Why Are Pregnant Women Criticized for Exercising?

Sara Haley, a personal trainer and mom from Santa Monica, California, hits the gym six days a week — and it turns out that's a problem for her fellow gym members, who, Haley says, routinely harass her because she's 35 weeks pregnant.

According to a recent story published in the New York Daily News, Haley, who specializes in pregnancy fitness, incorporates a combination of pull-ups, tricep dips, dead lifts, and lunges into her workout routine. But the constant stares, whispers, and comments (“Wow, your butt is so big!” and “Those stretch marks are the worst I have ever seen!") in the gym make her feel as though she's being ganged up on. “It is an element of bullying,” the 35-year-old told the newspaper. “Some people have no filter all of a sudden when they see a pregnant woman training.”

And while Haley — who in April was named one of 50 hottest fitness trainers by Shape magazine — insists that exercise is encouraged during pregnancy, she doesn’t want to be viewed as herculean. “My favorite reaction in general, throughout my pregnancy, has been the classic eye contact with a big thumbs up,” she said. "I do appreciate the encouragement, but honestly, I'm just pregnant, not trying to save the world."

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She's hardly the first pregnant gym-goer to cause controversy. Back in September, Lea-Ann Ellison of Los Angeles made headlines for participating in CrossFit, a high-intensity conditioning and core-strengthening exercise program that includes lifting barbells and dumbbells, tire-flipping, and using medicine balls. Ellison became an international sensation after photos of her lifting weights (She says they were staged for a pregnancy photo shoot.) hit the Internet and went viral.

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Yahoo Shine could not reach Haley for comment. However, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy have been well documented. For the mother, staying active promotes energy, sounder sleep, and may even help to prevent gestational diabetes and reduce the length of labor and the odds of requiring medical intervention during birth. And babies reap the benefits too. A University of Montreal study found that pregnant women who exercise for just 20 minutes three days a week boost their newborns' brainpower. And, according to research conducted by Kansas City University, pregnancy exercise improves newborns' heart health too.

And according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant women can safely walk, swim, cycle, participate in aerobics, and run (provided they were runners before they were pregnant). "The general rule of thumb is, if it's a healthy pregnancy with no complications, we recommend that patients resume their pre-pregnancy exercise routines," Shahin Ghadir, MD, who is board certified in both obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility, tells Yahoo Shine. "Otherwise, starting a new exercise routine can be a huge shock to the body."

In fact, taking up a new routine without being monitored by a doctor can lead to injury for both the mother and baby. If a pregnant woman isn't accustomed to exercising, Ghadir advises she start a regular walking routine.

For Haley, she has observed one interesting side effect after exercising throughout her pregnancy with her 3-year-old son, Landon — an appreciation of her workout music. “When Landon was born, the only thing that would stop him from crying was me playing hip-hop music, like Jay Z,” she told the New York Daily News. “I think he heard it in utero and was jamming along with me!”

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