Most women know they need to eat right, not smoke and get adequate rest during pregnancy. But apparently, word isn’t getting out that moderate exercise holds great value for pregnant women and their babes.
According to researchers from St. Louis University School of Public Health, only one in every six pregnant women currently meets physical activity recommendations. The reasons for this deficit include: Some women are not used to exercising; others are concerned that exercise might harm the fetus.
But I think there’s compelling evidence that exercise during a healthy, active pregnancy can benefit both mother and child.
Researchers from St. Louis University studied more than 6,500 pregnant women and 140,000 nonpregnant women from all 50 states between the ages of 18 and 44. They found that only 16 percent of pregnant women and 27 percent of nonpregnant women are getting the recommended amount of exercise.
For healthy pregnant women with no medical or obstetric complications during pregnancy, the recommendation is to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. The advice comes from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American College of Sports Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Other studies have confirmed that most pregnant women are not meeting these exercise guidelines.
Regular physical activity is valuable during pregnancy for a number of reasons. Exercise lessens back pain, constipation, bloating and swelling. It improves posture, sleep, energy level and mood. It may help prevent or treat gestational diabetes. It provides greater muscle tone, strength and endurance. And the fitness you gain enhances your ability to cope with childbirth and get back in shape afterwards.
The college of obstetrics and gynecology says that some women should not exercise during pregnancy. This includes women with risk factors for premature labor, vaginal bleeding or premature rupture of the membranes. In addition, heart or lung disorders, high blood pressure, or other medical or obstetric conditions should be evaluated thoroughly before beginning an exercise program. Consult your doctor to see if you have any problems or risk factors that would require that you limit activity while you’re pregnant.
After getting personalized advice from your obstetrician about exercise, with your doctor’s OK, you may be ready to get started. Walking, swimming, stationary cycling and low-impact aerobics are some the activities that pregnant women frequently enjoy.
The obstetrics college offers these general guidelines for safe and healthy exercise during pregnancy:
* Don’t overdo it. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. As a gauge of exercise intensity, you should be able to talk normally while exercising.
* Avoid activities that call for jumping, jarring motions or quick changes in direction – relaxed ligaments during pregnancy are more prone to injury. Also don’t do scuba diving, contact sports or skiing, and other endeavors with a high risk of falling that may put you and your baby at risk.
* After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid exercising while lying on your back.
* Stop exercise immediately and call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms: vaginal bleeding, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement or fluid leaking from the vagina.
* Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. It’s essential to avoid overheating – especially in hot environments, where you may need to consume more fluids and limit exercise.
Contact Dr. Elizabeth Smoots, a board-certified family physician and fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, at email@example.com. Her columns are not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this column consult your health care provider.
2007 Elizabeth S. Smoots