Women’s Health & Fitness Programs
Many important health issues for girls and women involve matters of reproductive
health, childbearing, fertility and aging. Research informs us that an active, healthy
lifestyle provides a number of benefits throughout a woman’s life span:
reduced discomforts from pregnancy, labor, birth, recovery & menopause
reduced risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and premature birth
potentially shorter active labor and reduced risk of cesarean delivery
more rapid return to joyful activities, less excess weight following birth
mother-infant interaction, leading to infant psychomotor enhancement
reduced rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes
reduction of some cancers, osteoporosis, falls and loss of muscle mass
improved social support, networking and stress management skills
greater belief in one’s ability to be strong and capable (self-efficacy)
As part of our mission to contribute to safe motherhood around the globe, DTP is promoting the work of CleanBirth.org. This organization works to make birth safer in southern Laos, which has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the region. The vast majority of women give birth without a trained attendant or clean supplies, but CleanBirth.org is making a difference, improving outcomes through simple initiatives that provide life-saving birthing supplies and information.
To promote hygienic birth, CleanBirth.org partners with a Lao non-profit, Our Village Association (OVA) to train local nurses to distribute Clean Birth Kits – the life saving birth supplies that cost a mere $5 each. The nurses then train a volunteer from each village to distribute and track the kits and spread information about safe birthing practices.
$250 sponsors a nurse who serves as many as 1o villages
Think of this as your Valentine present to the world. Safe Motherhood is a major global movement, and organizations such as CleanBirth.org are the on-the-ground work force that is bringing about improvements in maternal and newborn survival.
In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitnessbusiness includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population).
See photos and read more about Renee’s business on the DTP Blog here. The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.
Renee is a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles. She started studying with DTP in March 2012 and completed the practicum in May 2012.
I most enjoy the good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise. I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs enable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own. I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy. I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.
What is fetal programming? Every person living on earth was first exposed to a uterine environment that helped determine their lifetime health and development. The term for this phenomenon is fetal programming. It is a hot topic and deserves attention.
Accepting the importance of fetal programming places responsibility on the mother-to-be to do all she can to insure her body provides nutrients and oxygen to her growing infant while avoiding possible risks and toxins. At the same time, genetic and environmental factors contribute greatly to the potential for some disorders and problems that arise. Thus, we must be careful in assigning guidelines for acceptable behavior or blame for poor outcomes to pregnant women.
On the one hand, we can all see the negative consequences of something like fetal alcohol syndrome…clearly the result of maternal behavior. Is a pregnant woman whose baby has been damaged in this way guilty of abuse?
But, what if a mother is obese, eats poorly and ends up with an infant with a disturbed metabolism. Is this abuse? What if the mother has an infection that results in cerebral palsy? Or what if she lives near a highway and involuntarily inhales fumes that negatively affect the placenta?
How do you get a healthy baby? Of course, there are no guarantees. There remain many unknown factors that can affect the course and outcome of a pregnancy. Some factors we are aware of, such as avoiding certain fumes or chemicals. There are some behaviors we know can maximize the potential for a good outcome, such as eating adequate protein, aerobic conditioning and strength training. [Note for new readers…lots of these factors have been covered in our previous posts.]
But, what about all the things we don’t know about?
If these goats eat the wrong grass, will they go into labor?
Here is a cautionary tale: There is a species of goat that, if they eat a certain type of skunk grass on day 14 (and only day 14) of pregnancy, will not go into labor. Why? Plant toxins in this grass interfere with the development of a small portion of fetal brain, the paraventricular nucleus. This nucleus is involved in the signaling cycle of labor. Without it, the mother will not go into labor!
What are the take-home messages here?
Probably no one is ever a perfect fetus…too many possible threats.
There are some threats we can avoid…being lazy, over-eating, smoking.
There are some threats we cannot avoid, so we do the best we can.
Do the best you can by your baby…aerobic fitness, good nourishment, sleep, good hygiene and de-stressing your life.
