By Gabe Free
Staying healthy and happy is a lifestyle choice requiring habitual attention and commitment over long periods of time. No lifestyle choice is more important than deciding to raise a child. Having a child requires some lifestyle changes, but women shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice their physical lifestyle, especially during pregnancy.
Reproduction and physical exercise are a normal part of life, and for healthy women, combining the two can provide extreme benefits for both the pregnant mother and the developing child. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology both agree that women can continue their established exercise regimen or begin an exercise program while expecting. Even though some physicians believe that regular physical activity during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, poor fetal growth, or musculoskeletal injury, research does not support this. What is known is that physical exercise can result in an improvement in maternal fitness, restricted weight gain without compromising fetal growth, and quicker postpartum recovery. The psychological benefits also are undeniable. Although continued physical activity is safe and recommended, certain physiological benchmarks can define some training parameters.
During the 1st trimester, the fetus is beginning to develop, but expecting mothers will notice few changes. Blood pressure and heart rate will remain normal during exercise, but expecting women may feel fatigued sooner. As pregnancy progresses, blood volume will expand as the uterus begins to enlarge, which will cause fatigue to set in earlier. Weight gain can range from 0-10 pounds. Also during this time, the fetus is undergoing its most important stages of organ and limb development, so adequate nutrition, hydration, and rest are extremely important.
Heat distribution begins to change as well. A dramatic increase in body heat can endanger the fetus. This is an environmental factor, as well as an ergogenic (clothes) factor. Fortunately, exercise and proper hydration improve the body’s ability to regulate core temperature. However, it is important to avoid exercise at extreme intensities, altitudes, humidity, or temperatures. As pregnancy continues and blood volume increases, altitude, temperature, and humidity will have an ever greater impact.
With a little planning and a few modifications both the expecting mom and the developing child can benefit from exercise. Women should always talk to their doctor or health care professional before beginning any exercise program. A personal trainer also can help modify existing exercise programs or develop new ones to meet women’s needs during pregnancy.
2nd and 3rd Trimester
Dramatic changes in the body occur during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Normal weight gain ranges from 22-35 pounds, centered around the abdomen. This change creates a drastic shift in the center of gravity, and therefore changes every single way the brain has learned to move the body. Imagine how you normally stand up, bend over to pick something up, or reach for something above you. Strapping 30 pounds to the front of your body will cause you to move a different way. Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), this shift in body weight is gradual and the body adjusts to it as it happens.
The great thing about weightlifting is that it is possible to apply an exact resistance for a specific time in order to get the desired effect. Pregnancy is constant. Without an opportunity to rest, the body will exhibit symptoms of overtraining, often manifested in low back pain. This is where hip- and back-strengthening exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, will pay off and keep the back and posture intact for the coming months of pregnancy.
During this time, it is important that pregnant women:
- Avoid exercising while prone or supine (on the stomach or back)
- Do not create intra-abdominal pressure from engaging the torso in tangent with spinal and abdominal pressure created by the floor/bench, which can cause harm to the developing baby
A personal trainer can help modify any exercise/range of motion to a standing version in order to target the same muscle groups to avoid a harmful position.
Sedentary pregnant women typically require 3000 daily calories during pregnancy. However, if expecting mothers are physically active, they should expect that number to increase based on exertion during exercise. The best way to measure sufficient caloric intake during pregnancy is to monitor weight gain and make sure it is not higher or lower than what health care professionals advise. Caloric requirements for pregnant women vary based on the individual and medical conditions, like individual lean body mass.
Although it is not necessary to stop physical activity during pregnancy, modifications are needed. Pregnant women should:
- Not make gains on their heavy lifts during pregnancy, but instead build this strength prior to pregnancy and maintain it
- Never exceed their prepregnancy exertion or intensity
- Avoid exercises that involve jumping and heavy impact
- Quit cycling outdoors—a shift in bodyweight could cause a possible fall
Women who are planning to become pregnant or have learned they are pregnant should talk to their health care professional and personal trainer to learn what they can do to assure a safe and healthy pregnancy for themselves and their baby.
It is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that women resume physical activity after delivery as soon as possible, after receiving medical clearance from their physicians. Current research shows that exercise has no negative effect on breastmilk volume or consumption, but the production can be taxing on the mother. Approximately 200mg of calcium is transferred to breastmilk each day. This results in loss of up to 9% of bone mineral density in the lower lumbar spine. Usually this self corrects after the breastfeeding is reduced, but this is not true in all women. In a recent study by the American College of Sport and Medicine, resistance training was shown to reduce the loss of BMD in the lumbar spine from 7% to 4.8% 16 weeks after giving birth.