Pointers on preventing back pain during pregnancy and postpartum: Yale Back Care Video, featuring DTP staff.
Recently, we have experienced growing interest in information included in the textbook, Women’s Fitness Program Development. So, we decided that site readers might want to purchase this text if they are seriously interested in subjects pertaining to women’s health fitness. The book opens with a chapter on how women differ from men in their physical, mental, emotional and social development and how these differences affect our motivation to be active. Sections on adolescence, pregnancy, the postpartum period and menopause explain what happens during these critical and uniquely female life transitions, what is known about the impact of exercise on health during these times, and how to develop effective programming for these populations. It is available through the publisher, Human Kinetics, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
While public awareness of low birth weight and premature infants is becoming — at long last — interesting to the mainstream culture and media, another phenomenon is beginning to shake the professional birthing world: high birth weight. Because it is occurring in a more affluent element of society, it is alarming. This tells us that you cannot buy your way out of pregnancy risks that are created by a sedentary, toxic food life-style.
Here is the dilemma:
Normal weight and some overweight women who eat too much in pregnancy tend to have babies who are, basically, already obese at birth. Therefore, these infants already have metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction. Babies born over 8 lbs. 14 oz. are at increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
Interestingly, the Institute of Medicine recently issued new guidelines on pregnancy weight gain. After nearly 20 years of adhering to the “normal” weight gain being 25 to 35 pounds, the Institute recognized that prenatal BMI plays a role in how much weight gain is necessary for a healthy pregnancy.
The evidence that underlies this change demonstrates that gains greater than 22 pounds — for all classifications of prenatal BMI — is the demarkation point for increased health problems. More information on this is available at: New IOM Guidelines.
We have known for a while now that obesity in pregnancy puts mother and infant at risk for a number of problems from cardiovascular, metabolic and immune disorders to prematurity, low birth weight, increased need for cesarean birth and slow recovery. Add another one: Obese newborns with increased risk for heart and metabolism problems.
Reference on weight gain and high birth weight:
Ludwig DS, Currie J. The association between pregnancy weight gain and birthweight: a within-family comparison. Lancet. 2010 Sep 18;376(9745):984–90. Epub 2010 Aug 4.
A good reference for issues surrounding obese pregnancy:
Leddy MA et al. The Impact of Maternal Obesity on Maternal and Fetal Health. Rev Obstet Gynecol 2008;1(4):170–178.
Recent CDC Guidelines on Exercise for the general population include pregnant and postpartum women. Specific information for pregnant women is included at this URL:
James Pivarnik, PhD, president of the American College of Sports Medicine has released a Medscape video for health care providers encouraging them to be aware of the fact that the CDC considers a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity for athletic women, or a combination of intensity for fit women) to be important for pregnant women, along with the general population.
DTP’s Total Pregnancy Fitness instructors learn how to combine activities so that women receive an adequate amount of exercise each week during their pregnancy. To find out about becoming a teacher, click on Become a Teacher above.
We have long known that vaginal birth and breastfeeding are key factors in the development of a healthy immune system in infants. Passing through the vagina exposes the baby to an array of bacteria that help stimulate its unchallenged immune system. Breast-fed babies receive anti-bodies, proteins and other molecules that protect it from infection and teach the immune system to defend the infant.
Recent research at UC Davis has shown that a strain of the bifido bacteria — acquired from the mother — thrives on complex sugars (largely lactose) that were previously thought to be indigestible. The bacterium coats the lining of the immature digestive tract and protects it from noxious bacteria.
This combination of interactions affects the composition of bacteria in the infant gut as it matures. Another example of how evolution has “invented” the perfect nutrition for infants, this research contributes to the notion that evolution has selected for many genes that serve normal birth and breastfeeding by protecting the newborn. Intervening with the normal progression of birth and breastfeeding — while occasionally necessary — interrupts these beneficial adaptations and contributes to allergies and autoimmune disorders.
Who Controls Birth? Defining the Argument.
Periodically, arguments arise in the birthing field over who controls the way we give birth. Often this happens at times when birthing women change their behavior trends, putting financial pressure on professionals working in this field. The major players in this argument are medical doctors (obstetricians), certified nurse midwives and professional home birth midwives.
