Until quite recently, avoiding exercise during pregnancy wasn’t just an old wives’ tale, but the advice doctors gave their patients. When my mother was expecting and went to hang her laundry out to dry, she would lower the washing line because she was scared of lifting her hands above her head. And
Until quite recently, avoiding exercise during pregnancy wasn’t just an old wives’ tale, but the advice doctors gave their patients. When my mother was expecting and went to hang her laundry out to dry, she would lower the washing line because she was scared of lifting her hands above her head. And that was in the 1970s! Pregnant with my third child, 30 years later, I ran a half-marathon in Central Park, so medical advice has certainly shifted in the intervening years – thank goodness.
At a time when there are so many things you are being told to avoid — among them soft cheese, pâté, and anything alcoholic — it is refreshing that the general advice regarding exercise is to “keep doing what you’re doing”, as long as you check with your doctor first. When I asked one of my pregnant clients, who wishes to remain nameless, if she had her doctor’s consent to train with me, she admitted, “He knows me well enough to know that I’ll need SOMETHING to keep me relaxed and sane, now that I can’t have vodka & cranberry!”
I recently took a course on pre- and post-natal exercise training. Even though I was aware of many of the benefits, lots of the studies still impressed me. Here’s a quick run-down of why it’s great for you and your baby for you to remain active during pregnancy.
Gives strength for the journey ahead
The cardio element of a workout will give you greater energy to deal with the stresses of pregnancy and the physical toll of labor and delivery. The strength-training element will build muscle strength to support increased breast size, additional weight, and posture changes. Strong upper and lower body muscles will assist in lifting and carrying the baby when it comes. (If you are new to this, don’t scoff at the thought of just a 7-pound baby — those bucket car seats are heavy and cumbersome, and 7-pound babies grow heavier fast.
Makes the bad stuff better
There are many symptoms associated with pregnancy, from the inconvenient and achy to the nauseating and downright painful. Women who exercise during pregnancy experience less nausea, fatigue, leg cramp, ligament pain, and backache. Exercise helps to avoid excessive weight gain, constipation, digestion problems, and varicose veins. And, of course, exercise helps you get a good night’s sleep, which many moms-to-be find elusive as they get bigger.
Cheers you up
In all populations, exercising improves your mood, increasing your energy levels and reducing your stress levels. This is particularly helpful during pregnancy when it is common for women to feel anxious or depressed.
Makes the tough part (slightly) easier
If you haven’t been persuaded so far, these studies should seal the deal:
- The length of labor in active women is shorter by almost one-third and they are more likely to have uncomplicated, spontaneous delivery;
- Active women report a lower perceived exertion during labor, meaning they find it “easier”;
- Exercising moms have a much lower rate of Caesarian sections. In one study, 7% of very active women had C-sections and 19% of moderately active women, compared to 28% in the sedentary group.
Benefits to the newborn
Your new baby will be leaner if you exercise. Babies of fit moms tend to weigh 14 ounces less and have less fat (but this does not increase the risk of a low-birth weight baby).
One study followed the babies of mothers who exercised and those who did not through to age 5. It found that the exercise group maintained lower fat and weight levels, and scored higher on general intelligence and oral language skills tests than the other group.
Helps you bounce back
Weight gain in exercising women is on average 8 pounds less than inactive women, and they gain 3% less body fat. In a current extensive study, the average weight retention after one year in women who were inactive during pregnancy was three times greater and fat retention twice that of the women who exercised. Non-exercisers regained only 48% of their abdominal tone, compared with 85% of the exercisers.
By Lee Sandford