03/21/2014 05:54 EDT | Updated 05/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Should I Hit the Gym With a Baby Bump?

Written by Marianne Litman for

It's the age old question ... well maybe not the age old question, but it has to be in the pregnancy top ten: Should I exercise while I am pregnant? And, what is "too much" when it comes to working out with a baby bump?

Mothers around the world are constantly trying to do what is best for their growing baby; but often they receive conflicting information. Is it no alcohol at all, or a glass of red wine once a week? Can I keep up my daily habit of a bath or should I stick to showers? Can I take acetaminophen if I have a bad headache during pregnancy, or should I avoid it all together?

It's no wonder moms-to-be everywhere are scratching their heads and wondering if exercising is a good or bad idea during their pregnancy. Misinformation on the internet, or even from friends or loved ones, can convince women that exercise is best left for post-baby.

In September 2013, with two weeks left in her pregnancy, Lea-Ann Ellison posted a photo of herself lifting weights on a CrossFit Facebook page; the backlash was swift and polarizing. While many saw Ellison as a strong mother doing what was best for her baby and her body, others felt her behavior was "sickening" and that she was putting her child's life at risk.

While Ellison may be an extreme case, many women avoid even light to moderate exercise during pregnancy because of fear.

Exercise has always been a way to stay healthy, both mentally and physically, so why do so many feel that women should avoid physical activity while pregnant? As Ellison said during the reaction to her photos, "people need to embrace a healthy lifestyle and for babies it starts in the womb." Unless specifically directed by your physician, pregnancy does not have to be a nine-month sentence to stay in bed and off your feet.

Related: 6 Ways to Get Your Body Ready for Pregnancy

Quite the opposite, in fact. On top of the general benefits of regular exercise, such as reduced stress, higher energy levels and better sleep patterns, there is a bonus list of benefits just for pregnant women. Women who exercise while pregnant reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, they require fewer obstetric interventions during labour and experience less incidences of bladder control during and after pregnancy. Their bodies are also more likely to quickly bounce back to their pre-pregnancy weight.

Not only will exercising keep you in top condition for when baby arrives, but it can also improve the health of your baby. A 2013 study found that exercise during gestation improves the child's vascular health into adulthood, while another study showed a positive correlation between gestational exercise and brain development in newborns.

So, don't fear hitting the gym while you're pregnant, even if you didn't before you had a bun in your oven. It is always best to speak with your doctor, midwife or caregiver before you start any exercise program to get the green-light to get moving.

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