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Guest Columnist: Catherine Udomsak Heimrich, PT, DPT
For many women, expecting a baby can be one of the happiest times in their lives. Pregnancy comes with much joy and excitement as one prepares to bring a new life into this world. While much of the preparation is focused on the baby, it is imperative for pregnant women to take some time to focus on their personal health. Your body goes through immense physical changes during pregnancy and it is easy to avoid staying physically active. However, prioritizing fitness is important for women as research confirms exercise during pregnancy has benefits for both mom and baby.
Currently, there is strong evidence that maintaining moderate exercise during pregnancy is safe and advantageous for women. Some of the benefits include prevention of excessive weight gain and a lower risk for gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia (development of high blood pressure), low back pain, cesarean section, pelvic pain and urinary incontinence, and fetal macrosomia (a baby with a birthweight of greater than eight pounds). Furthermore, it increases your overall general fitness and strengthens one’s heart and blood vessels. As long as there are no medical or obstetric contraindications to physical activity, exercise does not pose as a risk for premature birth or fetal distress in pregnant women.
When it comes to the type of exercise, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends combining both aerobic and strength training. It also recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week which can be spread out through several 20 to 30 minute sessions. Intensity should always be moderate which is the equivalent of brisk walking. One should be able to still hold a conversation comfortably but be unable to sing. Activities considered safe for pregnant women include but are not limited to swimming, stationary cycling, modified yoga, modified pilates, walking, strength training, and low impact aerobics. Activities that may need to be avoided include contact sports and activities with high risk of falling such as downhill skiing, horseback riding, and off-road cycling. Furthermore, pregnant women should avoid spending prolonged time lying flat on their backs and avoid using weights that strain the lower back.
Pregnancy is an ideal time to adopt a healthy lifestyle even for those who don’t consider themselves active or “in good shape”. Women who are sedentary prior to pregnancy can begin an exercise program and reap all the benefits of physical activity. It is recommended that those who are not active prior to pregnancy have a more gradual progression toward exercise. This could mean going for 10-minute walks most days of the week and gradually working up to 150 minutes of brisk walking. Both active and sedentary women should consult their doctor prior to beginning or continuing an exercise program to ensure wellbeing for both mom and baby. If you are someone who regularly participates in high intensity exercises, such as running or aerobics, it may be possible to continue these activities. Currently, there is no upper level of safe exercise established and response to exercise can differ for every woman. One’s joints are more lax during pregnancy, so ankle sprains and other injuries can occur more easily. Avoiding rocky terrain or uneven ground when running, cycling, etc. is advisable. Again, it is always best to get clearance from your doctor and be sure to listen to your body.
While most women with an uncomplicated pregnancy will have no problems with exercising it is important to be aware of any abnormal response to activity. Some warning signs to discontinue exercise include vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions, amniotic fluid leakage, dizziness, headache, chest pain, calf pain and swelling. If you experience any of these symptoms it is advisable to stop your current exercise program consult your OB-GYN before resuming your workout.
Next Week: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby…Postpartum Exercises Part 2
Guest Columnist: Catherine Udomsak Heimrich, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy and is an associate at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton, where she works with outpatient orthopedic and neurological patients. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance problems.
Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – Every Monday. Next Week: Healthy Mom - Part 2
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.