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pregnancy and tennis

Exercise and Pregnancy: Please Don’t Judge Me!

By Kelcey Kintner

During my first pregnancy, a woman heckled me on the street. “That’s horrible for your baby!” she yelled from across the street.

I wasn’t smoking cigarette. Or chugging a bottle of Colt 45. Or eating 6 day old raw fish from the garbage dumpster behind The Sushi Palace.

I was eating a frozen yogurt. Yup. That’s it. And that’s when I came to understand that once you get pregnant and bring children into this world, there are a lot of people out there who feel obligated to protect your child. The whole, “It takes a village” except these villagers can seem a little judgmental.

I have encountered some sort of shaming during every pregnancy. Except it’s not about frozen yogurt this time around.  It’s about tennis.

I have always tried to stay physically active during my pregnancies because it’s prevents major weight gain and just makes me feel better, physically and mentally.  I’m not out training for an Ironman. I’m attempting to stay active and healthy.

(DISCLAIMER: Any pregnant woman should talk to her doctor before starting any kind of exercise routine. I am not a doctor. Although I can rock a white lab coat and stethoscope.)

In my previous pregnancies, I did a lot of prenatal yoga. But then I somehow burned out on downward dogs and just couldn’t find the time anymore with kids to get myself to a yoga class. Tennis seemed like the perfect replacement. I love the sport and my doctor said, continuing throughout my pregnancy was not a problem as long as I felt up to it.

I’m now 35 weeks and still playing.

I’ve gotten a range of different reactions.  Some people are in complete shock and their jaws drop open as they stare at me with bewilderment. Others make comments like, “Wow.  You’re playing tennis?! My doctor told me it was not a good idea to play tennis because you could easily fall.”  And some reactions have been more mild like, “I can’t believe you are still out on the tennis court. When I was pregnant, I just took nice walks.”

And sometimes I get the idea that people would prefer all together if pregnant women would just lounge around, only getting up to prepare the hearth for the new arrival.

But the reality is, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), exercising 30 minutes daily can benefit your health during pregnancy. It helps reduce symptoms like backaches and swelling, prevents and treats gestational diabetes, increases your energy, aids in sleeping and may improve your ability to cope with labor.

However, ACOG does not recommend activities in which there is a high risk of falling, such as gymnastics, water skiing, and horseback riding.  Now, I guess there is a risk to falling in tennis but I feel like I have the same risk when I’m rushing down the stairs in the morning, while stepping over toys and trying to shepherd my four kids out the door.

ACOG also suggests avoiding activities that call for jumping, jarring motions, or quick changes in direction that may strain your joints and cause injury. Hmm… that does start to sound a lot like tennis.

But I have never felt like I was putting my myself or my baby in danger. I am careful when I play tennis. I play doubles because it requires much less running, I always move balls out of the way and I don’t push myself too hard.  Plus, I have the approval of my doctor.

My baby is doing great. And my best pregnant days (of mind, body and spirit) are after I’ve had some time out on the courts.

Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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  • Sarah

    April 22, 2013 at 10:44 am

    People are hassling you for playing TENNIS while you’re pregnant? Geez Louise… they realize this is a “lifetime” sport that 80-somethings can play, right? I have some exercise restrictions because of placenta previa, and it’s driving me crazy not to be able to exercise more, but I’m still doing prenatal yoga, lifting light weights, and taking spinning classes.

  • cindy

    April 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Rock on and keep playing tennis! My mom played tennis when she was pregnant with me. She and her doubles partner placed second in a tournament because their match went to a third set, and, as my mom said, “I got tired.” In the August heat, at 7 months pregnant with her third kid! I think she was disappointed that they didn’t win, but I’m pretty impressed with how well she did. I was born perfectly healthy that October.

  • Myriam

    April 22, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Good for you! Being fit in pregnancy is a good way to help with recovery! Most of the time with a healthy pregnancy, exercising is not harmful to the baby, but because of the shift in your center of gravity and the hormones relaxing your joints, you are definitely more at risk of fall and muscle injury. A sprain ankle will not hurt your baby, even a fall is unlikely to be dangerous (baby is well protected in utero), but your recovery might take more time and be more of a hassle than if you were not pregnant. One of the things to watch, especially in the 1st trimester, is overheating, which might be hurtful to the baby’s developping nerve system, if your core temperature is too high for a sustained period of time.

  • Rachel

    April 22, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m not pregnant and don’t have any kids, but it’s something my husband and I are discussing. Exercise has been part of my life for about ten years, my parents both work out regularly and it has always been part of my life. I hope to be able to continue working out and even continue running when I am pregnant (although I will probably give up my outdoor runs in the Texas heat). You are awesome for continuing to play tennis…that’s something I am awful at!