Currently we are seeing women leave the traditional hospital setting for birth in larger and larger numbers…and taking their dollars with them in the process. While the question of home birth safety arises every time this control argument comes around, the question of whether it is safe to intervene in a labor that is progressing normally is a new component of the discussion. This time the argument is: The safety of home birth vs. the safety of using hospital technology to intervene in normal birth.
How Money Affects this Issue
As with all commercial ventures, controlling access to safe birth requires controlling the information in the market place. This information needs to address the perceived wants of the target audience. For a long time the main message has been: Safe birth is only available in a hospital.
The financial pressure of giving women (consumers) what they want — a normal experience of birth in a safe setting where medical help can be quickly available — has powered the birth-center industry. Free-standing and in-hospital birth centers have grown in numbers, and are largely enabled by certified nurse-midwives. Meanwhile, professional home birth midwives have increased both their credentials and practice standards, as well as their visibility.
Both of these options, birth centers and home birth, threaten the livelihood of traditional obstetrical practices. Low risk births (about 70% of births) have the potential to be normal births, requiring little or no intervention. But, giving birth in the hospital means participating in measurement procedures that intervene in the labor process.
So, to convince women they need to be in a hospital to be safe, medicine has maintained the argument that home birth or out of hospital birth is not safe. However, research does not indicate this is true. The nature of this ongoing argument is discussed in a 2002 article from Midwifery Today.
What’s New? The Counter Argument.
The physiology of normal labor is dominated by parasympathetic, meditative, gonadal energy systems. Measurement is a sympathetic, rational, adrenal energy dynamic. Only when it is time to expel the baby does the underlying energy system make a transition (transition, get it?) to an adrenal impetus for the strength activity of pushing. Immediately following normal birth, maternal physiology is again dominated by gonad-driven energy along with a rush of endorphins.
“Intervene enough and things will go awry. You can easily end up being cut and/or separated from your baby at birth.” These ideas have gone viral. With the arrival of the internet, women have found a very quick way to do what we have always done: Share information.
Thus, in my exercise program and in my childbirth preparation classes, I have more and more frequently been fielding the following question from women who want a normal birth and want to be safe: “How can I avoid interventions while I am in the hospital?”
So, I ask them what leads them to ask this question. And, they say: “I read on the internet and/or heard from my friends that interventions make birth less normal and less safe. I want to protect myself.”
Women themselves are entering the argument in a much more conscious way than in the past. Some professionals would like to keep women out of the argument. But, like with many things in our 21st century world, we have already past the point of no return. As they say, the horse has already left the barn!
Word has gotten around. More and more, as a prenatal fitness expert who strives to listen to my clients, my job has become educating and physically training women to cope with a strenuous and primitive process in a technological world.
Hopefully, we can all keep our eye on the ball here. Preventing trauma should be one key goal. Just as we have learned to hold our newborns skin to skin so they can smell and taste us, listen to our heart beat and voice, and maintain their core temperature, let us learn to comfort and nurture our new mothers, while we steel them for the rigors of birth.
I love Yoga. But…Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, Fast Yoga, Pilates-Yoga, Fresh Yoga, Baby Yoga and even Prenatal Yoga…not so much. I find these phenomena strange.
Why? Well, 40 years ago – when I first learned Yoga – it was a privilege. A person came to Yoga in the search for a meaningful life path. It was a blend of the spiritual and the physical, and it required a commitment to what was revealed within the practice. Before being allowed to take my first class, I had to demonstrate that I already practiced meditation. It was not exercise per se.
It was not adaptable like it is today. Depending on the teacher, you learned an ancient system – Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, or Kundalini. Those were the major methods that have Hindu roots, and those who practiced these art forms knew what they were doing. The teachers themselves had worked on their craft for decades. Today, I know only a few teachers who have a profound grasp of each of these methods.
Why is Yoga so popular?
Is there something within the work itself – even in the diluted forms, hybrid versions and the celebrity/competitive studios – that allows it to thrive in the self-centered, free-wheeling, branding-crazy marketplace of the early 21st century developed world?
