Oh, Baby!

By Cheryl Walker

December 5, 2008 5 min read


Pregnancy fitness is important for you and your child

Cheryl Walker

Creators News Service

Just as the adage "barefoot and pregnant" has gone by the wayside, so has the myth that women are supposed to avoid exercise during pregnancy.

"You need to be physically active during pregnancy," said Dr. Laura Riley, a high-risk pregnancy expert and spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in an article on WebMD. "It has terrific benefits that are associated with a better pregnancy outcome and even shorter labors. It's a win-win for baby and for mom."

Dr. James Clapp, an obstetrician who has studied exercise in pregnancy for more than 10 years, conducted a study of 500 pregnant women who exercised and found their time in labor was one third shorter. He also found that exercise is beneficial to the fetus, and the baby is born with a stronger heart rate.

As well as helping out in labor, exercising during pregnancy can potentially help reduce lower back pain and fatigue. There is also a decreased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. There are also postpartum benefits, which include a quicker recovery, less weight to lose and reduced muscular discomfort.

Before starting any exercise program, a woman should always consult her obstetrician. Every person, as well as every pregnancy, is different. Some women are not even allowed to exercise due to complications. The level of exercise also depends on a woman's general health and how fit she was before conceiving.

However, the fit and fabulous should take heed: A 2007 study from Denmark determined that women who exercised heavily during the first months of pregnancy (either in high-impact activities such as jogging or games involving balls such as basketball or soccer, or exercising more than seven hours a week) were over three times more likely to miscarry. Lighter-impact exercises, such as swimming, showed to have no effect. However, after 18 weeks, exercise did not increase risk for a miscarriage.

Once given the green light to exercise by the doctor, a woman should start an exercise program slowly and not overexert herself, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The most important thing for a woman to do is listen to her body. If there is any sort of pain, stop exercising immediately.

The doctor can give advice on what exercises are good, but as a rule of thumb, the best are those that don't require the body to bear extra weight. Low-impact aerobics, cycling and walking are what most women find comfortable. Walking is considered to be a great choice, as it can be done throughout the pregnancy.

Yoga has become a popular choice for moms-to-be for working on relaxation, stretching and breathing. There are many classes that specialize in prenatal yoga and available throughout the country. If you cannot find one, a yoga instructor will be able to help you find which poses are okay for your and your baby.

Weight training can be added to improve tone, but avoid lifting weights above the head. A woman should also be careful to not use weights that strain lower back muscles.

No matter what exercise you choose, the American Pregnancy Association recommends that women drink plenty of water, avoid working out in high altitudes or when the weather is hot. If the mother gets overheated, so does the baby.

By the second and third trimesters, a woman should not do any exercises that require lying flat on her back. This decreases the blood flow to the fetus.

It's important to remember that during pregnancy, you are more likely to sustain injury since your joints are more lax, the American Pregnancy Association warned. It's best to avoid unstable terrain if you are doing certain activities such as cycling.

Some rules expectant mothers should follow include not overstretching and avoiding exercises that require running or jumping. Activities that have high risks, such as scuba diving, skiing and inline skating, should not be attempted.

Most importantly, pay attention to warning signs during exercise and stop immediately and check with a doctor. If a woman experiences symptoms which include any type of pain, dizziness, fluid leaking from the vagina, including blood, uterine contractions or chest pain, it's time to call the obstetrician.

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