Congratulations on taking the first step to a better and healthier pregnancy! While pregnancy comes with a whole smorgasbord of new concerns, the most important by far is your health. Your health before, during and after pregnancy will not only benefit the baby, but also yourself in the long term. So whether you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, pregnant for the first time or a veteran in child birth, this article is for you.
Contrary to what you might think, pregnancy is not fair game when it comes to your health. It should not be an excuse to stop doing exercise, eating more, binge eating and gaining excessive weight. In fact, becoming pregnant and being pregnant is the time when the way you treat your body becomes the most important thing. Here are some common myths, issues and concerns regarding health and pregnancy:
Myth 1: “I’m Pregnant, I’m Eating for Two Now.”
FALSE. It’s true that you’ve got another human being living inside you and this means you have increased nutrition needs and require more energy for the baby. What many people don’t realise though is that from the 13th week onwards, you only need an extra 1200 kJ or 300 calories1 per day to maintain the baby. That’s about a king size Snickers bar or a medium packet of chips. Not much is it? However, you should keep in mind that if you’re an active individual throughout the day or exercise regularly, this amount is increased to ensure you have enough for yourself and your baby. Another little fact to consider is that while you are pregnant, you use up more carbohydrates both at rest and during exercise2, so it might help to eat a bit more carbs such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. Of course, the less refined the carb, the better.
Myth 2: “I’m Pregnant, Weight Gain is Normal.”
TRUE. Of course, having a whole baby grow inside you is going to increase your weight. The weight you gain during pregnancy also includes the fluid the baby is in as well as the placenta. However, the amount of weight you gain is dependent on your original body mass index (BMI). The Institute of Medicine (IOM)3 recently updated their original 1990 weight gain guidelines for pregnant women in 2009. These new guidelines are based on your BMI and take into account both the health of the baby and the mother.
Institute of Medicine Weight Gain Guidelines for One Baby:
BMI CategoryWeight Gain (Kg)
Underweight (BMI: <18.5 kg/m2) 12.5 – 18
Normal Weight (BMI: 18.5-20kg/m2) 11.5 – 16
Overweight (BMI: 25-30kg/m2) 7 – 11.5
Obese (BMI: >30kg/m2) 5 – 9
Institute of Medicine Weight Gain Guidelines for Twins:
BMI CategoryWeight Gain (Kg)
Underweight (BMI: <18.5 kg/m2) No guidelines due to insufficient data
Normal Weight (BMI: 18.5-20kg/m2) 17 – 24.5
Overweight (BMI: 25-30kg/m2) 14 – 22.5
Obese (BMI: >30kg/m2) 11.5 – 19
Excessive weight gain over these amounts places the baby at risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes later in life. Excessive weight gain can also put you at risk of developing similar chronic conditions as well as increasing risk of complications and issues during birth. It is important to note though, that if you are overweight, the amount of weight gain is reduced. In fact, one study4 was even able to show that if you are obese, you may not need to gain any weight at all as long as your eating is under control.
Myth 3: “I’m Pregnant, I Shouldn’t be Exercising.”
FALSE. Exercising during pregnancy is not only not dangerous, it is advised to ensure short and long term benefits for both the mother and the baby. Sports Medicine Australia (SMA)5 as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)6 both released independent consensus statements regarding exercise and pregnancy. Both statements state that there are no adverse effects related to exercise during pregnancy and indeed, exercise can be commenced or increased to an extent during pregnancy without harm to the baby. Potential risks that have been proposed such as reduced placental oxygen and nutrient supply to the baby as well as exercise induced hypothermia defects in the baby are hypothetical and have no scientific evidence to support it.
Myth 4: “I Can Still Take Protein Supplements During Pregnancy.”
FALSE. It is not advised at all to continue or commence protein supplementation during pregnancy. A recent large review7 of several studies has even suggested that increased protein supplementation may be harmful to the baby. It is important to note that during pregnancy, it is best to avoid use of any sporting and exercise supplements. The best thing you can do is to speak to a qualified dietitian or obstetrician and to get the nutrition you need for you and your baby from whole foods and not powders or pills. It is extremely important to know that you have increased nutrient requirements during pregnancy, but excess supplementation is usually not advised unless directed to by a trained professional in the field. Hopefully, this article has helped dispel some myths that you may have heard and to help inform you of the latest information and research out there.
Myth 5: “I Can't Do Abdominal Exercises When I'm Pregnant.”
