Since announcing I was pregnant, I've received a lot of questions about how to have a healthy vegan pregnancy as well as how to have a healthy pregnancy in general. This is the second installment in what's shaping up to be a four-post pregnancy series. Below you'll find the nitty gritty details on my exercise routine throughout pregnancy as well as the self-care products and beauty products I have (and haven't) been using since finding out I was pregnant. For information on meals + supplements, please see this post.
Earlier this fall, I asked you all to share your most burning vegan pregnancy questions with me on Instagram, and I received an abundance of thought-provoking and important questions on the topic.
Most of the questions I received pertained to protein, meals, and supplements to support a healthy vegan pregnancy (please see the first installment in this series of pregnancy posts if you're interested in that information), but I also received questions about healthy, natural pregnancy in general. Specifically, I received lots of questions regarding my prenatal exercise routine as well as which self-care and beauty products I've been using.
This second post (in what's shaping up to be a four-post series) will address my approach to exercise throughout pregnancy as well as the self-care and beauty products I've been using (and the ones I've been avoiding) to support a healthy pregnancy.
Exercise During Pregnancy: What the Research Says
If you own a copy of my cookbook and have read the introduction, then you know just how important exercise is to me.
Regular exercise is one of three key habits, along with plant-based eating and meditation, that keeps my mind peaceful, calm, and focused as opposed to flooded with worry, anxiety, and what-if thoughts. It's a foundational component to my well-being and has been for the last 10 years.
So, naturally, when I found out I was pregnant, one of the first topics I had questions about was exercise.
Can I continue to exercise?
Are there types of exercise I need to avoid?
Do I need to keep my heart rate below a certain number?
Is it safe to jump? (e.g., Is this tiny little embryo going to dislodge itself if I do a jumping jack?)
Can I continue to lift weights? If so, is there a limit to what's considered too heavy?
Hot yoga—yay or nay?
After reviewing lots and lots of research (most of which was methodically sound and peer-reviewed, some of which was more opinion-based and observational) and consulting with my doctor, here's what I learned:
» First and foremost, always check with your healthcare provider first.
» If you exercised regularly before pregnancy and your pregnancy is free from complications, it's probably safe to continue working out as you were before you got pregnant (with a few modifications and exceptions, of course). However, your exercise intensity shouldn't exceed pre-pregnancy levels.
» If you didn't exercise much before conceiving, consult with your healthcare provider about starting a new exercise regimen.
» Contact sports and those that put you at risk for falling (e.g., skiing, horseback riding, surfing, mountain biking, football, rugby, etc.) are generally off-limits during pregnancy.
» Hot yoga is a definite no-no because it raises your body temperature. Similarly, it's important to avoid exercising in high-heat conditions.
» Regular, non-hot yoga with modifications and prenatal yoga are both excellent choices for exercise.
» It's always important to stay hydrated while working out but especially during pregnancy. Dehydration can lead to overheating and can even trigger contractions.
» Once you've reached the second trimester, avoid all exercises that involve lying flat on your back. This is because the added weight of a growing uterus (and baby) puts pressure on a major vein (i.e., the vena cava) and can reduce blood flow to your heart, brain, and uterus, leaving you dizzy and nauseous. This is the same reason you'll want to avoid sleeping on your back once you reach the second trimester—left side is best, right side is second best.
» While it's both important and healthy to continue to exercise and move your body, pregnancy isn't the time to set lofty fitness goals. Your main and primary goal should be to sustain a healthy pregnancy and maintain a level of fitness that makes pregnancy and birth as comfortable as possible.
» Above all else, listen to your body. If your pre-pregnancy exercise routine starts to feel like too much, then tone it down. There's no shame in taking it down a notch and much to be gained by listening to your body.
» The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise all (or most) days of the week so long as you have your healthcare provider's approval.
» Regular exercise during pregnancy is correlated with all sorts of positive outcomes, including lowered risk of gestational diabetes, easier childbirth, reduced morning sickness/nausea, better digestion, shorter labor, reduced swelling and bloating, better sleep, reduced risk of prenatal depression, cardiovascular and brain benefits for your baby (i.e., stronger hearts, better memories, and higher IQ scores), and improved immune functioning.
