movement

Active Pregnancy — the rationale

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Moving into Motherhood

It’s time to hit the main theme again:  Aer­o­bi­cal­ly fit women are at reduced risk for things that go wrong in preg­nan­cy, improve their tol­er­ance for labor and birth, and recov­er more rapid­ly in the post­par­tum peri­od.

Mov­ing into Moth­er­hood

The arrival of the hol­i­days pro­vides a good rea­son to bring this up, yet again! Preg­nan­cy is a gate­way time in women’s lives…we become more aware of our bod­ies, our sen­sa­tions, our feel­ings, our needs, and how ver­sa­tile and amaz­ing our bod­ies are. We can make peo­ple with our bod­ies! Dur­ing preg­nan­cy, we often take precautions…we eat more care­ful­ly, avoid tox­ins, try to avoid stress. When the hol­i­days arrive, we see indul­gent behav­ior in a dif­fer­ent light.

Yet, even with all this focus on behav­ior, we some­times miss the biggest aid to a healthy preg­nan­cy:  phys­i­cal fit­ness. Research clear­ly demon­strates that fit women do bet­ter, are health­i­er and hap­pi­er. More and more in the U.S. we see dis­or­ders of nor­mal organ func­tion that accom­pa­ny seden­tary preg­nan­cy.

Let’s look at this a lit­tle clos­er (yes, I am going to repeat myself some more, but it is an impor­tant con­cept to spread). We live in a body mod­el that rewards an active lifestyle.

Being sedentary causes things to go wrong

Not mov­ing cre­ates bio­chem­i­cal imbal­ances because the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem atro­phies and mol­e­cules cre­at­ed in the brain or brought in through the diges­tion may not get where they need to go for a healthy metab­o­lism.

Your car­dio­vas­cu­la­ture is the high­way that brings usable sub­stances to the place they are used. You have to help it grow and devel­op, use it to pump things around and give it a chance to be healthy. Aer­o­bic fit­ness does all these things.

Advice for young women of childbearing age

If you are think­ing of preg­nan­cy, have recent­ly become preg­nant, or work with women of child­bear­ing age, we encour­age you to open avenues of activ­i­ty for your­self or oth­ers in this pop­u­la­tion. You can learn more from our blog dancingthrupregnancy.wordpress.com. You can seek out local pre/postnatal fit­ness experts on this site. Yoga is nice…we use some of it in our work, along oth­er spe­cif­ic exer­cis­es for which there is a direct health ben­e­fit. But, we also see yoga con­verts who come into our pro­gram in mid preg­nan­cy unable to breathe after walk­ing up a flight of stairs. How will they do in labor? Not as well as those who have been doing aer­o­bic dance or an ellip­ti­cal machine 2 or 3 times a week.

The AHA/ACSM guide­lines for the amount of aer­o­bic exer­cise need­ed to improve car­dio­vas­cu­lar sta­tus hold true for preg­nant women just as they do for the rest of the pop­u­la­tion – a min­i­mum of 150 min­utes of mod­er­ate, or 75 min­utes of vig­or­ous, or a com­bi­na­tion of these lev­els of inten­si­ty, per week. If you are not get­ting this lev­el of activ­i­ty, you are putting your health – and that of your off­spring – at risk.

Pregnancy Pathway — Exercise cont’d

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MORE?!! You didn’t think that was it? Only a few com­ments on evi­dence as to WHY mov­ing around, burn­ing calo­ries, being strong and learn­ing to relax while preg­nant is ben­e­fi­cial? No, of course not. You know there is more to it, like WHAT move­ment is safe and effec­tive dur­ing preg­nan­cy?

So, what is safe? Well, first, unless you have a very few con­di­tions that your health care provider con­sid­ers unsafe, every woman — fit, cur­rent­ly seden­tary, young or a lit­tle old­er — can exer­cise safe­ly in preg­nan­cy. How much of what kind depends on your fit­ness lev­el and exer­cise his­to­ry. Get med­ical screen­ing first.

If you are fit, you can do vigorous exercise

If you are fit, you can do vig­or­ous exer­cise

If you are fit, you just need to learn how to mod­i­fy some move­ments to accom­mo­date your bio­me­chan­ics. As your body changes, stress on the joints and tis­sues means a lit­tle less jump­ing or bal­lis­tic motion will be more com­fort­able and safer. If you are fit, you can con­tin­ue with vig­or­ous exer­cise and it will be of ben­e­fit to you and your baby.