FALSE. A lot of women feel that it might impact the baby negatively if they do traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups or crunches. However there is no scientific evidence to suggest that it can be harmful for your baby. In fact, abdominal exercises and core exercises performed regularly will positively impact your posture which can be affected by the added weight of the baby. However, a couple of notes of precaution before performing abdominal exercises. While traditional sit-ups and crunches are fine in the first semester, as the baby grows, if you are lying on your back, the weight of the baby might compress blood vessels which may negatively affect blood flow to the baby. Of course, with the increased size of your belly, you might find it hard to perform traditional abdominal exercises anyway.
Secondly, many pregnant women experience postural hypotension when lying on their back. This means that they experience sudden drops in blood pressure which can cause dizziness and may affect your balance when you stand up again, putting you at risk of injury. As a consequence, limit the amount of time you exercise while lying on your back and instead perform exercises either in a seated or standing position or even on all fours. It is also a good idea to perform Kegel exercises as a way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which may be negatively affected during pregnancy causing issues such as urinary incontinence.
Myth 6: “I Have the Right to Eat Whatever I Want When I'm Pregnant.”
FALSE. Pregnancy is a time when hormones are high and fluctuating and as a result, increased food cravings occur. While it is good to keep the mother happy during pregnancy, both for the mother and the people around her, it is also important to understand that what you eat also affects your baby as well. The nutrition your baby receives comes directly from what you eat and so it is important that you still continue to eat a healthy diet during the time that you’re pregnant.
On top of that it is important to know that some foods should actually be avoided during pregnancy. Avoid raw foods, unpasteurized foods, deli meats and hot dog sausages even if they are already cooked. This is to avoid contamination from coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella and listeria, which can be extremely harmful to the baby. While infection with bacteria such as listeria is rare, pregnant women are up to 20 times more likely to be affected. Swap soft cheeses with hard cheeses, ensure all deli meat, hot dog sausages and other meats are cooked thoroughly. Wash all your vegetables thoroughly and while it is still beneficial to consume fish during pregnancy, ensure it is fish not caught in local waters which might be contaminated with local factory pollutants and higher food chain fish such as shark, mackerel and some species of bluefin and yellowfin tuna due to higher levels of mercury.
Myth 7: “I Need to Give Up Caffeine Whilst Pregnant.”
FALSE. This might come as a surprise for many pregnant women, but you don’t have to completely give up caffeine consumption during your pregnancy. Having large amounts of caffeine during pregnancy has not been shown to cause birth defects, however may make it more difficult to conceive and put you at higher risk of miscarriage. Having said that though, it’s easier said than done giving up coffee, especially if you’re used to having a couple of cups a day. However, it is not all bad news. Guidelines show that a pregnant woman can have up to 200-250mg of caffeine per day. In drink terms:
Caffeine Tablet (regular)
Always read the labels before consuming any caffeinated beverage. Remember that the above guidelines are simply recommendations. There is no added benefit with caffeine consumption on pregnancy.
Hopefully, this article has helped dispel some myths that you may have heard and to help inform you of the latest information and research out there. Watch out for more articles coming soon looking further into exercise and sports during pregnancy and post pregnancy exercise and sports.
1 NRC (National Research Council). Recommended dietary allowances. 10th ed. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1989.
2 Soultanakis HN, Artal R, Wiswell RA. Prolonged exercise in pregnancy: glucose homeostasis, ventilatory and cardiovascular responses. Semin Perinatol 1996;20:315–27.
3 Kathleen M Rasmussen and Ann L Yaktine. Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee to Reexamine IOM Pregnancy Weight Guidelines. 'Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines.' Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009.
4 Thornton YS, Smarkola C, Kopacz SM, Ishoof SB. 'Perinatal outcomes in nutritionally monitored obese pregnant women: a randomized clinical trial.' J Natl Med Assoc. 2009 Jun;101(6):569-77.
5 Sports Medicine Australia. SMA statement: the benefits and risks of exercise during pregnancy. J Sci Med Sport. 2002;5:11–19.
6 ACOG Committee. Opinion no. 267: exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstet Gynecol. 2002;99:171–3.
7 Kramer MS, Kakuma R. 'Energy and protein intake in pregnancy.' Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD000032.
8 www.babycenter.com. Last accessed on 22nd June 2011.
9 www.foodstandards.gov.au. Last accessed on 22nd June 2011.