» Jumping jacks and soft jumping are generally considered safe (as is jogging), but you'll want to avoid any excessively jarring movements or pounding, which can potentially trigger contractions later on in pregnancy and increase the risk of falling. I continued to do jump squats and burpees up until the end of my second trimester (at which point it was no longer comfortable to do so) and did jumping jacks and prenatal kickboxing up until my due date.
» If you were regularly engaging in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) pre-pregnancy, it's probably safe to continue to do so if your doctor gives you the go-ahead and you listen to your body and don't overdo it. HIIT was one of my go-to workouts pre-pregnancy, and I found I was able to comfortably complete mild to moderate HIIT routines throughout the first trimester and into the first half of the second trimester. I did, however, avoid HIIT workouts that were on the more rigorous end of the spectrum simply because my gut told me not to push it.
» Be mindful of the fact that your joints become much more flexible during pregnancy. Relaxin, a hormone produced by the ovaries and placenta, relaxes ligaments and joints during pregnancy, causing them to loosen and sometimes even widen (as is the case with the pelvis). This is a great thing because it makes birth an easier, more comfortable process, but it's important to be extra cautious not to hyperextend or over-stretch while exercising in order to avoid injuries.
» Years ago, doctors believed that 140 beats per minute (BPM) should be the limit for pregnant women; however, most doctors now agree that there isn't a standard marker for what's too much. Rather, each woman's limits are unique to her and dependent upon various factors, including her pre-pregnancy workout regimen. The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to sustain a conversation while working out—yes, you'll be winded, but you still want to be able to make casual chit-chat. Bottom line: don't overdo it. If it feels like too much, it probably is.
Exercise During Pregnancy: My Favorite Workouts by Trimester
Below you'll find my favorite at-home workouts by trimester. (I love working out at home and find that I have the best, most consistent workouts doing so.)
During the first trimester, I essentially maintained my pre-pregnancy workout regimen with a few modifications and adjustments. Namely, I cut out rigorous HIIT routines in favor of more mild/moderate ones and reached for routines that were lower impact with less jumping—e.g., I cut out things like broad jumps.
Most weeks, I worked out 4 to 6 days for 20–40 minutes each day. I did a mix of body weight training, strength training, cardio/HIIT, and yoga.
Once morning sickness and fatigue struck around the six-week mark, I found it very difficult to summon the motivation to workout but pushed through and made sure to stick to my routine as much as possible because I felt so much better when I did.
Exercise and drinking copious amounts of ice water were the only two things that consistently made me feel better during the first trimester. I'm not sure if there's any truth to this, but I remember reading somewhere that exercise helps relieve morning sickness because it allows your body to sweat out some of the excess hormones. Again, who knows if it's true, but exercise consistently provided me with some much-needed nausea relief during those first 14 weeks.
Here's a rundown of my most-frequented first trimester workouts (again, I was doing these pre-pregnancy, so please keep that in mind and know/respect your own limits)...
Strength Training Workouts: Cannonball Shoulder Workout, Shoulder Sculpting Workout, Squats + Deadlifts Workout, Fun Upper Body Workout for Great Arms + Shoulders, Total Body Strength Workout for People Who Get Bored Easily, Build a Booty Workout, Strength Training Sweatfest for People Who Get Bored Easily
Cardio/HIIT Workouts: 45-minute walks around our neighborhood, moderate hiking, Ultimate HIIT Workout for People Who Get Bored Easily (skipped broad jumps), Total Body Strength + Cardio Blend
Yoga: Yoga classes with modifications as needed
A note on weights: I used two sets of weights throughout the first trimester—a 5-pound set and an 8-pound set. I occasionally doubled these up (i.e., 13 pounds in each hand) for larger muscle group exercises like deadlifts, but generally stuck to lifting a little lighter than I did during my pre-pregnancy exercise regimen. Not because I had to, but because that's what felt best for me and my body.
