Lea-Ann Ellison, a mother-to-be, sparked controversy recently when she posted a photo of herself squatting before a barbell on Facebook. An advocate of CrossFit, she felt proud of her accomplishment and wanted to share. When reported by Yahoo!, 6,536 comments (at last count) quickly piled up and though some webizens condemned her practice of lifting the barbell while pregnant, many others congratulated her or spoke in her defense.

Loud and personal opinions aside, the question remains: is weight-training while pregnant safe or not?

Work at a Comfortable Pace

The Baby Center Medical Advisory Board lists weight training among its ‘great pregnancy exercises.’ That said, it outlines clear safety tips organized by trimester. During the first trimester, the general rule of thumb is to lower the weight while increasing the repetitions. What should be happening are slow, controlled movements where "muscle — not momentum — is moving muscle," Julie Tupler, RN, stated on the website.

Beginning in the second trimester and continuing till birth, Tupler puts the kibosh on lifting weights while standing still: "Instead, sit down to lift weights." The reason involves increased blood volume, which means that instead of flowing as usual, blood may pool in the legs. This, in turn, could leave a pregnant woman feeling lightheaded or dizzy. She recommends that a mother-to-be also avoid lying on a flat bench to lift or taking a position that places her belly in a position where it might be “vulnerable to a falling weight.”

Overall, the key is to start slowly and work only at a comfortable pace and level.

As expected, Bodybuilding.com sees many advantages to exercising while pregnant, and it should be said upfront that Bodybuilding.com's approach is from the perspective of a personal trainer, not a certified medical professional. Interestingly, the site focuses on the benefits of general exercise as opposed to weightlifting for pregnant women. Beginning with “fewer problems experienced during childbirth,” the site's trainer/author suggests that exercising while pregnant may result in:

  • Enhanced post natal recovery

  • Lower incidence of backaches and less severe headaches

  • Increased energy levels

  • Increased flexibility

  • Increased aerobic capacity

  • Better circulation of blood to the extremities

  • Pregnancy-related constipation avoidance

This recommendation along with those of the Baby Center suggest that weight training while pregnant is not an automatic ‘no.’ Many might draw the line at CrossFit, the popular ‘fitness regimen’ (as well as fitness company) that is commonly described as “boot-camp” style exercising. Although no studies have been done, it seems there’s no real reason to draw the line at CrossFit; a mom-to-be would simply need to say 'no-no' to any of the exercises that seem too difficult or make her uncomfortable. In short, as recommended above, go slowly and carefully.

It is, of course, always recommended that a woman discuss her exercise plan first with her OB/GYN. After that, a talk with other women who similarly chose to exercise during pregnancy might be in order. In the end, proof of a healthy child born after exercising during pregnancy speaks loudest of all.