Even in 2015, it's still hard for many people to grasp: It's OK for pregnant women to work out. Visibly pregnant runners get confused, even critical glances. Fitness model Sarah Stage was bashed by commenters after Instagram pics of her "six-pack" went viral, telling her that her workouts weren't allowing her baby to grow. (He was later born at a healthy 8 pounds.)
"Pregnancy is not a disease," Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an ob-gyn and ABC News medical contributor, told me. "We need to stop thinking of pregnant women as if they are sick or deformed—and enter the modern era, in which we know conclusively that exercise is safe for a pregnant woman."
Sure, you may need to modify your regular barre moves. And sometimes you might just want to become one with your couch and eat all the gelato. But for low-risk pregnancies, exercise is encouraged as healthy by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Here are a few more things every pregnant woman should know about exercising...
1. Working out during pregnancy is not dangerous.
In fact, it's the opposite. According to ACOG, the benefits of exercising while expecting include reduced backaches and bloating, more energy, better mood, and, of course, muscle tone and strength, which come in handy. "Pregnancy, labor, and delivery are athletic events," Dr. Ashton says. "You should train for them."
2. You can still do cardio.
It's a myth that you have to give up jogging or dancing. "Any exercises a woman did before pregnancy, she can continue to do while she's pregnant," Dr. Ashton says. To make sure you're not going too hard, use the "talk test," suggests Sarah Haley, a pre/postnatal exercise specialist certified by the American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA) and founder of the prenatal exercise DVD Expecting More. "Make sure you can talk out loud" when you're mid-cardio.
3. You can let your heart rate go above 140 beats per minute.
If your heart rate is too fast, then blood flow to your uterus can become impaired. So until 2010, the 140 beats per minute was ACOG's go-to. But because maximum heart rate varies from person to person, across different ages and fitness levels, the medical board removed that guideline. Now many ob-gyns recommend the talk test. If you do want to use a heart rate monitor, Dr. Ashton suggests not going over 80 percent of your max (generally, your max is 200 minus your age.)
4. You probably shouldn't go to hot yoga.
Or run in the heat, because doctors believe that very high temperatures over a long period of time can hurt a developing fetus. That said, "it's OK to break sweat," Haley says. "That's your body's way of cooling down." You can still downward-dog on the reg at regular, or prenatal yoga.
5. If you weren't exercising regularly before pregnancy, it's not too late to start.
How do you handle the "if you were doing it before, you can keep doing it" rule when, oops, you weren't working out before you got pregnant? Meet with a prenatal certified trainer for advice on how to stay fit, Haley suggests. Safe, low-impact exercises like walking and swimming can be good place to start.
6. Your baby is not bouncing around in your uterus like a pinball when you work out.
A PSA for everyone who legitimately questions whether the baby is jostling around in your belly during spin class. Flash back to middle school bio for a sec. Your baby is ensconced in amniotic fluid, the placenta, your uterus, and your abdominal walls. "It's so cushioned in there, sometimes the baby doesn't want to come out," Haley says.
7. If you work out often during pregnancy and don't gain a ton of weight, it doesn't mean your baby won't have room to grow or will be born underweight.
Look at "pregnant six-pack" model Stage. Yes, she looked/looks superhuman. But that's because she's an "elite athlete," Dr. Ashton says. She says Stage gained an appropriate amount of weight for her BMI. And her son was perfectly healthy.
8. You can still lift weights.
Steer clear of extremely heavy ones (above 50 pounds), as they could put stress on your pelvic floor, Haley says. But especially if you're in the habit of strength-training, you can lift what you're comfortable with. After all, once the baby comes, you'll be lifting every day—usually between 6 and 9 pounds at birth, according to the American Pregnancy Association, plus the weight of his or her car seat or stroller.
9. You can still do ab exercises.
Classic crunches or other core moves that involve lying on your back aren't advised after the first trimester, according to ACOG, as they can put pressure on the fetus. But exercises like planks and modified (non-lying-on-your-back) Pilates can help keep your core strong and support the extra weight around your abdomen.
10. Working out during pregnancy is a gift for your sanity.
It's not just about limiting weight gain, although that's a motivator, because gaining too much for your BMI can lead to increased risk of C-section, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure). The psychological and mental effects of exercise are huge during pregnancy. "It's another way that you can maintain some control over your body, which is changing at lightning speed," Haley says. "I took a hip-hop class when I was pregnant and people were often like, 'Why are you here?' Because for an hour, I just felt so normal."
11. Don't go downhill skiing, horseback riding, skydiving, or play contact sports (like soccer).
Dr. Ashton and ACOG suggest skipping sports that pose a risk of a high-speed fall. Do you really have to be convinced to sit in the lodge and drink hot chocolate?
12. The workouts you did during your first pregnancy won't necessarily feel best for your second (if you go there).
"During my first pregnancy, I was doing jumping jacks," Haley says. But the second time around, after carrying and delivering one baby, "my pelvic floor was not what it was," so she stuck to lower-impact exercise. Even if you kegel your brains out, she says, sometimes second pregnancies (and beyond) mean switching up your regimen. The bottom line: Listen to your body and do what works for you.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.