During the first several weeks of the second trimester (up until about 24 weeks pregnant), I continued to maintain my pre-pregnancy workout regimen as listed above with additional modifications and adjustments (being extra careful to avoid all exercises that involved lying flat on my back as well).
However, around 25 weeks pregnant, I found that many of the workouts listed above became too difficult for me at a cardiovascular level (as the uterus grows upward, it begins to push on and compress the lungs). Thus, around that time, I switched to workouts that were explicitly designed to be prenatal-friendly and continued to workout 4 to 6 days each week.
My most-frequented late-second-trimester workouts...
Yoga: Prenatal yoga classes
During the first half of the third trimester, I mostly stuck to the same workouts I used during the latter half of the second trimester. However, around week 35, I found that certain squats and lunges were becoming a bit difficult to navigate with my growing belly (and were triggering Braxton Hicks contractions), so I modified movements as needed.
Around the same time, I began incorporating more slow-moving yoga and stretching into my weekly lineup to help alleviate sciatic pain and general back pain.
In addition to the workouts linked to above, here are a few of my most-frequented late-third-trimester workouts and birth preparation exercises...
Childbirth Preparation Exercises: Around 32 weeks pregnant, my doula recommended I start doing 1–2 spinning babies exercises each day in preparation for birth. Interestingly, my midwife made the same suggestion just a few weeks later. These exercises require just a few minutes each and are easy to tack on to your scheduled workout time (note: some of them require a partner).
Self-Care + Beauty Products: Ingredients to Avoid
Upon finding out I was pregnant, one of the first things I did was take a closer look at my self-care products (e.g., shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, sunscreen, deodorant, etc.) and beauty products (e.g., makeup, face moisturizers/creams, etc.). Considering I was already using mostly natural products, I was surprised by just how many of my favorites still ended up being no-go's during pregnancy. So much so that for about a week I became afraid to put anything on my body without first researching each and every ingredient—a fruitless, stressful, and unrealistic feat if I've ever attempted one.
However, I learned a lot during that week of paranoia, and now I'm here to share a helpful (stress-free) summary with you in hopes that you can save yourself the headache during your own pregnancy.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and absorbs about 80% of what we put on it through a process called "dermal absorption". Pregnant or not, this is why it's worthwhile to be mindful about ingredients in self-care and beauty products.
Here's the rundown of ingredients you'll want to check for and avoid during pregnancy...
Parabens are a type of widely used preservative in cosmetic and self-care products. They've been linked to all sorts of nasty things, including endocrine disruption, pseudo-estrogenic effects, premature aging, and decreased levels of testosterone in men. It's a good idea to always stay away from parabens but especially during pregnancy.
Up until a year ago, I had no idea there were two types of sunscreens—i.e., chemical sunscreens and physical/mineral sunscreens. Whereas physical sunscreens use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to create a physical barrier to protect the skin from the sun, chemical sunscreens rely on one or more chemicals (i.e., avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, menthyl anthranilate, oxtocrylene) to create a protective barrier. New research suggests that these chemical barriers are endocrine disruptors that can interfere with thyroid function and other hormone-reliant processes in the body.
Thankfully, there are plenty of great physical/mineral sunscreens available these days (see below for my favorites), just be sure to avoid those with nano particles (i.e., nano particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), because they carry risks of their own. Although those risks haven't been studied during pregnancy, nano particles can and do cross the placenta—better to play it safe.
Retinol and retinoids are tucked into all sorts of anti-aging creams, moisturizers, face masks, and sometimes even cleansers. They're also found in certain acne medications (i.e., Retin-A, Accutane). Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, so one might assume it's safe to use during pregnancy, but it's absolutely not. In fact, of all the off-limits ingredients during pregnancy, this is probably the most important one to stay away from. Use of retinoids during pregnancy has a proven link to increased risk of birth defects in developing babies. It goes by all different names, so be on the lookout for the following: retinol, retinyl linoleate, alitretinoin (aka Panretin), Accutane, retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene (aka Differin), tretinoin (aka Avita, Retin-A, Renova), tazarotene (aka Avage, Fabior, Tazorac), and isotretinoin.
Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to make them more flexible and they're also used to increase the effectiveness of other chemicals in certain self-care and beauty products (e.g., perfume, nail polish). Phthalates have been linked to a wide range of issues, including high blood pressure and diabetes. More recently, research studies have discovered correlations between prenatal phthalate exposure and abnormal fetal development, including increased risk of motor delay and mental delay (particularly in girls). Phthalates go by many names, so be on the lookout for the following: BzBP, DBP, DEP, DMP, or diethyl, dibutyl, and benzylbutyl phthalate.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, yet it's still found in many personal care products, including hair straightening treatments (i.e., keratin treatments), nail polish, and eyelash glue. Thankfully, many brands have removed formaldehyde from their products in recent years, but be sure to double-check. Look for nail polishes labeled "3-Free", "5-Free", or "7-Free"—they exclude the nasty chemical. Be on the lookout for and avoid the following: formaldehyde, quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM), hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethlglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol (bromopol).
Hydroquinone is a topical lightening agent used in the treatment of conditions such as melasma and chloasma. Estimates suggest that as much as 35% to 45% of hydroquinone is absorbed into the body through the skin when applied topically. Although available evidence (which is limited to one study) doesn't suggest an increased risk of major adverse effects, it's commonly recommended to avoid these products during pregnancy because of their high absorption rate.
Toluene, a suspected carcinogen, is found in many mainstream nail polishes. Be on the lookout for and avoid the following: methylbenzene, toluol, antisal 1a.
Ammonia is commonly found in hair dye. While there's still a lot of uncertainty regarding whether or not ammonia is safe to use during pregnancy, it's generally considered best to steer clear of it if possible, especially during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when integral body parts and organs are being formed.
Thioglycolic acid—the active ingredient in most hair removal creams—has not been proven safe during pregnancy. Again, it's generally considered best to steer clear of this ingredient.
DHA is the active ingredient found in most self-tanning sprays and lotions. Although DHA isn't absorbed into the body, it can be inhaled during application. Since there's no evidence that it's safe during pregnancy, it's generally considered best practice to avoid it (although some soon-to-be moms do feel safe using it after the first trimester). I tend to err more on the play-it-safe side of things (plus I go from freckled porcelain to straight-up orange with spray tans—not a good look), so I avoided it during pregnancy. As always, though, I implore you to do your own research and weigh the risks/benefits for yourself—your body, your baby.
DEA is found in hair and body products, including many mainstream shampoos. Topical application of DEA has been shown to diminish stores of the essential nutrient choline (and dietary choline deficiency during pregnancy has been shown to reduce neurogenesis in the hippocampus of fetal rats and mice), so it's generally considered best practice to steer clear of this ingredient while pregnant or to limit exposure. Be on the lookout for and avoid the following: diethanolamine, oleamide DEA, lauramide DEA, and cocamide DEA.
Hydroxy acids are commonly found in products designed to treat certain skin disorders, including acne, inflammation, and redness. In addition to being found in prescription acne products, they're also found in many over-the-counter cleansers, toners, and exfoliants. The most common form of Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) is salicylic acid. High doses of oral salicylic acid (in the form of aspirin) have been shown to cause birth defects and other pregnancy complications; however, other BHAs have not been studied during pregnancy. Although very little BHA is absorbed into the skin when applied topically, because oral salicylic acid isn't safe during pregnancy, doctors recommend avoiding frequent use of BHA-containing skin products and peels.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), a different type of Hydroxy Acids, haven't been studied in pregnancy but because only small amounts are absorbed into the skin, they're considered low risk when used in skin treatments. That being said, to be safe, it's generally advised to use them only in small amounts.
To summarize, the widely accepted recommendation is to avoid consuming all oral hydroxy acids (e.g., salicylic acid in the form of aspirin) and to limit topical use of hydroxy acids, especially BHAs. I occasionally (once or twice a month after the first trimester) used a gentle home peel treatment containing AHAs and citric acid but opted to switch out daily products containing hydroxy acids for free-from alternatives (see below).
Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate
Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate (ACH) is the active ingredient found in antiperspirants. If you haven't already ditched classic antiperspirant, pregnancy is absolutely the time to do so. ACH is in FDA pregnancy category C, which puts it in the "to avoid" arena of ingredients. If you're anything like me (i.e., quite sweaty), then the push to swap out antiperspirant in favor of an aluminum-free natural alternative is bound to inspire a bit of reluctance, maybe even fear. I made the switch about two years ago and sweat my way through all the most popular natural deodorants on the market until I found one that really, truly works (see below).
My Favorite Vegan, Pregnancy-Safe Self-Care + Beauty Products
Shampoo. I wash my hair just twice a week (every three days) and alternate between using Whole Foods 365 Shampoo in Mint and Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Liquid Soap (see "Body Wash" section below for more information).
Conditioner. I use Abba's Pure Color Protect Conditioner. Sort of funny because I haven't colored my hair in over 8 years, but I started using this cruelty-free conditioner in 2007 and immediately fell in love with its scent and effectiveness. Total honesty: There are more pure and natural conditioners out there (this one earns a 5 from EWG), but this is a favorite of mine and a product I haven't been willing to part with. Plus, I only condition the ends of my hair (and just twice a week). All about balance, right? This conditioner is 100% vegan, sulfate free, made from plant-derived botanicals, and free of synthetic color additives.
Belly Bump Moisturizer/Oil. Evidence suggests that whether or not you'll acquire stretch marks during pregnancy has much more to do with genetics than what you rub on your body. Having said that, belly bump moisturizers can be incredibly soothing to stretching, itchy belly skin. I tried a few different belly bump creams and oils throughout pregnancy (beginning around 14 weeks pregnant), and my favorite is Burt's Bees 100% Natural Mama Bee Nourishing Body Oil. It smells amazing—like freshly squeezed lemons—and is incredibly soothing. Although lotions and moisturizers absorb a bit more quickly than oils, I didn't find nearly as much relief from itching with them as I did with this oil. To help the oil absorb more quickly, I applied it after showering each morning. (I stay in my towel/robe while applying makeup and doing my hair, and this gave the oil plenty of time to absorb into my skin before I got dressed.)
Facewash. I've been lucky to have fairly clear skin throughout my life; however, even the clearest skin is not immune to pregnancy hormones. At a time when hormone-related acne is at its fiercest, it's tough to be told that you should also avoid skin-clearing hydroxy acids. On top of this, I recently discovered that my long-time favorite brand for natural vegan cleansers—BOSCIA—is no longer considered vegan (as of late 2015). I've been using their oil-based cleanser for years, so this came as a bit of a shock to me when I started researching for this post a few months back, because last I checked, they identified as being a vegan, cruelty-free brand. Although BOSCIA doesn't test on animals themselves, they sell to countries (e.g., China) where they can't control whether or not animal testing occurs. In light of this (new-to-me) information, I no longer use their products myself or feel comfortable recommending them to others. Of all the vegan brands gone non-vegan, this one pains me the most because their products are some of the purest and most effective available on the market. But such is life and we move on, right? My point in mentioning this is that I have yet to find a vegan, pregnancy safe cleanser that's as effective and totally free from funky stuff as my old cleanser. BUT Ole Henriksen's The Clean Truth Foaming Cleanser comes pretty darn close. It's vegan; free from parabens, sulfates, and phthalates; and works well for all skin types, including normal, oily, combination, dry, and sensitive. Next on my list to try is 100% Pure's Coconut Oil Cleansing Milk.
Body Lotion. I use Honest Company's Hydrating Lotion in Sweet Orange Vanilla. It's a light, non-greasy body lotion that's vegan and free from harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances.
Face Moisturizer. I'm a huge fan of 100% Pure's skincare and makeup lines. Their products are cruelty-free, free from funny business, and nearly all are vegan. I used their Organic High Potency Reversal: Repair Moisturizer throughout pregnancy and loved it. Unfortunately, after being out of stock for several months, it now appears to be discontinued (at least for the time being), but they have several other moisturizers as well. Just be sure to always check the ingredients because a few of their products do contain Retinol (which it's imperative you avoid during pregnancy).
