Countless studies confirm that prenatal exercise is healthy for you and your growing baby. But there's research, and there's reality. How can you go for a power walk when you have to stop every 10 minutes to pee? Or your feet are so swollen, they look like Nerf balls with toes? Or you're so nauseous that you just want to curl up on the couch?
"Pregnancy shakes up your whole life, including your workouts, so you have to get creative," says Louisville, Kentucky-based childbirth educator Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE, author of Everything Pregnancy Fitness (Adams Media Corp.).
In most cases you can work around even the most annoying symptoms. You just need to tweak your exercise schedule and routine, as well as your mind-set. "Normally when you're not feeling well, you'll skip a workout, but when you're pregnant, you have to learn to live with it since you may not feel well for a prolonged period," says Tracey Mallett, creator of the 3 in 1 Pregnancy System DVD and a fitness instructor in South Pasadena, California. Here's how to stay active even when you're uncomfortable and as big as a duplex.
Solutions: "Find a time of day when you're not as prone to feeling ill, and do something less strenuous," advises Weiss. "Instead of taking an early-morning Spinning class, do yoga in the late afternoon." Thirty minutes before your workout, eat some bland crackers. Motion-sickness bracelets such as Sea-Bands ($10), available at drugstores, also can help, as can ginger.
Obstacle: Backache or hip pain
Solutions: Stick to a low-impact workout featuring fluid movements, such as swimming, pool walking, or exercising on the elliptical machine or the recumbent bike. "These types of exercise increase blood flow, which loosens up your back and hip joints so you don't feel as achy," says prenatal exercise expert Amie Hoff, a fitness consultant for New York Sports Clubs in New York City. Swimming the breaststroke is a great option since it keeps your pelvis open and relaxed.
Light stretching may also do the trick by releasing tension in your hips, lower back and hamstrings. After a cardio warm-up, sit on the floor with your legs out straight or in a V and gently lean forward from your hips for 15 to 30 seconds, Hoff suggests. Also try sitting with your legs in a butterfly position (feet together, knees out). Weiss recommends pelvic tilts, which can be done while standing against a wall or seated on a ball or even in your car. (For instructions on performing pelvic tilts correctly, visit fitpregnancy.com/ontheball.)
Obstacle: Frequent peeing
Solutions: A gym workout means you'll be close to a bathroom, and if you're taking a class, tell your instructor you're pregnant so she'll understand your frequent departures. If you prefer walking in the fresh air, plan your route in a neighborhood that has a coffee house or restaurant on every block, or locate the bathroom at a local park and do laps in the vicinity. For trail hiking, bring along toilet tissue--and make sure you're still able to squat. Late in pregnancy, as your baby moves deeper into your pelvis, you may leak urine when you work out. "Wear a pad so if you drip a little, you'll be protected," says Hoff.