It’s OK for your body to get soft during pregnancy.
In fact, it’s supposed to. Pregnancy is a time of expansion & creation, of growing & softening, of surrendering & slowing down.
Yes, it’s important to nourish ourselves & move our bodies (as I outline in Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes), however, I think sometimes “fit culture” can create unrealistic expectations.
Not too long ago, I shared a post on social media explaining why I made this statement: “It’s OK for your body to get soft during pregnancy” and what I meant by it.
I’ve decided to expand upon it in this article to clarify any confusion. My purpose in sharing the original post was NOT to dissuade women from exercising, but rather to:
- Normalize physiological changes that your body goes through during pregnancy (it will “get soft” regardless of how diligently you work out)
- Encourage adapting your movement routine to whatever stage of pregnancy you’re in (that means being mindful of your body’s symptoms)
- Reassure women who are naturally athletic (or who usually love working out) that it’s OK to slow down and it’s OK for your body to change; it’s designed to do exactly that!
Some form of movement is arguably essential to a healthy pregnancy and I’m in no way negating the many benefits in staying active. There are dozens upon dozens of studies showing the benefits of a regular movement routine for both maternal and fetal outcomes.
That said, I often see the athletes & fitness-focused women get a little too wrapped up in trying to maintain the exact same level of activity or type of movement throughout their pregnancies and then beat themselves up when they cannot keep up with it or when their bodies put on more fat and lose muscle during pregnancy. But “active” is a relative term & the meaning of it can change during pregnancy.
My statement was to highlight that your movement/exercise routine may shift and that’s ok.
Pregnancy is all about adapting and when it comes to movement, you’ll find the need to adapt your movement to your stage of pregnancy.
First trimester: For example, if you’re exhausted and can’t make it through a typical workout in the first trimester, honor that. First off, it’s 100% normal (I cover first trimester symptoms, expectations, and reassurance in this article), and second of all, your job is to respond to the needs of your ever-changing body. When it’s asking you to rest, REST!
Second trimester: Later on in pregnancy, you may have bursts of energy (usually the second trimester), where your body craves movement and perhaps you can do many of the same activities as pre-pregnancy. That’s fantastic! Go for it! As I cover in the exercise chapter of Real Food for Pregnancy, most types of movement continue to be safe during pregnancy. Honor the need to move and enjoy yourself.
Third trimester: As you approach the final months of pregnancy, again, your body’s movement needs and what feels good may again shift. You know those people who run or walk with weighted vests? Well, guess what? You have a built-in weight vest that you’re carrying around 24/7. Not only that, but it’s pushing up on your lungs, limiting how much oxygen you can take in at one time (it’s normal to feel out of breath easily for this reason). Maybe your baby’s head is now sitting pretty low in your pelvis, making long walks or runs uncomfortable (sorry, but the waddle is often unavoidable!). Maybe there’s a lot of pressure in your pelvic floor and “bouncier” exercises no longer feel good.
You can guess what I’m going to say here: HONOR THAT. It’s ok to slow down in the third trimester. You don’t need to beat yourself up in the gym to “prepare” for birth, even if your usual workouts are less often and less intense. Your body is fully capable of birthing your baby, I promise. Yes to continuing walks, stretching, squats, and whatever else feels good, but it’s OK to shift your movement routine.
All of this to say: if your body is telling you to slow down or shift your movement, slow down and shift!
I see a lot of fitness-focused expecting mothers upset when they slow down or adapt their workouts (or gain weight) as if something is wrong with them, when in reality, their body is doing exactly what it’s designed to do!
Furthermore, no matter how much you work out, there is no bypassing maternal physiology. Part of the adaptation to pregnancy is accruing additional fat mass to support fetal growth and prepare for breastfeeding (your body will pull from maternal fat stores to supply the energy for breast milk production). This is all NORMAL and by design! It’s a beautiful system.
Whether you move a lot or not, your body is designed to grow and, yes, get “soft” during pregnancy.
I think it’s important to step back & ask yourself why you’re trying to maintain the same fitness level as you had pre-pregnancy:
- Are you worried about gaining “too much” weight? (Is there such a thing?)
- Are you worried that if you don’t keep up now, you’ll “let yourself go” & never be physically capable of lifting, running, etc. after baby arrives?
- Are your workouts still serving you? After working out, do you feel energized, strong & happy or depleted & achy?
- Are your workouts an act of love or punishment?
- Do you use working out as your primary form of stress management? I so, can you find other ways to manage your stress so you have other options to support your mental health? (…because you won’t be able to do the same heavy workouts in early postpartum; rather your body needs time to heal, rest, and recover)
I know that, no matter how many disclaimers I give, some people will see this information as being “against” working out in pregnancy. It’s not. I actively encourage *some form* of regular movement/exercise during pregnancy (again, there’s a whole chapter on it in Real Food for Pregnancy), however, more is not better, harder is not better.
Sometimes slowing down is the appropriate response when everything in your body is asking you to (this message especially applies to the women who never miss a workout). Your body sends you messages for a reason.
It’s OK if all your body wants for movement is walking and stretching. It’s OK if you can’t or don’t feel good lifting heavy weights. It’s OK to slow down. It’s OK for your body to get soft. It’s supposed to. You’re still capable and you’re still strong. Your body is doing an amazing job.
Until next time,
PS – This topic stirred up quite a bit of mixed feelings over on Instagram. I’m curious what your thoughts are! Leave them in the comments below! 👇