How does a mother benefit from staying active and fit, both during the pregnancy and in labor and delivery?
Exercise in pregnancy has many benefits, for both mom and baby. I am a strong believer that the endorphins released in exercise are the best prevention of morning sickness, and my patients that exercise regularly have less nausea in the first trimester. Regular exercise will also decrease the risks of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. In turn, this decreases the risk of preterm delivery, macrosomia (aka big baby!) and other complications that can result from these conditions. Being physically fit also prepares you for labor and delivery, and helps you get back to “normal” more quickly after delivery.
How does being an active and fit mother help the baby, both during the pregnancy and in labor and delivery?
In a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, exercise does not pose any risk to the baby. As mentioned before, it can help prevent some medical complications such as preterm delivery and possibly help prevent complications later in the child’s life, such as diabetes and childhood obesity. Also, by decreasing the risk of excessive fetal weight gain, the risk of c-section is decreased.
In general, is it safe to do cardio and strength training during pregnancy?
Absolutely! There are very few forms of exercise that are contraindicated in pregnancy. Some of the things to avoid are contact sports, scuba diving, sky diving, and activities with high risk of falls (horseback riding, downhill skiing, etc.) And of course, each patient should check with her OB to make sure her pregnancy doesn’t have any risk factors that make certain exercises unsafe. The biggest danger with exercise in pregnancy is not recognizing the changes in your body. Joints are looser, the center of gravity is shifted, oxygen consumption is higher and the heart rate gets higher much faster. You also have to be very conscious of staying hydrated and not getting overheated. But if you keep all of this in mind, you can continue almost any exercise regimen, and even add new things. Core strengthening, cardio and strength training are an important part of any fitness regimen, including during pregnancy. I always recommend patients work with a trainer or physical therapist with experience in prenatal fitness if they are unsure of what regimen they should be doing.
Can I begin to work out once I am pregnant if I had not worked out before?
YES! I find that pregnancy is sometimes a great motivator for women to start paying closer attention to their overall health. Just because you weren’t exercising before pregnancy, doesn’t mean you have to stay sedentary until delivery! Start with walking or low impact cardio like the elliptical, but don’t be afraid to really sweat and work hard either. Your body is home to a growing human, and you want that baby to develop in the healthiest environment possible. I also try to encourage patients to see this as a chance to change their eating habits as well for the benefit of their baby.
Did you remain active during your pregnancies? How do you feel it benefited you and your family?
I have 3 boys, ages 10, 8 and 4. I was fortunate enough to be able to continue exercising during all three of my pregnancies. My fitness regimen was a little different with each one, although in general, I tried to exercise at least 4-5 times a week for around 1 hour. This was the most difficult during my first pregnancy, because I was completing my ObGyn residency program and working 80 hours/week. But I made a commitment to stay in the best shape possible, and I’m so glad I did! Exercise helped me control how much weight I gained and allowed me to have easy deliveries with quick recoveries, but it also helped to improve my mood and increase my energy levels during a time that can be the most emotional, exhausting 9 months. I was a regular at the gym, doing both cardio machines and weightlifting/strength training and I also tried to attend a yoga class once or twice a week. By my 3rd pregnancy I was a pretty dedicated runner and decided I’d see how long I could keep that up. I ran several times a week, and completed several 5Ks before my due date. Because I kept it up, I was back running races within about 5 weeks of delivery.
I also think an exercise regimen during pregnancy is a great example for your kids. It shows them that being physically fit is a lifestyle choice that can exist in all circumstances. It’s pretty fun to look at photos and say “Look, there’s your mom running a race while you were in her belly!”