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It's Getting Hot in Here! The Great Debate About Working Out While Pregnant

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At 32 weeks pregnant, I continue doing pull ups, modifying by lessening the amount of reps and using a kipping technique.

This topic is often debated (heatedly, at times) on Chris' and my fan pages, especially after a picture is posted of me doing some exercise of my own during my pregnancy.

Since I began writing this blog, an even more heated debate arose on a national level over a picture posted of a woman CrossFitting at eight months pregnant. In the articles I read about this topic, I saw responses very similar to those on my own FB fan pages. Some supported the level of activity she was able to carry on through pregnancy and praised her determination to stay healthy -- especially during a time that many see as an easy excuse to not workout. Others blasted this woman, suggesting that she is harming her baby and her body.

What do I think?

First and foremost, I must begin by letting anyone reading this know that no opinion is unsolicited. It's incredibly interesting and informative to me to hear thoughts and experiences that support both sides of this debate.

While I could just start typing away my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on the subject, I thought it might be more entertaining to start a debate... against myself. After reading up on this debate, my research, and my final thoughts, you can draw your own opinions.

Heidi's Pregnancies #1 and #2 vs. Heidi's Pregnancies #3 and #4. For those that aren't familiar with Chris' and my blended family, we are expecting our fourth child in less than two months. Four pregnancies, four different baby-baking recipes, four totally different experiences.

Pregnancies #1 and #2

I was 23 and 25 during these two pregnancies and deliveries. The prime age for our bodies to procreate. Both of these pregnancies were incredibly similar.

While I began each pregnancy as an active woman (lifted weights/cardio five days a week) and was very healthy according to any doctor, I quickly let the little blue plus sign on the pregnancy test become my excuse for why "I shouldn't work out or do any more than walk." Plus, I was experiencing morning sickness in my first trimester. "Who on earth works out when they are sick?" I would ask myself. Another excuse. I vaguely remembered my doctor advising me to continue exercising and moving at my current levels until my body told me to slow down, but truthfully... I wanted nothing more during that sluggish phase than to act like I never heard him mutter those words to me. I was pregnant, darn it, I deserved a break!

During my second trimester, morning sickness had diminished (both pregnancies) and food all of a sudden was like a drug to me. I couldn't contain the excitement that a piece (or two) of my mom's homemade pie brought me. And you better believe portions were doubled. I was eating for two, everyone knew. "Don't all pregnant women do this?" I would think, as I pushed my doc's advice out of my head. I was convinced my doctor was crazy -- only 300 extra calories a day beginning the second trimester? REALLY? Once again, I ignored advice (and every pregnancy book sharing the same information) so I could do what I thought my body was telling me to -- filling up on crap I was craving (and too much of it) knowing very well these foods didn't fall into the healthy food groups. The result: a TOTALLY sluggish Heidi that wanted nothing more than to lay in bed whenever possible.

I didn't make it to my third trimester without some serious pain. From about halfway through both pregnancies, I had the most incredibly painful hip and lower back problems... to the point where I limped when I walked. I spent nearly every single week (if not twice a week) at the chiropractor or doctor's office trying to figure out what the heck was going wrong. I finally conceded and decided this was just how my body carried babies. I figured my hips were too small for a baby, and that every pregnancy was going to nearly handicap me. My doctor mentioned a few times that regular movement and exercise would help this, but I was convinced he didn't know what he was talking about. I was in too much pain to exercise -- didn't he know?

Swollen feet were no strangers to me. One foot was so swollen, my friends and family joked I had a serious case of "elephantitis" in that foot/ankle. The other, swollen beyond recognition, but nothing like the "elephantitis" foot. In all honesty, this wasn't funny to me. It was painful both physically and emotionally, but I laughed about it to keep from crying. When I asked my doc about it, once again, he suggested regular exercise, walking, and a healthier diet. Yet again, I was convinced he was just a man, and didn't understand. I was going to do this my way.

Delivery time. Both babies made their arrival 10 days early. Luckily, they were both healthy, but like any mom would, I had a mild panic attack feeling like they may not have gotten enough time to bake in Mom's womb.

The delivery itself felt incredibly painful. I didn't feel strong enough to do it without drugs, so opted for an epidural. The experience was awesome, but recovery was not. In the following hours, days, weeks, and months, I felt incredibly fragile, weak and tired. I found my drive to get back to the gym, even after the doctor's approval, was harder than ever.

I vowed I was done with pregnancies -- until I met Chris, that is.

Pregnancies #3 and #4

I'm no spring chicken anymore at 29 and 31, but I went into both of these pregnancies fitter than ever. Almost daily CrossFit, hiking with our Extreme Weight Loss peeps at bootcamp, and running after my other kiddos kept me in tip top shape. I felt GREAT!

