It has not been until relatively recently that women have been allowed to exercise. The first woman to run in the Boston marathon did so under a pseudonym, wore a baseball cap the whole time and was almost chased off the course when race officials realized she was a woman. That was in 1967. In the past 50 years, a lot has changed. Unfortunately, many physicians have not updated their knowledge base on exercising and pregnancy.
Make no mistakes, doing scientific research on humans is hard. It is even harder to get approval to do scientific research on pregnant women. As a result, updating information about this population is extremely difficult. Much of the data collected has been anecdotal and based solely on stories of past pregnancies. In his book, Exercising through Your Pregnancy, Dr. James Clapp gives scientifically backed studies to explain the benefits of exercising, no matter what, during your pregnancy.
The first myth that has circulated is that if you were not currently exercising, you better not start an exercise program. However, the most recent research has proven that to be false advice. No matter what your fitness level at conception, exercising during pregnancy should be a must.
However, during the first trimester, and sometimes long after that, many women are fatigued, sick and exhausted and the thought of starting a fitness program is overwhelming. This is precisely why the new recommendation has been given. Exercise during pregnancy has been proven to reduce fatigue, decrease the amount of nausea experienced, and increase energy. In addition, it increases appetite which can decrease the amount of nausea felt. Most tend to agree several small meals a day help with the nausea experienced with pregnancy.
If you have never exercised, training for an Ironman or a marathon is probably not in your best interest. However, going for a brisk, daily, 30-minute walk is. In addition to providing energy, it alters caloric balance so that weight gain is kept to a minimum. The risk of developing gestational diabetes is also reduced. Finally, it allows you to develop a wonderful habit that will hopefully continue after birth and set a good example for your children.
Like anything related to pregnancy, you want to make sure you get your doctor’s approval before beginning an exercise program. However, if he/she discourages you, I would make sure you ask why and make sure the reason he/she is not allowing exercise is for one of the contraindicated reasons:
- Pregnancy induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Pre-term rupture of membranes
- Pre-term labor during the prior or current pregnancy
- Incompetent or cerclage placement
- Persistent second or third trimester bleeding
- Placenta previa
- Intrauterine growth retardation
If you find you have any of the following, you definitely need to be discuss exercise with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program:
- Chronic hypertension
- Thyroid function abnormality
- Cardiac disease
- Vascular disease
- Pulmonary disease
Once you begin an exercise program, things should go very well, but be aware if the following situations occur and report them immediately to your doctor:
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased fetal movement
If you are careful and listen to your body, beginning or continuing an exercise program while you pregnant can provide many benefits to both you and your baby. Stay tuned to find out the next myth: Exercise will hurt me and my baby while pregnant.