If you are not so fit or are seden­tary, find a cer­ti­fied pre/postnatal instruc­tor and join a group where you will have fun, get some guid­ance and be mon­i­tored for safe­ty. How do you find such a per­son? Try our Find A Class or Train­er page.

What is effec­tive? Don’t spend your time on things that may be nice to do but don’t help you focus and pre­pare for birth, relieve dis­com­forts or have the sta­mi­na for birth and par­ent­ing. There is sub­stan­tial sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence and infor­ma­tion from large sur­veys that these things are help­ful.

Car­dio­vas­cu­lar or aer­o­bic activ­i­ty is the most impor­tant activ­i­ty you can do. Already fit? Keep work­ing out; join a class if you want sup­port or new friends. If you are seden­tary or some­what active, you can improve your fit­ness by doing at least 20 — 30 min­utes of aer­o­bic activ­i­ty 3 times a week. Work at a mod­er­ate pace — some­what hard to hard — so that you can talk, but not sing an aria! If you are more than 26 weeks and have not been doing car­dio, you can walk at a com­fort­able pace. Aer­o­bics is key because it gives you endurance to tol­er­ate labor and pro­motes recov­ery.

Strength and flex­i­bil­i­ty exer­cis­es that do not hurt and are done cor­rect­ly are also safe. There are some spe­cial preg­nan­cy exer­cis­es that actu­al­ly help you pre­pare for birth. Essen­tial exer­cis­es that aid your com­fort, align­ment and birth prepa­ra­tion include:

Kegels (squeez­ing and relax­ing pelvic floor mus­cles) — squeez­ing strength­ens them and thus sup­ports the con­tents of the abdomen, and learn­ing to release these mus­cles is nec­es­sary for push­ing and birth.

Abdom­i­nal hiss/compress and C-Curve® - con­tract­ing the trans­verse abdom­i­nal mus­cles reduces low back dis­com­fort and strength­ens the mus­cle used to push and lat­er to recov­er abdom­i­nal integri­ty after birth.

Squatting

Squat­ting

Squat­ting — get­ting into this posi­tion strength­ens the entire leg in a deeply flexed posi­tion; start seat­ed and use arms for sup­port, sta­bil­i­ty and safe­ty. Leg strength improves mobil­i­ty and com­fort in preg­nan­cy and post­par­tum; plus, deep flex­ion is a com­po­nent of push­ing in almost all posi­tions.

Strength­en­ing for bio­me­chan­i­cal safe­ty — strength­en­ing some parts of the body helps pre­vent injury to bone sur­faces, nerves and blood ves­sels with­in joints re-aligned in preg­nan­cy. This can be done using resis­tance rep­e­ti­tions (weights, bands, cal­is­then­tics or pilates) or iso­met­rics (yoga or bal­let). A respon­si­ble class will focus on upper back (row­ing), push-ups, abdom­i­nals, gluteals, ham­strings, and mus­cles of the low­er leg.

Stretch­ing of areas that tend to get tight — reliev­ing some dis­com­forts through flex­i­bil­i­ty helps you main­tain a full range of motion. Sta­t­ic stretch­es, used in com­bi­na­tion with strength exer­cis­es or fol­low­ing aer­o­bics, is most effec­tive. Stretch­ing pri­or to exer­cise tends to pro­duce more injuries than not stretch­ing. Areas need­ing stretch­ing include the chest, low back, ham­strings and hip flex­ors (psoas).

Mind/Body skills are very impor­tant. There are two activ­i­ties that exer­cis­ers con­stant­ly tell us are a big help in preg­nan­cy, birth and par­ent­ing.

• Cen­ter­ing employs a bal­anced or neu­tral pos­ture, deep breath­ing and mind­ful­ness to help you work in a relaxed way. Ath­letes and dancers call this “the zone.” Start­ing your work­out in asso­ci­a­tion with your body estab­lish­es econ­o­my of motion, some­thing very use­ful in birth and par­ent­ing, and reduces risk of injury.

• Relax­ation is anoth­er key activ­i­ty; it relieves stress, pro­motes labor in the ear­ly stages and helps you enter the zone!

Remem­ber: Birth is a Motor Skill™