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Exercise for Mothers during pregnancy

Exercise for Mothers during pregnancy

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In the not-so-distant past, women were urged to cut down on or even avoid exercise during pregnancy. Doctors feared that the jarring motion of running or lifting weights could damage the fetus, and prescribed abstinence from these activities even for the professional athletes.
Fortunately, the tide has turned and it has been proven that exercising actually makes for an easier pregnancy and delivery. In fact, Dr. James F Clapp III (M.D) found through a study of 500 pregnant women that those who exercised delivered a healthier baby with a stronger fetal heart rate. Even more compelling is the fact that of the women who exercised, time spent in labor was shortened by about a third, with 65% of the women delivering in four hours or less. I’m a perfect example of this, my labor lasted just 2 hours 15 mins.
This is definitely a win win for the mother and the baby as when you are in labor every extra hour seems like an eternity.

There are so many rumours out there, some started or perpetuated by popular pregnancy books, others the result of old wives’ tales or outdated advice, building confusion in the minds of many women about what they can and can’t do,”

Can you guess which one of these is the true statement?

1. Lifting weights while pregnant is dangerous for the fetus.
2. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now.
3. Exercising while pregnant pulls nutrients from your baby.
4. You have to keep your heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute.
5. Basketball is an unsafe activity while pregnant.
6. Doing sit ups while pregnant will squish the baby.
7. Running while pregnant is unsafe for the baby.
8. Any sign of trouble like spotting or pain means I should stop exercising and not do it any
more during my pregnancy.

If you’re not sure, or you’re making a wild guess, then you definitely need to read on!

1. Lifting weights while pregnant is dangerous for the fetus.
MYTH: It’s totally safe to lift weights while pregnant. Make sure you’re not holding your breath, don’t exert yourself to fatigue. Whether you are new to weight training or weight training is already part of your exercise routine, as long as the form & technique is perfect there’s no reason to stop, although you will need to avoid training at higher intensity. Strengthening helps coping with common discomforts of pregnancy like back pain and sacroiliac dysfunction. I had NONE!, thanks to my training routine.

2. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now.
MYTH: If you never excised before, pregnancy is not the time to become the exercise bunny but that doesn’t mean you have to spend nine months sitting on the couch. Something as simple as taking a daily walk, going for a swim, taking up very low intensity strength training can do wonders for your pregnancy, and make you feel better as well. It can also help you combat the fatigue of pregnancy and help you sleep better at night. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is a great beginning, then gradually progress.

3. Exercising while pregnant pulls nutrients from your baby.
MYTH: The reality is that your baby takes what it needs from your body. So if anything, you’ll have a dip in your own nutrient stores, but your baby’s stores will be fine. The way to avoid any problems for youis to keep blood sugar levels balanced by eating smaller, more frequent meals. Babies of mommies who exercise during pregnancy are born leaner, but organ size and head circumference are normal. So don’t be afraid to exercise during pregnancy.

4. You have to keep your heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute.
MYTH: There is no one “target” heart rate that’s right for every pregnant woman. People are still stuck on this heart rate issue, and it was never based on anything concrete. What’s moderate for you might seem easy, or impossibly hard for someone else, so listen to your own body! What most pregnancy exercise experts now rely on as a guide is RPE, or rate of perceived exertion.
This is a scale that determines how hard you are working based on how you feel when you are working, you should be able to carry on a conversation, but not be able to sing.

5. Basketball is an unsafe activity while pregnant.
TRUE: It’s a contact sport, so there’s a risk of a blow to your belly. Other risky activites include those with risk of falling and hurting the belly, like skiing, waterskiing, and horseback riding, or going scuba diving, because of the water pressure effects on your body.

6. Doing abdominal exercises while pregnant will squish the baby.
MYTH: Your baby is pretty secure in there, you don’t have to worry about bending at the waist. Not only is it OK, it’s actually recommended! Abdominal workouts can provide many benefits. Some modifications may be necessary with your growing size but it definitely doesn’t warrant stopping them. Your abdominals and your entire core, including your pelvic floor should be strengthened throughout pregnancy, and doing so will help not only during pregnancy, but also aid in labor and delivery and recovery. I didn’t suffer from Diastasis recti (splitting of abdominal muscle – rectus abdominis from linea alba) and my baby was out in just two pushes.
Moreover, it’s going to help with posture problems which will also benefit you after baby is born.

7. Running while pregnant is unsafe for the baby.
MYTH: As long as you and your pregnancy are healthy, and you feel OK, it’s safe to run right up until you go into labor. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has said that if you were running prior to pregnancy, you can continue during pregnancy, as long as you feel OK”.
If it does start to feel “odd”,  listen to your body and don’t do it. Pregnancy is not the time to break any performance records. Also realize that as your pregnancy progresses, you’re going to be able to do a little less with each trimester. So don’t compete with your pre-pregnancy running achievements, or even with what you could accomplish in a previous trimester.

8. Any sign of trouble like spotting or pain means I should stop exercising and not do it any more during my pregnancy.
MYTH. While signs of pain, spotting, lightheadedness, nausea or dizziness are all reasons to stop exercising immediately, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to give it up forever.
What it means is talk to you doctor. Tell her exactly what you felt and what you were doing when you felt it, how long it lasted, and the severity. And then ask for her advice as to whether or not you should continue with an exercise program.
ACOG lists these warning signs to stop exercising and contact a doctor: vaginal bleeding, fluid leaking from the vagina, decreased fetal movement, uterine contractions, muscle weakness, calf swelling or pain, headache, chest pain, increased shortness of breath, dizziness, or feeling faint.

There are so many awesome benefits of pre-natal exercise – treat yourself and your baby right by staying active and exercising during pregnancy. You’ll be happy you did!
Always train under supervision of a Prenatal Exercise Instructor.

Dr Mansi R Ashta

Physiotherapist & Fitness Consultant
Child Birth Educator (CBE)
Prenatal & Postpartum Exercise Instructor
Head Faculty ‘PT for Special Population’ course
K11 Fitness Academy & Gym

References:
1. faq119.pdf. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (ACOG).
2. Fetal Attraction. Dr Duru Shah
3. Exercising Through your Pregnancy. James F Clapp III
4. www.runningskirts.com. Susan B Anthony

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