Expert advice about why moms-to-be want to keep moving and the best ways to do it risk-free
After seeing a positive sign on a pregnancy test, some women might begin planning repeated dates with Ben & Jerry’s spent lounging in bed. Sure, getting plenty of rest is important when expecting, but does a new pregnancy really mean a woman has a license to let her sneakers collect dust for the next nine months?
“[Taking it easy] is a harmful mindset to develop,” says Dr. Tarek G. Garas, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Watson Clinic in Lakeland. “While pregnancy should be an enjoyable time, weight gain and diet can have a tremendous effect on ones pregnancy and baby. Eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, refined sugars and even artificial sweeteners can pose potential threats to a mother and her baby. For example, such foods can contribute to a pregnant mother developing gestational diabetes. These foods can also cause excessive weight gain, which then may affect the labor process, delivery and even the post-partum period.”
While some of the mamas-to-be may have complications that require them to do little more than couch surf, not only is it safe for most women to exercise throughout pregnancy, getting a move on has multiple advantages for both mother and child. “Being active during pregnancy is important for a multitude of reasons,” Garas says. “Activity helps with the following: reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling. It may prevent or treat gestational diabetes. [Exercise will] increase energy, improve mood, improve posture, promote muscle tone, strength and endurance, and improve the quality of your sleep.”
He also points out that “regular activity helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with the pain of labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after the baby is born. You should not, however, exercise to lose weight while pregnant.”
Riz Mir, a physical therapist at the Lakeland Regional Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Clinic concurs that exercise prepares you for the physical demands of childbirth. “Although there are no guarantees, women who exercise during pregnancy may have shorter labor with fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labor,” he says.
Women who were frequent exercisers before they got pregnant can typically continue a similar routine, as long as it continues to feel comfortable.
“Always consult your health care provider prior to starting an exercise program,” Mir says. “Discuss any potential complications such as low placenta, threatened or recurrent miscarriage, weak cervix, previous premature births or history of early labor. If you have not regularly exercised prior to pregnancy it is still safe to exercise, but do not try a new, strenuous activity. Walking is considered a safe exercise to initiate when pregnant. Find an exercise regime that is appropriate for you; and be sensible. There will come a point when the demands of your growing baby are going to take precedence over sticking to your fitness plan. You may need to modify or limit your exercise as your pregnancy progresses. Listen to your body, and respect its demands.”
Some workout plans that can be helpful during pregnancy include pilates, deep breathing exercises, and Kegel exercises, Mir says.
“Certain sports are safe during pregnancy, even for beginners,” Garas says. “Walking is a good exercise for anyone. Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles. If you were not active before getting pregnant, walking is a great way to start an exercise program. Swimming is great for your body because it works so many muscles. The water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain. It also helps you stay cool and helps prevent your legs from swelling. Cycling provides a good aerobic workout. However, your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls. You may want to stick with stationary or recumbent biking later in pregnancy. Aerobics is a good way to keep your heart and lungs strong. There are even aerobics classes designed just for pregnant women. Low-impact and water aerobics are good exercise as well.”
Garas adds that other exercises, if done in moderation, are safe for women who have done them for a while prior to their pregnancy. These include running, racquet sports, and strength training.
“In general, any exercises that pose an increased risk of falling or trauma to the abdomen should be avoided,” he advises.
Many medical professionals will also suggest that pregnant women avoid exercise that necessitates lying on the back after the first trimester, as the increased weight of the uterus could interfere with the flow of blood and nutrients to the placenta and the baby.
Either way it’s essential to listen to the body, stop exercising and contact a doctor if experiencing any problems, including vaginal bleeding, shortness of breath while at rest, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, preterm labor, decreased fetal movement or amniotic fluid leakage.
To help prevent these and other problems, make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a workout, and take it easy when it’s hot outside.
story by ANNA SACHSE