  • Brenda

    April 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I am lucky I life in a town where women do LOTS of physical activity until delivery date.  I am lucky enough to be a ski coach and I skied until 25 weeks with my twins.  I would have gone another few weeks if I had been pregnant with a singleton.  I made it to full term, too.  It is nobody’s business but your own, your OB, and your husband.  Good for you staying healthy and active!

  • Janna

    April 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I was crossfitting for two years before I got pregnant and have kept it up, I’m 31 weeks now. I find a bit of the opposite- people are like seriously, you expect us to believe that little baby slows you down that much? Ugh, it is getting hard! But I do feel good staying active and I think the exercise has limited a lot of the pregnancy-type symptoms like swelling and backache. My OB is very supportive of keeping it up until my due date as long as I don’t push too hard.

  • Cheree

    April 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I did yoga twice a week and kickboxing twice a week throughout my entire pregnancy. I actually did my 60-minute kickboxing class on my due date and then took a 2-mile walk with my husband that evening. I happened to go into labor and deliver on said due date. My doctor was very supportive of my activity level – mostly because I was consistently working out since before I got pregnant. Working out made me feel tremendously better (days that I skipped, I felt horrible). I adjusted my workouts as I got closer to my due date, but I never quit the workouts. I’m so thankful I had a supportive doctor and husband through my experience – my baby is almost 18 months and if I was up to it, I would workout just as much for my next pregnancy.

  • Ally

    April 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I am currently pregnant with #4. Most of the time I feel so crappy, but I love getting to the Y and working out a little bit. I usually stick to the elliptical because it feels the most comfortable for me. I also walk most days. I feel so much better if I can stay active. 

  • Christina

    April 22, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Kudos. I’m glad to have a fellow pregnant exerciser in the world. I was on a masters swim team before I got pregnant and they let me stay. I’m 30 weeks and still swimming 4 miles a week and occasionally lifting weights, walking and doing other aerobics classes. I used to teach spinning and thats one of the only things I don’t do as much as before because I found it dehydrated me really quickly. 

  • Meg A.

    April 22, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Anytime you do things differently than someone else… there will be judgement. I was a runner before I got pregnant with my first, and I continued running up until month 7 (mainly b/c anytime I started running I had to pee so bad!) I got many odd looks from people, and comments like, “My doctor told me to stop running” and questions “When are you going to stop running?” My response was “My midwife says it’s fine” and “When it starts to get uncomfortable.” During my current & 2nd pregnancy, I’m still very active (chasing after a toddler, plus we’re getting ready to move) and honestly, I feel WORSE because I’m not running! It’s a bummer.

  • Sam M.

    April 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Good on you! When I got pregnant, I was training for my second marathon and learning to fence. Early online searches questioning the safety of these sports during pregnancy demonstrated that basically everyone has an opinion about what you should or should not be doing! What helped me was hearing women like you who worked out throughout their pregnancy and not only found it helpful, but also faced derision and did it anyway. I’m 17 weeks and just ran a half marathon and I feel great on days that I run or work out. I also think it has really helped me control my mood swings (basically anxiety is my major pregnancy symptom). I’ve talked to a lot of women who experienced too much pain while running during pregnancy, or had other issues that meant they had to give it up, so I’m just happy I can still keep going.

  • Heather

    April 26, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    I wouldn’t take it too personally if people say “I can’t believe you are still out on the tennis court. When I was pregnant, I just took nice walks.”  I don’t think that is necessarily said out of criticism.  Some women just can’t exercise like that while pregnant, whether because of dr’s orders, persistent morning sickness, or their own comfort/fitness level.  Sounds to me like they are just impressed!  

  • Kelly

    October 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I ran a marathon right before I got pregnant with my third. I am in my eighth month and still nauseous, needless to say I’m no longer running. It’s been a rough pregnancy and running is the thing I miss the most (more than margaritas). If you are lucky enough to feel good then go out and exercise. I have found that people love saying the stupidest things to pregnant women, like when I came back from vomiting in the bathroom at work and my coworker asked me if I was planning on having number four? People just can’t help themselves. 

  • JR

    April 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Exercise is completely necessary and important! I practice martial arts, even at 14 weeks pregnant. I do not spar or take part in any activities where my belly may get hit, but I still practice the other low-risk parts. It is fun and great exercise. I am sure people will judge me, but I don’t care. I like it, and so long as I keep the baby safe, it is up to me and no one else.