Peel. As mentioned above, on occasion, I used Ole Henriksen's Instant Transformation Lemon Facial Peel. Since it does contain AHAs (see above), I played it extra safe and waited until I was in the second trimester to use it. I used it just once or twice a month when I felt like my skin needed a bit of brightening and renewal. It's vegan and free from parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. This peel was my go-to pre-pregnancy as well. It really smoothes and brightens the skin.
I'm a huge fan of Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Liquid Soap, especially in the Lavender and Almond varieties. It comes in a massive, 32-ounce bottle and lasts forever. It's vegan, free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and all funny business. Plus, it can be used for pretty much anything—shampooing, body washing, cleaning, etc. EWG's Skin Deep database gives it 1 rating, meaning it's on the lowest end of the hazard spectrum when it comes to ingredients (read: it's about as pure as they come).
This is a great resource that lists out all (or most) pregnancy friendly makeup brands. Note: Not all are vegan.
Foundation. I use 100% Pure's Bamboo Blur Tinted Moisturizer.
Mascara. I use 100% Pure's Fruit Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara in Black Tea.
Blush. I used to be a dedicated NARS Orgasm blush fan but dropped the brand once they left their cruelty-free label behind in June. Parting ways was good for more than one reason though, because there's lots of nonsense ingredients in that blush anyway. Thankfully, RMS Beauty makes a dual lip/cheek stain called Lip2Cheek (in Smile) that's almost identical in color to NARS' Orgasm. Not only is it vegan, it's also free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and harsh chemicals.
Lipsticks + Lipgloss. 100% Pure offers a wonderful lineup of fruit-pigmented lipsticks and lip glosses.
As mentioned above, I'm naturally a pretty sweaty person and have been my entire life. Point being: An effective deodorant is at the top of my priority list when it comes to self-care products.
After ditching aluminum-containing antiperspirant a couple years back, I figured I was destined for a sweatier, smellier life. And after trying (and sweating) my way through all the most popular and recommended natural deodorants (e.g., Tom's, Jason, Lavanila, etc.), I finally found one that works. And by "works," I mean it's more effective than any deodorant or antiperspirant I've ever used: Naturally Fresh Crystal Roll-On Deodorant. It ain't fancy but it's effective.
Naturally Fresh Crystal Deodorants contain salt molecules that provide a barrier of protection against odor-causing bacteria. They come in stick, roll-on, and spray versions (although I've only used the roll-on version, I've heard good things about the others, too). They're cruelty-free and vegan (and free from all funkiness—1 rating by EWG), they come in scented versions (I prefer the unscented), and they're affordable. Even after an hour-long sweat-session at the end of a long day of recipe testing, there's no stink to be smelled. Pre-pregnancy, I even tested this deodorant in hot yoga—definitely some sweat but still no stank.
Nail Polish + Nail Care
Nail Polish. I use Ella + Mila nail polish. It's a vegan, 7-Free nail polish, which means it's made without seven harmful chemicals. Not only does Ella + Mila come in a TON of colors, their nail polish also wears well.
Nail Polish Remover. I use Karma Naturals Nail Polish Remover. It's made with soybean oil and lavender, is 100% biodegradable, and is acetone-free. Its scent is mild and pleasant (thanks to lavender), and it works just as well as traditional nail polish removers.
As mentioned above, it's best to avoid chemical sunscreens during pregnancy as well as those that contain nano-particles. My favorite nano-particle-free physical/mineral sunscreen is Badger. If you're used to chemical sunscreens (I was), the texture takes some getting used to (it's very, very thick), but it's one of the best physical sunscreens on the market.
Toothpaste. I use Young Living's Thieves Dentarome Ultra Toothpaste.
Teeth Whitening. It's recommended that pregnant women avoid using traditional, peroxide-containing whitening strips during pregnancy because the effects of peroxide during pregnancy are unknown. However, there are a few natural approaches to teeth whitening, including oil-pulling with coconut oil. Personally, I just found it easier to leave my teeth be for the nine months of pregnancy!