I find the answer to this in a strange place: Zen practice, Bhuddism. One of my favorite notions is from Suzuki’s text Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. “When you feel disagreeable, it is best to sit.” This is an element of nin – constancy – or being present in the moment. Not patience, which requires a rejection of impatience and therefore cannot accept the present as it is. When you sit – just sit period, that’s it – all that is real is the moment. This is at the heart of all spiritual experience.
I’m not an expert in Yoga. I don’t teach Yoga, although I have integrated Yoga-based skills into my work. I have practiced Hatha and Vinyasa over the years enough to learn how certain skills are treated…belly breathing, slow deep breathing, maintaining position and listening to the wisdom of the body, and isometric strengthening in preparation for more expansive shapes or motions. Long ago, I integrated these skills from my Yoga experience into my teaching style because these skills are effective for the populations with which I work. But, I do not teach Yoga.
Can Research Help Us?
Researchers find Yoga a nightmare. There is so much variance now in the practice that findings from any one study cannot be transferred to the general population. One of the most revealing experimental-design studies found that none of the claims of Yoga improving metabolism could be demonstrated. When asked why they thought this outcome had occurred, the teachers who were used in the study said they thought the participants in the study were not fit enough to do Yoga!
One of the most successful Yoga teachers in my area, and one of my favorites, has for decades used a bicycle for her primary mode of transportation. She credits her longevity and success to Yoga. I attribute it to bicycling. Dr. Cooper is right…fitness (which means aerobic fitness) is the biggest bang for the buck. Unless you are fit, it is hard to execute some of the more subtle demands of many exercise regimens.
Some Yoga teachers will say that you can make Yoga aerobic or that some forms are aerobic. OK, then it’s aerobics, not Yoga. Whenever I see “aerobic Yoga” it reminds me of aerobic dancing. It’s helpful to remember that Yoga developed in a time and place where survival was dependent upon fitness. People didn’t need to do more aerobics to find enlightenment. They needed reflection and to be present in the moment.
So, I insist on aerobic fitness as the first goal of a fitness regimen. In the pre/postnatal field, this is the only consistently demonstrated factor in improved outcomes. As a birth preparation there are Yoga-based factors that will help in labor and birth IF THE WOMAN IS FIT ENOUGH. It is the fact that some Yoga-based skills help fit people find nin that is my justification for continuing to use them in conjunction with aerobics and special pre/postnatal preparation and recovery exercises.
But, there are cautions. Not all Yoga assanas (positions) are safe for pregnancy. Down-dog, in particular, scares me because of incidents reported in obstetrical literature in the 1980s and 1990s that indicate such a position is implicated in fatal embolisms. Some shapes are just not doable and others become less comfortable over time. The ones that work have been identified since the 1940s and 1950s and integrated into birth preparation courses.
All exercise components -
- Aerobic or Cardiovascular Fitness
- are necessary for a balanced fitness routine. Too much emphasis on any one factor often results in injury. Aerobics is where the greatest health benefits reside. Recent research has demonstrated that it is physical “fitness” (which we can measure) as opposed to just spending time in physical activity (which can be a wide range of intensities) that is responsible for improved health outcomes. Strength and flexibility training need to be purposive. There are things we don’t need to do unless we are going to play pro football or dance Swan Lake! Mind/Body skills help us recover and prepare.
I for one will be glad when we get beyond yoga and back to cross training!
Rachael Blum of Santa Monica, CA, has alerted us to an excellent article in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning the evidence for the role of exercise in pregnancy in helping prevent childhood obesity: http://healthcarereform.nejm.org/?p=3321&query=home. Rachael, our newest DTP family member, has also alerted us to an LA Times article on this subject: LA Times article.
With the recent emphasis on the importance of movement in the fight against childhood obesity, there is recognition that beneficial fetal programming through maternal exercise can make a big contribution to this effort. A combination of proper maternal nutrition and maternal fitness may well prove to be most efficient and potentially effective way to help children develop an appetite for motion!
One factor in this is the finding that regular, moderate-intensity exercise helps prevent obesity in the newborn: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_97212.htmlt. This, may in turn, help prevent childhood obesity.
Recess for everyone!!!
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In May 2009, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued new guidelines on weight gain in pregnancy. You can find this report at the URL listed below. As you may be aware, they are recommending lower weight gains than previously.
Here is the link to the Guidelines: