Just like an expanding belly and raging hormones, morning sickness is a common side effect of pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. If you’re struggling to stay active due to nausea and fatigue, then it might be smart to rest up and lay low for a bit. However, exercise also has the power to help you feel better. Working out can offer a nice distraction, boost energy, and improve your mood. Here are five tips to keep you moving through morning sickness.
1. Stick to low- or moderate-intensity workouts.
According to Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a family and emergency medicine doctor, the increase and decrease of hormones during pregnancy often result in fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Exercise releases counteractive hormones. This is why some pregnant women experience relief from morning sickness with light activity or exercise, such as walking, yoga, low-impact aerobics, Pilates, or swimming.
“Every woman is going to have their own unique experience, meaning [that] some women don’t have morning sickness, while others can have extreme morning sickness that lasts their entire pregnancy,” says Aaptiv Trainer Amanda Butler. “So, generally speaking, exercise might help relieve nausea. It distracts you while increasing your overall health and increases your energy, potentially making you feel better. However, exercise can also exacerbate your nausea when not performed carefully.”
Listen to your body.
Butler recommends picking short, low-intensity workouts and gauging how your body responds during or afterward. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you have more energy? Does your fatigue go away? Has your nausea dissipated? If you feel pretty good, says Butler, try to make an effort every day to get in some type of exercise, no matter what it is, even for 20 minutes.
“Exercise, while experiencing morning sickness, is always a challenge with our clients,” adds Kevin Arnason, a Toronto-based personal trainer and owner of Motive 8 Fitness. “It’s important to find a balance when it comes to intensity. Completing a moderate-intensity workout will cause your body to release endorphins, which can help combat morning sickness by reducing stress and fatigue. That said, an increase in your body’s core temperature can make morning sickness much worse. How hard a person can exercise to find that fine line between feeling great and feeling ill is a case-by-case basis. Not only does it depend on the person, [but] it also depends on how that person slept, what they ate, the time of day, as well as many other factors.”
2. Adjust the time of your workout, and be flexible.
“Play around with the time of day [that] you work out,” suggests Rachel Piskin, a certified Pilates instructor in New York City. “While you might have been a person who worked out in the morning before your pregnancy, you might find that midday is best for you [when] you’re caring for a child. Be open to adjusting your daily routine so [that] your fitness goals can stay on track.”
Arnason agrees, noting that if you can schedule exercise around when you feel best, you’re more likely to stick to your workout routine as a whole. Or, if you experience morning sickness at random times throughout the day, you can take advantage of any window where you do feel good enough to get moving, he says.
That kind of flexibility is vital, says Piskin. “Get yourself dressed and out the door. Start walking, listen to music and reassess after ten minutes. If you still feel sick, do not force yourself to workout. Instead, revisit it the next day. You will get much more out of your workouts by doing it when you feel good, even if that ends up being once a week.”
3. Try mint or ginger to keep nausea at bay.
Both Butler and Arnason advocate for mint, either in smell or taste, to help with morning sickness. During her pregnancy, Butler personally found that chewing mint gum while working out made her nausea subside. Arnason said his clients experienced quick relief by smelling mint essential oil. The bottom line: do whatever works, even if it’s a little off-the-wall!
“Find tricks that help you keep the nausea at bay,” says Piskin. “Perhaps it is sucking on a ginger candy right before a workout, or snacking on some saltine crackers right before a workout to calm yourself and your nausea.”
4. Focus on your breath.
One reason exercise helps with morning sickness? Pure distraction, especially with the added focus of combined breath and movement. “You are helping take your mind off of the nauseous, woozy feelings,” says Piskin. “By moving your body and focusing on your breathing, a workout helps you feel more centered and energized. Morning sickness normally lasts only a short period of time. So, if you can push yourself through the workout, you most likely won’t even feel sick by the end.”
5. Rest whenever you feel like it.
That being said, remember to listen to your body. Rest when tired, and stop working out if you don’t feel well, says Dr. Nesheiwat. If symptoms of morning sickness persist, be sure to talk your doctor, too. Also, says Piskin, everyone experiences morning sickness in their own way (or not at all). This means that there’s no reason to play the comparison game with other mamas-to-be, either. It’s absolutely okay to switch up your workouts during pregnancy. What you considered “normal” in the past might look totally different now, like swapping a speedy run for a brief walk. You may need longer, more frequent breaks and lots of back-up plans, says Arnason. This is completely fine and still allows you to stay healthy and fit throughout your pregnancy.
“Learn to be patient with yourself,” says Butler. “It’s ok to take days off here and there. Growing a human is very taxing on the body and affects us all very differently—even each pregnancy can be very different. Take advantage of the days [that] you feel pretty good, and rest on the days that don’t. Now is not the time for pushing yourself to the max and setting major fitness goals. Instead, listen to your body and enjoy, nourish, and cherish these nine months of what your incredible body can do.”