Your Active Pregnancy
Exercise Need Not Be Avoided During Pregnancy
An ancient Egyptian manuscript from 3,000 years ago claimed that Hebrew women had an easier time in childbirth than their Egyptian contemporaries. The insightful author concluded that the Hebrew women were more “hearty” than their contemporary delicate women of means. Translated, this means that the Hebrew women, who were enslaved at the time, were very physically active before and during their pregnancies and this gave them an advantage in the birthing realm.
Some things don’t change and what was good for the women of old is good for the modern women with child.
An Active Pregnancy
Exercise in pregnancy is a relatively new topic of debate simply because the advantage of physical activity and baby birthing was lost to cultural practices and misinformation. Both Victorian culture and prejudices mandated that a pregnant woman should take to the bed once she began showing. As recently as 50 years ago many women were told by their doctor that exercise stole precious resources from the growing fetus and the best approach was to keep physical activity to a minimum.
Current research has definitively proven just the opposite.
The key to healthy exercise during pregnancy is to not wait until you are pregnant to establish a regular exercise program. Women who enter into pregnancy fit and exercising can, in most cases, continue their exercise regimens with certain common sense caveats.
If you have been a proud member of the couch potato club and only exercise by jumping to conclusions, then training for a marathon is not a good thing to initiate while pregnant. In fact, training for a marathon is rarely indicated anytime while pregnant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk, jog, Zumba, swim, aerobisize, cycle, dance, do Pilates and generally keep on the move. The mindset switch that is needed for the active mom-to-be is that you want to maintain fitness, not prepare for a competition.
Focus on the Positive
Begin from the perspective of what you can do instead of your restrictions. Every new mom’s situation is unique, so don’t do anything until you discuss it with your doctor, but it is a conversation you need to have.
According to the American College of Obstetricians there are a few instances where you shouldn’t exercise as follows:
• Symptomatic heart disease
• Restrictive lung disease (such as bad asthma)
• Incompetent cervix/cerclage
• Twins and triplets at risk for premature labor
• Persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
• Placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation
• Premature labor during the current pregnancy
• Ruptured membranes
• Preeclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension
If none of these problems exist for you, think about getting on the exercise bandwagon while preggars.
Precautions To Consider
So let’s say you decide to worship at the church of aerobics and you want to be extra careful that the little bun in the oven doesn’t overcook. What do you look out for if you are exercising while pregnant? Again, the American College of Ob/Gyn has published the following guidelines.
Warning Signs To Terminate Exercise While Pregnant:
• Vaginal bleeding
• Short of breath prior to exertion
• Chest pain
• Muscle weakness
• Calf pain or swelling (need to rule out blood clot)
• Preterm labor
• Decreased fetal movement
• Amniotic fluid leakage
Finding the Right Activity
So what kind of exercise is best during pregnancy? The simple answer is that there is no best. Much of that depends on what you have been doing prior, or better yet, what you enjoy.
I can hear you now, “I don’t enjoy any type of exercise.” It’s time for a little attitude change because it’s not just about you anymore. You see, exercise not only helps you while carrying the little bambino, but also helps the bambino. Women who exercise in pregnancy have a lower incidence of gestational diabetes, hypertension and excessive weight gain, all of which can lesson the problems for the baby.
There are a few common sense guidelines to follow with exercise in pregnancy:
• After the first trimester, avoid exercises lying on your back.
• Start slowly and gradually build up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
• Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or if you have a fever.
• Wear comfortable clothing to keep cool.
• Wear a bra that is comfortable and gives lots of support.
• Drink plenty of water to stay well-hydrated.
• Consume an appropriate diet to keep energy up.
The rule of thumb for exercise in pregnancy is that it is generally good coupled with a dose of common sense. Most reputable doctors will tell you not to skydive or alligator wrestle while with child, even if an ancient Egyptian aristocrat invites you.
Dr. Eaker is an Augusta Ob/GYN and author. He and his wife, Susan, have two teenage daughters.