Even if you’re well past childbearing age, this newsletter can benefit you! How? I’m sure all of you know and love someone who is of childbearing age, be it a friend or family member, and you can educate yourself about the importance of exercise during pregnancy and offer support to them by passing along this information.
Many of you already know how important it is to exercise during pregnancy. However, believe it or not, many people don’t. In fact, I recently encountered someone whose family members were encouraging her to stop exercising for fear she would harm herself or her baby. It wasn’t until her ob/gyn looked her husband in the eye and told him his wife needed to keep going to the gym, that he relaxed. Her family had the best intentions, protecting her and her baby, but they didn’t realize that in most cases, not exercising during pregnancy exposes the mother to more potential complications than continuing to exercise.
Of course, even if you have no pre-existing conditions, it’s always best to see your ob/gyn early in your pregnancy to have the proper tests and to touch base with your doctor about your activity level and get recommendations for him/her specific to you. Pregnancy is not a time to try to lose weight or make tremendous fitness gains, but it is a time to be consistent with your routine. Having an early check-up will ensure there are no concerns with your health of which you were unaware. The following conditions may make exercising during pregnancy unsafe:
If you are cleared for exercise by your doctor, the current recommendations are to get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. As stated above, pregnancy is not the time to begin setting rigorous training or weight loss goals for yourself. If you’re already exercising, usually your doctor will give you the go ahead to continue and encourage you to do so. If you’re not currently exercising and the doctor has given you the go-ahead, you may begin with as little as 5 minutes per day and increase it by 5 minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes, 5 days per week. It’s important to listen to your body.
Your body will be going through many changes during pregnancy, and it’s important to modify your exercise as needed. Be sure to drink plenty of water, as it’s easier to get overheated during exercise when you’re pregnant. Be sure to wear a good bra, and later in pregnancy, a belly belt may help ease back tension. The body releases hormones during pregnancy that cause the ligaments that support your joints to relax. This is preparing you for birth, but in the months leading up to birth, take special care of your joints by engaging in only low impact activity to decrease your risk of injury – no bouncy or jerky movements. Also, you shouldn’t stand in one place for very long because blood may pool in your lower extremities. Also, avoid lying on your back for very long because as your uterus gets larger, it presses on the large vein that returns blood to the heart.
Even if you’ve been cleared to exercise and are doing everything right, sometimes problems will still arise. Stop exercising immediately if you experience any of the following: vaginal bleeding, dizziness, shortness of breath before exercise, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, regular, painful uterine contractions, or fluid leaking from the vagina.
I’ve recently had the privilege to follow two expectant mothers’ pregnancy journeys – one I trained the last six months of her pregnancy, and the other came to my Zumba classes.
While Bonnie had a non-complicated pregnancy with no risk factors, Sarah’s was anything but! I’ve asked her to share her story because it’s one of hope, strength, determination, and resilience. Sarah’s story in her own words:
When I learned that I was pregnant in the fall of 2017, it came as a shock. I have an autoimmune disease called Grave’s Disease which affects the thyroid; this causes a rapid heart rate, tremors, muscle weakness, eye weakness, and if not properly managed, could result in heart failure. The doctors all told me that getting pregnant was tough and the likelihood of miscarriage was high. Needless to say, when I became pregnant, I was determined to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. I was also a high-risk pregnancy due to being 37 years old and my baby had a two-vessel umbilical cord (normal babies have three). Every high-risk factor had the same possible outcomes. The baby was at a high risk for being underdeveloped, premature and at a low birth weight. A lot of my friends and family were concerned (and some were convinced) that exercising every day and eating a plant-based diet during pregnancy would result in vitamin deficiencies and would put too much stress on my body, putting the baby in danger.
Prior to becoming pregnant, I was working out six days a week. It was way too easy to sit on the couch with the extreme fatigue of the first trimester. I knew that I needed to keep my body healthy and I needed help with that motivation to make sure that I was weight training correctly as I progressed throughout my pregnancy. That is when I contacted a personal trainer and asked for help. Just after my first session with my trainer Lori, I felt great! We continued to work together until week 38 of my pregnancy when at that time, we met up a couple times just to walk. We did everything from kettle bell swings, ab work, and squats. I met with her two times a week for weight training and at least three other days a week I would do some sort of cardio. I ran until my fifth month of pregnancy, then switched to the elliptical and bike. One of the unexpected benefits I had through exercise was the effect it had on my hormonal mood swings. There were many days where I would leave the house with a sad/mad/frustrated/anxious mood and only a few minutes into my workout, those feelings started to subside.
None of this came easy to me. I was worried about exercise and my heart rate and I wondered if I was doing the right thing with my diet. Working with three separate doctors, alongside my personal trainer, I was constantly reassured every week that what I was doing was the best thing for my body. I had no pain during my pregnancy, very minimal swelling, great blood pressure and sugar levels at every single visit. With all odds against me, I went full term to 41 weeks and 5 days. I had a much longer labor than I had anticipated, lasting 66 hours, but I was strong enough and had the stamina to withstand the labor and delivery. I was even able to walk around unassisted after delivery within ONE hour. My son was born at a healthy 7 lbs. 14oz and entirely healthy and strong still to this day. I can only believe that exercise and diet allowed me to have such a healthy pregnancy and baby. I believe that no matter what anyone may be going through in their life, be it physical or mental health, we can all benefit from exercise. Whether you’re pregnant, have a heart condition, stressed and depressed, or even just lead an extremely busy life, make time for exercise! The benefits are unbelievable and I have never heard someone say “man, I wish I would have watched that Netflix episode instead of going to the gym”. I write this 4 1/2 months postpartum, running on less than ideal sleep, but I still make time in my day to exercise. It has already yielded great benefits fighting postpartum depression and just being strong enough to hold my baby as long as he needs. ~ Sarah Willmouth
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