Staying Healthy and Fit while Pregnant

Staying Healthy and Fit while Pregnant

By Sharon Jackson, a nutrition and fitness expert,

Pregnancy is a time to take really good care of yourself. It’s not an excuse to eat a nightly pint of ice cream or stuff yourself with heaping portions of mac and cheese. The saying, “I’m eating for two” applies somewhat, but it doesn’t mean to go over board.

You’re caloric needs do go up but are different for each trimester.

For example: The first trimester, no extra calories are needed. The second trimester an additional 340 calories are suggested. The third trimester an additional 450 calories are recommended.

A good way to add those extra calories are with nutrient dense foods such as nuts, good fats like avocados, a homemade smoothie with coconut milk, almond butter, a banana and frozen berries; better to make your own with real food than formulated shakes with unhealthy additives like canola oil lecithin   Also if you exercise, caloric needs will be a little more. Look for future articles I’ll be posting that contain healthy recipes.

Weight gain recommendations are different for each woman because it depends upon where you start out and also if you’re having twins. Many women start off their pregnancy over weight or obese. Research shows the risk of problems during pregnancy and delivery is lowest when weight gain is kept within a healthy range. Obesity during pregnancy is risky for both mother and child. Some risks include, gestational diabetes, gestational high blood pressure, C-Section, birth defects and even fetal death. If a woman is obese during her pregnancy, it also raises the chance her child will be obese later in life. Once you have a lot of fat cells you can’t get rid of them. You can shrink them, through lifestyle changes, but the propensity for obesity will always be there.

 Weight Gain Guidelines:

This is based on a woman’s BMI (body mass index before pregnancy) To figure out your BMI click on the link:

 Underweight: BMI below 18.5

Normal Weight: 18.5 to 24.9

Overweight: 25.0 to 29.9

Obese: 30.0 and above 

The weight ranges below are for a full term pregnancy:

Underweight: 28 to 40 lbs.

Normal: 25 to 35 lbs.

Overweight: 15 to 25 lbs.

Obese: 11 to 20 lbs.

 For twins the recommendation are:

Normal: 37 to 54 lbs.

Overweight: 31 to 50 lbs.

Obese: 25 to 42 lbs.

Note: There are no set guidelines for underweight BMI weight gain with twins. 


Being active has been proven to make labor and delivery easier to handle. It’s still an intense experience no matter how you slice it. I was in really good condition during my pregnancy as I continued to lift weights, do cardio and Yoga like I had for years. I don’t believe I would have been able to handle 36 hours of labor if I didn’t. Most people’s mouths drop when I tell them that. It was like an Olympic event that I prepared for and could handle. I had a traditional birth and recovered my pre-pregnancy body back within 6 to 8 weeks thanks to all the consistent workouts and healthy eating.  It’s a total myth that after you have a baby, your body is never the same. Yes, that’s true if you never took care of yourself and allow the effects of aging and inactivity to take their toll. As the saying goes, “Move it or lose it.”

Every woman’s body and pregnancy experience is different but we can all agree that exercise is essential. If you have never done a stitch of exercise then it’s best to do something gentle and get an okay from your doctor to workout. If you’ve never lifted weights before or seen the inside of a gym, then I strongly recommend to work with a certified pre/post natal fitness professional.

An article from the Mayo Clinic discusses heart rate and exercise during pregnancy. It says to stay below 60% of your maximum heart rate level. To calculate your max hear rate use this formula:

 1) 220 – Age = max heart rate (This is for men/ for women, use 226 – Age = Max HR)

2) Multiply the max heart rate from step one. Let’s say the person is 20 years old so the new number will be 200 (Max Heart Rate for a male).

3) 200 x 60% = 120 beats per minute.

You can use any percentage from 60% or less to figure out what your heart rate should be during pregnancy. [When not pregnant the recommendations are to work out between 75% to 85% of your Max HR. NOTE: People at very high levels of fitness can increase those percentages as they adapt to increasing work loads when not pregnant. ]

To accurately monitor your heart rate, I suggest buying a heart rate monitor that you wear like a watch. You can always take your pulse at your radial artery (wrist) or carotid artery (neck). Never feel with your thumb because it has a pulse of its own. You count for 10 seconds starting with zero (i.e. 0,1,2,3,4…) and multiply the number you get by 6 to get your heart rate for one minute. If I count that my heart beats 25 times in 10 seconds I multiply my answer by 6.  For example:  25 x 6 = 150. This tells me I have a heart rate of 150 for one minute. Alternatively you can count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply it by 2.

Check out this link for learning how to manually take your pulse:

If exercise is too strenuous then it could move the blood from the uterus to the muscles and skin which means less oxygen will reach the baby.

As your pregnancy progresses, it may feel harder to work out at the same pace you did as when you were in 2nd trimester. I know I felt more tired and winded when I was in my eighth month. Stop exercising immediately if you feel nausea, have to vomit, there’s bleeding, dizziness, light headedness, headache, over heating or dehydration, unusual vaginal discharge, belly pain, lower back pain or fatigue. See your doctor immediately, if any of those things occur.

The gauge for aerobic exercise while pregnant is that you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you can’t speak normally while working out, you’re probably pushing yourself too hard.

Types of exercise you can do while pregnant:

Yoga – Pre-natal. If you’ve been doing yoga for a long time, then you can probably handle the more challenging classes. Keep in mind that the hormone relaxin is increased to prepare your baby to pass through the birth canal, so ligaments become more elastic and prone to abnormal joint motion. This can lead to inflammation and pain. So use caution and avoid extreme yoga poses that could result in dislocating a joint. As you approach the end of your 2nd trimester, avoid leg lifts, back bends, laying on your belly

Strength training or body conditioning – Weight training or body conditioning (They basically mean the same thing) involves the use of light weights, body weight exercises and/or machines. You want to do a workout that addresses all planes of movement. Some of my favorite exercises for pregnancy are plank for the core. Having strong abdominals is critical to delivery as well as recovery. Specifically target the transverse abdominals which are the deeper muscle layers that  run underneath the rectus abdominus and hold your organs from dropping out. It’s similar to a hammock. See this link for a good explanation and visual of how to locate your transverse abdominal muscles.

Swimming, walking or running. As you reach the end of your 2nd trimester, activities like running have too much high impact and are best substituted with something non-impact like walking. The uterus gets larger and your center of gravity changes making you more prone to have a fall. Best to avoid hills and stay on flat ground. No hills.

At five months (20 weeks) avoid exercises that have you lay on your back because it can put pressure on the inferior vena cab, the large vein that runs vertically the length of your abdomen and is responsible for returning blood to the heart.

6th months, your blood volume increases by 40% during pregnancy and your cardiac output (heart rate times the amount of blood pumped per beat) increases by 30-40 percent. So stay hydrated and use moderation at this point.

For those who opt out of exercise during pregnancy that’s fine too. Just do something simple like walking for 30 minutes a day. Plenty of women have healthy babies who choose not to workout. Some pregnancy related conditions make it unsafe to exercise such as placenta previa, preeclampsia, or intrauterine growth retardation. If you have a history of miscarriages or an insufficient cervix, your Ob/Gyn may encourage you not to exercise. Better to protect your baby by avoiding physical activity than to take an unnecessary risk.

If you’re interested in learning about Sharon’s fitness services, you can reach her directly at: or 917-860-1584

Read more about Sharon Jackson here