased the morning sickness nausea and gave me a boost of energy that I needed because being pregnant is sure tiring,” Jacobs says. “…Even a walk or short run helped me to not feel so nauseated.” Montaño experienced similar benefits. “Exercise ended up being the cure to morning sickness and to many body aches brought on by pregnancy,” she recalls.
Plus, not even a bulky belly can get in the way of a post-workout endorphin rush. “I love riding the post-exercise high all day long,” Fagan says. “And knowing that staying active is beneficial not only to me but to my baby as well is great motivation to continue to hit the gym.”
One more bonus: You’ll never really be working out alone. “The best thing about exercising while pregnant has to be the little kicks you feel while moving around,” Alvarez says. “I love that little kick or punch, it feels like my little internal cheering squad!”