I guess you could say I’m in the “planning stages” of pregnancy. By “planning” I mean amassing every possible tidbit of information to my arsenal. Some people just become pregnant by surprise and everything works out just fine, but I’m the type of person who leaves nothing to chance. There is a wealth of research out there about how a mother’s diet and activity affects the unborn child.
What Research Says About Pregnant Exercise
- The University of Georgia has just released a ground-breaking study that says supervised low-to-moderate weight lifting is not only safe for pregnant women, but also beneficial. “The data shows women can increase their strength even though they are pregnant and have never done weight-training before,” says lead researcher Patrick O’Connor. On average, women increased the amount of weight lifted by 36 percent over the course of their pregnancy, which helped reduce back pain.
- A review in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons indicates that exercises for pregnant women eases musculoskeletal pain, lowers maternal blood pressure, reduces swelling, and improves mood.
- A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the Kansas City University of Medicine found that pregnancy exercises done for at least 30 minutes three times a week contributed to fetuses with lower heart rates (a sign of heart health) during the final weeks of development – and, furthermore, that this improved heart control was maintained for at least one month after birth.
- A report published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that pregnant women who exercised (rode a stationary bike) gave birth to babies with a more optimal birth weight. Mothers who did not exercise had babies that weighed an average of five ounces more. Babies that are over 8 pounds 12 ounces are more likely to become overweight or obese children, which highlights why this study is so significant.
- Researchers at the University of Southern California School of Medicine found that working with a personal trainer was equally effective as taking insulin for women with gestational diabetes. They added that starting pregnancy exercises right away could keep blood sugar levels in check and actually prevent gestational diabetes, which affects 1 out of every 8 pregnancies.
How Often Should One Exercise When Pregnant?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least four days a week. If you never exercised before, then start slow. If you were a hardcore workout nut before, then try to keep the same schedule. Researchers say that dizziness is the biggest concern for a pregnancy workout, so be sure to hit the gym with a partner or personal trainer or just take it easy if you’re using a pregnancy workout DVD at home.
Best Exercises For Pregnant Women
- Stationary bikes / spin classes
- Treadmill walking or jogging
- Elliptical machines
- Stair climbers
- Exercise Bands
- Cable Weights
- DVDs: “Complete Pregnancy Fitness with Erin O’Brien”, “10 Minute Solution: Prenatal Pilates”, “Element: Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga”, “Prenatal Yoga with Shiva Rea”, “Lindsay Brin’s Pregnancy DVD: Yoga, Cardio & Toning”
If you can’t afford to work out with a personal trainer, at least keep watch for these 12 signs of pregnancy exercise danger, according to Baby Center.
Pregnant Exercises Fit For Celebrities
Everyone naturally wonders, “How do those celebrities stay so fit and gorgeous, even while pregnant?” Hilary Duff’s trainer says that exercising in a cool room and monitoring your heart rate is key. He cautions – no impact, no bouncing, no plyometrics, and back off on stretching (since pregnant women naturally become hyper-flexible). Duff completes pregnancy exercises three to five times a week, including elliptical machines and incline heel walking machines. She avoids exercises that focus on the abdomen or anything requiring her to lie on her back. She also uses light free weights and higher reps to keep her arms toned. Later in her pregnancy, she’ll transition to cable weights or elastic bands.
The trainer for Jessica Alba and Halle Berry says she had the women doing 3 sessions of cardio, 2 sessions of strength training, and 1 session of core training for their pregnancy workouts. Naturally, the intensity and duration of the cardio sessions were diminished, but treadmills and stationary bikes were important tools. Resistance training included rowing, wall push-ups, bicep extensions with dumbbells, as well as bicep curls. Yoga was done for the “core” day. Toward the end of Halle Berry’s pregnancy, she dropped the cardio and strength training in exchange for more yoga, which provided her body with more oxygen and helped her focus on breathing that would be helpful during labor.
Challenges of Exercise For Pregnant Women
As you know, your body will be going through some unbelievable changes during this time. Unique challenges to exercise when pregnant include:
- Frequent urination (Stay close to a bathroom in case you need to go every 10 minutes.)
- Overheating (Try working out in a cooler room, by a fan, or outdoors near the water.)
- Round ligament pain (Wear a specially designed supportive compression band to help.)
- Lower back pain (Try doing yoga poses designed to relieve back pressure.)
- Upset stomach (Eat bland foods and workout later in the day when nausea subsides.)
- Fatigue (Shorten exercises when necessary and find the best time to work out.)
By now, you should have a pretty good plan of attack. That last hurdle is always finding the gumption to actually do it. If not a trainer, at least find a buddy or convince your spouse to support your exercise goals. This will make the next 9 months much more productive and tolerable. Good luck!