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It’s OK for your body to get soft during pregnancy

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,

Lily

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! 👇

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

10 Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing this Lily! As a fitness professional I have struggled with this so much this pregnancy (my 3rd,) as I have been sick with HG and unable to move as I would like. I keep reminding myself this is temporary and it’s all in service of nurturing this little one.

  2. I LOVE this article! As someone who has been a competitive athlete through her whole life, even into adulthood, I’ve always had a hard time slowing down or taking time to adjust my workout schedule to accommodate fatigue. Since becoming pregnant (26 weeks now), I’ve had a lot of trouble coping with the accommodations I’ve needed to make due to fatigue and general uncomfortableness. Additionally, I’ve struggled with the weight gain that comes along with pregnancy.

    This article is an amazing reminder that it’s okay to slow down, adapt, and “get soft”. I’m still learning to love my new/changing body, but your advice is definitely helping!

  3. I think it is so important to state that pregnancy means expansion. Stress, fear and all that pressure makes us tension up and tighten, where the body is supposed to go through a transition towards more soft (not only the body but also the emotions). Yes, movements / exercises are helpful but they should be meaningful. It shouldn’t be about aesthetics but about supporting physiology!

  4. I really appreciate this and needed it today. I lost 40 pounds over the last 2 years and finally feel good in my body. Therefore, it is hard now that I am pregnant to see my body changing and to not start panicking. These two points especially hit home:
    -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?

    Thank you for addressing this and I hope in reading this and hearing from an expert, I can start to adjust my thinking during my pregnancy and see the changes as a beautiful and necessary thing. I don’t want to punish myself and my body for doing exactly what it is suppose to be doing. Thank you for giving me permission to show myself grace (I needed to hear this from someone else!)

  5. I loved this! I’ve seen far too many women say things like “ I’m going to keep up my regular workout routine throughout pregnancy to prove that women are strong” or “to show my child that I’m a strong woman” or “ to prove to society that women don’t have to give up doing what they love to become mothers”. Absolutely women are strong! And it’s wonderful to keep doing what you love after you have kids! But the implication in these statements is that if you need to slow down due to physiological changes, you’re somehow giving up or weak. That’s always bothered me! So anyway, I truly appreciated your post and this article.

  6. Thank you for sharing this Lily! Many of us wrestle with this topic, especially first timers, as we feel out the journey of pregnancy and how that matches (or doesn’t match) our expectation. Personally, I found it difficult to adhere to a workout routine during pregnancy but I had the support of my midwife to help me focus on specific moves to prepare for birth. Now 7 months postpartum, I am finally back to a regular routine, often exercising with or around the baby, and going for walks with her every day. I can feel myself getting stronger and returning to my pre-pregnancy body. Everyone is different, and I have to keep in mind that this journey is mine, and no one else’s.

  7. Hi Lily, I’m a personal trainer and am currently 21 weeks in my first pregnancy. I absolutely love what you’re saying and this message needs to be made more aware to women. Women in general don’t tend to honour themselves and listen to their body even when not pregnant. I see it all the time as a coach and have always encouraged clients to listen to their body, especially through their cycle. Working with the body, not against the body.
    I’ve found there is no escaping it during pregnancy. From someone who has trained at least 3x a week for 8+ years, I haven’t done my usual training now for 21 weeks. I’ve listened to my body every step of the way and especially in the first trimester all I needed was to rest. I had no energy to be exercising. But come the second trimester walks, stretching, yoga started to become a part of my life instead of picking up weights. That is what my body craved so I listened to it.
    I always said I’d exercise all the way through pregnancy, keep up my normal routine, but I learnt that my body needed something else, a different type of movement and rest. After all we are growing a human inside of us. If that isn’t a job and a half I don’t know what is.
    I have yes put on a little weight as you do, am a little soft, but I absolutely love my body. I am the most proud I’ve ever been of my body. I love every aspect and I believe it’s because I’ve honoured it every step of the way.
    I don’t think there is enough education on this topic and I’m so grateful for you to be educating women on it. Thank you. Amy x

  8. I LOVED this article!!! I see sooo many women exercise in the gym throughout pregnancy and end up with a c-section! We actually need a balanced pelvis to give birth, walking, squats, and chiropractic care are all excellent to achieve pelvic balance!
    Pregnant women should focus on preparing for birth not staying toned .

  9. As someone who has an eating disorder in my background, being pregnant and the regular weigh ins at appointments was a challenge. When I was pregnant with my second baby I was nursing way too much my first born and not eating nearly enough. My cousin saw me at a family reunion and enthusiastically complimented me “you’re so skinny this pregnancy!” and it made me very uncomfortable…
    The in late third trimester the baby developed an alarming heart arrhythmia and we discovered she had a hole in her heart and had a serious blood sugar crash after birth. Thank God she was born with it already resolving itself, but it woke me up that I needed to change a lot of things if I wanted more kids.

    I’m not happy with the weight I’m at now but I’m eating more nutritionally dense than I ever have and feel good while addressing the chronic health issues that have caused the weight gain.
    I care more about being healthy than getting on the slippery slope of counting calories and focusing on measurements (eating disorders come up no matter what size you are as a default to “manage” stress).
    Thank you Lily for all your hard work, your podcasts and writings have been one of pivot points in getting things back on track!

  10. I needed to read this today. I had to leave a pilates class halfway through because I was in agony from my heartburn, but the next day I did a 50-minute CrossFit workout with zero issues. Today I noticed. That I am looking softer and less muscled and I can’t lift nearly as much weight as I used to. I have even been stressing over the number on the scale.
    I needed to read this as a reminder that my body is preparing for a lot of things I am not even thinking about yet. Thank you.

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