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Pregnancy and Exercise
2 Myths Exposed

Pregnancy and Exercise

If you're pregnant, you're probably doing what you can to make sure your baby is safe. It's not unusual for women to stop smoking, quit drinking alcohol and start taking neonatal vitamins for the baby's health. That's all good. The problem starts when the new mom-to-be ignores her personal fitness.

That's a bad idea for both the mother and the baby. To understand why, I'd like to expose a couple of exercise and pregnancy myths.

Myth number one. A woman who exercises during pregnancy increases the risk of an early delivery.

That all depends on the type of exercises. In 2009 the Universidad Politécnica in Madrid, Spain decided to run a test. They enrolled 142 pregnant women, that didn't exercise, and split them into two groups.

The first group of 72 started a light resistance training and toning program, three times a week. They had 80 workout sessions, from weeks 12-13 to 38-39 of their pregnancy. The second group of 70 were the controls and they didn't exercise.

At the end of the study, researchers found there were no significant differences in how old the babies were when they were born between the exercising and non-exercising groups.

That doesn't mean a pregnant mom can or should engage in a stressful, high impact aerobics program. Starting a LIGHT resistance and toning regime is safe for the baby. It's also a great way for the mom to improve her fitness and prepare for all the work motherhood brings.

Myth number two. Almost all women will experience "urinary incontinence or leakage" during and shortly after their pregnancy, and there's nothing they can do about it.

In 2000 the Trondheim/Melhus Physiotherapy Clinic in Norway put together a "postpartum pelvic floor muscle training course." Their hope was that exercise could treat, and hopefully prevent urinary incontinence. The exercise program only lasted 8 weeks but the results were impressive. They found that, significantly more women who did NOT exercise reported "stress urinary incontinence and/or showed urinary leakage at the pad test."

Simple pelvic floor exercises were effective in the prevention and treatment of stress urinary incontinence.

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are so profound, national organizations are now talking about all the things that can happen if you DON'T workout.

In 2003 the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology released guidelines titled, "Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period." In that document, they listed all the potential problems women might experience without exercise. Here's what they said:

"Women and their care providers should consider the risks of not participating in exercise activities during pregnancy, including loss of muscular and cardiovascular fitness, excessive maternal weight gain, higher risk of gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced hypertension, development of varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis, a higher incidence of physical complaints such as dyspnea or low back pain, and poor psychological adjustment to the physical changes of pregnancy."

As with any fitness program, there are a few guidelines specific to pregnant women that need to be followed.

  • Don't let your pulse get above 140. As the heart rate increases, the blood is less oxygenated. Your baby needs a strong flow of oxygen to develop properly.

  • Be careful with exercises that put you in the supine (laying flat on your back) position. They can make you dizzy or decrease blood flow to the uterus.

  • Exercise cautiously in the heat outdoors and don't let your temperature get higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit. When you get hot, your body diverts some of the blood away from your baby and to your skin to cool you down. It's also harder for your body to cool down when you're pregnant, so if you overheat you're more likely to pass out.

  • When you lift weights, don't hold your breath. During the last trimester, consider using machines instead of free weights to reduce the risk of accidental injury.

  • Skip exercises that require excessive amounts of bouncing, hopping, jarring, jumping, running or skipping. Walking is good, but don't start jogging if you didn't do it before your pregnancy.

Be aware of your body and stop if you get dizzy, feel faint or light-headed, have a headache, begin bleeding, experience pain or shortness of breath. You're not preparing for a competition or trying to improve a previous record. Exercise during pregnancy is all about keeping you and your baby healthy.

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