Fit to be pregnant
Moderate exercise provides health benefits for moms-to-be and babies
BY DEANNA BETTERIDGE
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2014
I'm at the time of life when many women I know are pregnant, have recently had a baby or are planning for one in the near future.
And because I work in physical activity promotion, many of the conversations I have with these women revolve around questions they have about exercise and pregnancy, such as: Is exercise and pregnancy a good mix? What exercises are good and which ones should be avoided? How often should I exercise while pregnant?
These conversations cause me to reflect on two experiences I had during my first pregnancy. The first occurred when an older gentleman, a complete stranger, approached me in the gym to tell me that he didn't think I should be exercising in my condition (i.e., pregnant). I assured him it was safe and continued my workout.
The second involved my grandmother, bless her good intentions. She told me I needed to take better care of myself and rest up now that I was expecting. In the days of my grandmother, women were encouraged to do as little physical activity as possible while pregnant and spend several weeks resting in bed after having the baby.
Oh, how times have changed.
Research now suggests that moderately-intense exercise while pregnant, in most cases, is safe and encouraged to support a healthy pregnancy.
The benefits of exercising while pregnant are many, and include: increased energy, improved sleep, fewer pregnancy-related aches and pains, improved mood and positive body image, and healthy pregnancy weight gain.
Studies also show that women who exercise during pregnancy are better prepared for labour, have babies with healthier, stronger and more efficient hearts, and, in some cases, have shorter delivery times (but that's not guaranteed, unfortunately).
Dr. Craig Burym, an obstetrician and a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at St. Boniface Hospital, says he tells his patients that pregnancy is not a "disease."
"A normal pregnancy should be seen as a state of wellness," he says. "It is a time when a mother's healthy lifestyle choices affect not only her health, but that of her baby as well. A healthy diet and regular exercise help to maintain good physical and mental health throughout pregnancy."
Recent research has prompted the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) to produce guidelines encouraging regular prenatal exercise that includes aerobic exercise (cardio), strength training, core work and flexibility. Continuing and even starting an exercise program is advised in most healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies.
In addition to overall health benefits, pregnancy and diabetes research conducted by Drs. Sora Ludwig and Garry Shen at the University of Manitoba suggests that exercise and a healthy diet can help pregnant women reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes, which can occur when the body does not produce enough insulin to handle the effects of a growing fetus and changing hormones.
For women who have developed gestational diabetes, the Manitoba researchers, along with the Canadian Diabetes Association, recommend moderate exercise (in the absence of any medical obstetrical contraindications) as an additional lifestyle measure to help control blood sugars during pregnancy. They further recommend exercise as a lifestyle measure after pregnancy to help prevent the future development of diabetes.
Aileen Hunt is a local pioneer in the pre- and postnatal fitness world, and has tirelessly worked to raise awareness about the benefits of being active while pregnant.
"There has really been a lot more interest in this area over the last decade or so," says Hunt, who runs Fit 4 Two, a Winnipeg business that specializes in pre- and postnatal fitness. As a result, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are becoming better known by health-care providers and the public, she says.
Hunt explains that pregnancy is often a time of self-reflection and selfimprovement for women. Pregnant women meet more regularly with their health-care provider and tend to make lifestyle changes for the health of themselves and their baby. The additional health-care provider support and motivation can help them quit smoking, start exercising, eat healthier, and focus on their mental health and well-being.
If you are pregnant and already exercise, good for you - keep it up!
If you're new or returning to exercise, start slowly by working out for about 15 minutes without getting too tired or out of breath. This is important because doing too much your first time out can pose risks. Over time, you can increase the intensity to a moderate level where you begin to feel out of breath, your heart beats faster and you start to sweat.
Based on current research and his professional experience, Dr. Burym strongly believes there are only a few cases where a pregnant woman should avoid exercising.
"Women at high risk of pre-term labour and those with pre-eclampsia should not exercise," he says. "Women with other problems in their pregnancy should consult with their prenatalcare provider about exercise in pregnancy. But in the majority of cases, exercise is indeed recommended."
As a precaution, it is recommended that all pregnant women discuss plans to exercise with their healthcare provider and complete a Physical Activity Readiness Medical Examination for Pregnancy (PARMed-X for Pregnancy) form before starting to exercise. Prepared by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, this form can be found online at www.csep.ca.
Deanna Betteridge is Manager of Physical Activity Promotion for the Winnipeg Health Region and Chair of Winnipeg in motion.
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the March / April 2014 issue of Wave