A few decades ago, many doctors advised their pregnant patients to not exercise, spend lots of time resting, and to “eat for two” (herself and the developing baby). But this advice has changed radically.
The Journal of the American Medical Association has just published guidelines for exercise during pregnancy, calling the older recommendations “misguided” and that discouraging of exercise during pregnancy has “evolved into a major contributor of the worldwide obesity epidemic”.
The new theory is called “generational obesity”. Overweight women tend to give birth to overweight daughters, who eventually give birth to overweight children of their own. So the modern focus is to encourage more exercise for pregnant women, to help them avoid obesity as well as obese kids.
What about pregnant women who have been sedentary? Is it safe for them to start exercise when pregnant?
Yes, it is believed to be safe for most sedentary women, and actually recommended. The experts believe that if a woman has been out of shape, that during pregnancy is a perfect time to start (though even better to start before getting pregnant).
How early in the pregnancy is it safe to exercise, and how close to the delivery date is safe?
It is best to wait until 9 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy to start an exercise program, and it can extend close to the due date (stop at week 38 or 39). The exercise ideally is for at least 20 to 30 minutes, most days of the week.
What exercise is best?
Ideally a mix of strength training (light weights), mixed with aerobics, which could be, for example, fast walking, running, swimming, low impact aerobics classes, or dancing.
How do I know if my exercise level is not too strenuous?
A good test during aerobic exercise is the “talk test”. If you can carry on a conversation during your exercise, then the exercise level is ok. If you are breathless and cannot, it’s too much.
What exercise should be avoided?
Lifting heavy weights, holding your breath during weight training, or doing exercises while you are laying down are considered not safe for your developing baby. Long distance running should be avoided, or any exercise that raises your heart rate to 90 % of your maximum heart rate. Also avoid exercise that involves risks of falls, or any risk of impact on the ground or other surfaces.
Isometrics is not good, and Pilates or yoga are controversial during pregnancy. Exercise in a hot environment is not recommended. At all times, make sure you are comfortable, well-hydrated, and avoid fasting or low blood sugar.
Are their other benefits to exercise besides avoiding obesity?
Yes, not only is an exercise program good for the mother, but there are many advantages to the baby, including lower risks of: an overweight baby; gestational diabetes or high blood pressure; needing a cesarean section; back or hip pain; and urinary incontinence.
Talk to your obstetrician about your plans before you start your exercise program, to make sure you are a good candidate. But most pregnant women can exercise through most of their pregnancy at almost the same level as if they were not pregnant. It will help them, their baby, and maybe even their grandchildren (“generational obesity”).
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