Terrified at the thought of my other two pregnancies, I decided to try a different route these times... a route prescribed by doctors, and one I had seen work for many others. I committed to be fit during the babies' gestation periods, and committed to not give into my craving in an unhealthy way. I committed to carry on my exercise, as my doctors mentioned I could (along with nearly every other book and reliable resource), and committed to simply modifying my exercise routines enough to ensure the safety of myself and the baby without giving into my natural inclination to let my pregnancy be an excuse to stop working out. I committed to providing the healthiest environment possible for these babies to grow and develop in, no matter how sick I felt. I was doing pregnancy different, because darn it, my babies and I deserve better!

First trimester brought the textbook sickness and sluggishness, but I didn't let it stop me. Believe me when I say that ALL I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and sleep... but I didn't. I got up each and every day and hiked with our Extreme Weight Loss peeps. I used their hard work as motivation to keep going. If THEY could fight discomfort to make healthy changes in their lives, I could do the same. These first weeks were hard to get through, but I made it through, only sacrificing a little bit of my fitness to make sure my heart rate didn't spike too high (per doctors orders -- I'm listening this time).

Second trimester was what I called my "dream trimester" these two times. Would you believe it -- I didn't experience ANY hip pain, ANY swollen feet or ankles, and ANY fatigue! What? These two pregnancies were both during some of the most stressful times in my life (the passing of my father, and travel/work galore, along with 2-3 other kids to run after and care for); I didn't think that was even possible. But it was my reality, thanks to my continued levels of exercise and healthy eating (adding the doctor-recommended 300 extra calories a day).

I made it to the third trimester with a smile on my face and energy to spare. CrossFitting whenever I get the chance (as some of you may see in posted pics), Warrior Dashing (with care, of course), and running 5ks at any opportunity I get with our EWL peeps. While my levels of intensity and exercise naturally decreased as these pregnancies progressed, the workouts have yet to stop. Yes, even CrossFit.

I have yet to deliver baby #4, but let's talk about the delivery of #3 for now. I made it to D-Day with zero medical issues -- no swelling, no hip problems, no gestational diabetes -- and actually carried #3 10 days BEYOND my due date! That's a whopping 20 days longer than my body wanted to carry babies #1 and #2. Needless to say, I was a happy mama knowing my baby had ample time to grow and develop exactly where he should have been.

Speaking of the delivery... ummm, can I say a breeze? This time epidural-free, and maybe 30 minutes of intense contractions before Baby Cash made his appearance.

Now let's talk about recovery. Also a breeze! I would have never imagined that within the hour of delivery, I was feeling good enough to walk to the bathroom. By the next day, I felt like the pre-pregnant me (but I needed to watch my activity, of course). And within the next few days, I had forgotten my body had even delivered a baby (aside from the pooch that gave the appearance that Baby Cash was still inside). As soon as the doc gave me the okay to work out, I was ready to rock and feeling better than ever.

And the Winner Is...

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At 32 weeks pregnant, I continue modifying my workouts. Pictured here, a 75 pounds press, down from my pre-pregnancy 105 pounds press.

Pregnancies #3 and #4, without a shadow of a doubt. It turns out that the doctors, reputable pregnancy sources, and loads of pregnancy books I invested in were right after all. Through my own personal experiences, I have learned that as long as the doctor approves, you can continue working out while pregnant! Not only can you, but you should continue working out while you are pregnant!

Myths of the past told us that exercise is bad for pregnant women, and that doing so can put our babies lives at risk. THIS IS A MYTH! Modern day research has proven to doctors (and those reliable online sources) that exercise is incredibly beneficial to the health of Mommy and Baby. Here are just a few of the many benefits:

A healthy gestational period for the baby

Lower risk of gestational diabetes by as much as 27 percent

Increased chanced of a healthy birth weight baby

Boosted energy for the expectant mom

Less back and joint aching

Better sleep for the expectant mom

Severely reduced pregnancy discomfort

Reduced stress levels for the expectant mom

Improved self-image for expectant mom

Preparation for childbirth

Higher likelihood to deliver WITHOUT forceps, C-section, or other intervention

Shorter labor

Less leg swelling

Reduced morning sickness

Lower risk of preeclampsia (leading cause of premature birth)

As far as judgment on moms that appear too "hard core," there is a great chance we have never walked a day in anyone else's shoes. What may appear as "pushing too hard" to one person may in fact be very modified and scaled-down to another. As well, what may seem as "not enough" to one mom may indeed be "pushing the limits" to another.

The most important thing to is to listen to your doctor's advice. If you are not high-risk and are able to exercise, then go do it! Just a word of caution, you should NEVER increase your level of intensity while you are pregnant. If you didn't CrossFit before you were pregnant, you shouldn't CrossFit while you are pregnant. Be smart, listen to your body, modify as needed, and make a healthier baby!

One final word: Let's try judging less and educating ourselves more on what will indeed be in our own best interest while pregnant.

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