Experts weigh in on if you can keep up with your core work while expecting

By By Sophie Dweck
Lori Adamski Peek/Getty Images

By now, you probably know that working out while pregnant is not only okay, it's encouraged, especially if you're already active. In fact, keeping up with a consistent workout schedule while carrying around that extra medicine ball of joy can actually help you prevent a C-section birth, as well as avoid gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. But ab exercises can be especially confusing territory for pregnant women.

First, as a general pregnancy rule, you can continue doing the exercises your body is used to. "Pregnancy is not the time to start and initiate a new program," says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Mount Kisco Medical Group in Westchester County, New York. "If you're already accustomed to doing certain exercises, then they're probably okay. Just cut down the intensity a bit."

But you do want to be careful when it comes to ab exercises, avoiding anything that requires being on your back after the first trimester. "Your growing uterus can compress the vena cava, the major vessel that returns blood to your heart, potentially reducing blood flow and making you feel dizzy or nauseated," as our sister site, Fit Pregnancy, said in The Truth About Prenatal Exercise.

This makes planks a solid alternative to exercises like crunches, as long as you're careful not to strain your back. "Planks are generally safe during pregnancy, but you run the risk of injuring your back due to the strain the baby's weight can put on your body," says Kristin McGee, a yoga, Pilates, and fitness professional who recently welcomed two twin boys.

Some advice: It's really important to engage the deep core muscles, says McGee. Draw your belly in to create a neutral spine (otherwise, you risk potential discomfort, back strain, or simply cheating your way out of an effective workout). There's also cause for concern if you have diastasis recti, a condition that causes the tissue that holds the abdominal walls together to separate to accommodate your expanding tummy. Women who have this surprisingly common condition could also experience "coning," when ab muscles bulge during an exercise that's causing too much stress on the abs. In that case, you'll want to put aside your goal of six-pack abs until after you have the baby. The important thing is to just listen to your body, says McGee.

McGee recommends trying different variations and modifications of the plank, such as an inclined plank. By bracing your hands or forearms on something elevated (think: a coffee table or bench), you can avoid discomfort or pressure in your lower back, and in turn, the exercise could actually be more effective. She also says side planks are safer when your belly is really starting to pop, plus they're a great way to work your obliques.

Bottom line: If you already feel comfortable and confident in what you're doing in the gym, at the studio, or in your living room, go for it, but just remember to listen to your body (and baby).

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