So let’s get on with the topic of How to Get Pregnant, starting with why do we need to know this?
In the past few decades, the average age for a first pregnancy in the U.S. has moved from the mid twenties into the mid thirties. In the same time period, the facts of conception – sperm enters egg released in mid cycle, then zygote implants in the uterus, along with how sex allows this to happen and how to prevent it – seems to have disappeared from middle and high school health classes. If that weren’t enough, as women have become more and more essential in the work force, the cost of having children as well as starting later, have driven down the birth rate. Similar conditions exist in most developed nations, although teen pregnancy rates are lower everywhere else.
The birthing population has bifurcated – we see older women (over 35) and teens as the major groups having children. On the one hand we have been working to reduce teen pregnancy while helping older and older women become first time moms. To a certain extent, they need the same information; its just that with teens we use this information to prevent pregnancy and with older women we use information to help them increase their odds of getting pregnant.
Understanding the menstrual cycle, ovulation, charting temperature – all the basic techniques of using the “natural” method of birth control – have become the first steps of the how-to-get-pregnant coaches. Beyond this, a number of sites have their own essential lists to help women be healthy and ready. Sites such as gettingpregnant.com, pregnancy.org/getting-pregnant, and storknet.com/cubbies/preconception/ provide additional information. Many suggestions – things to avoid eating, what proteins are needed for ovulation, how to reduce stress, what to do if there are sperm problems, how to find IVF clinics, donors and surrogates – are addressed.
How effective are these suggestions? Well, research tells us they are somewhat effective. None of the sites I contacted answered my query about how they measure or assess consumer outcomes when following their suggestions.
An interesting article in the NY Times 9/1/2011, entitled Are You as Fertile as You Look? openened with this sentence: “FORTY may be the new 30, but try telling that to your ovaries.” The reality is that being under 35 is still the best predictor of how difficult it may be for you to become pregnant. As the article makes clear, looking 30 and being 30 are not the same thing. Even healthy living does not prevent the loss of good eggs.
So, what conclusions can we draw? First, even if you come from a “fertile family,” it may behoove you to have your children in your late 20s or early 30s. Second, if you are putting off having children beyond that time, ask yourself what extremes you are willing to go to to have your own biological offspring. And, third, consider adoption. Frankly, it would be wonderful if adoption were easier, but in the drive to conceive at later and later ages we see the hand of biology and understand why adoption is not easy: Our own offspring – our own DNA out there in the world – is a heady motivation.
If you are on the pathway of becoming pregnant, being under 35 is the best ally you have. If not, maybe some of the suggestions on the web will work for you. Whatever you decide, all the best.
One parting comment: Regular moderate exercise – while it helps you stay young and healthy – will not prevent your eggs from being popped out every month. It will help you have a healthy pregnancy if you conceive, so stay with it!
This is the time of year many of us consider where to make our charitable contributions. We have assembled a list of groups to which you might want to consider giving this year. By donating to these organizations you can help improve the lives of mothers, newborns,children and families around the world. Most will also send a card or email message to a mom in whose honor you give the gift.
UNICEF Inspired Gifts. You can choose gifts that improve education, water, health, nutrition, emergency care and other factors that affect the well-being of women and children.
The Fistula Foundation. This group exists to raise awareness of and funding for fistula treatment, prevention and educational programs worldwide. Fistula is the devastating injury cause by untreated obstructed labor.
The Preeclampsia Foundation. This organization supports research to prevent and treat one of the most dangerous disorders of pregnancy, one that accounts for a large percentage of premature births and low birth weight infants. Having preeclampsia is also a risk factor for later heart disease for the mother.
Clean Birth. Clean Birth Kits are designed to provide birth attendants and/or expecting moms with the tools they need to ensure a clean birthing environment. The Kits ensure the WHO’s “6 Cleans”: clean hands, clean perineum, clean delivery surface, clean cord cutting implement, clean cord tying, and clean cord care.
March of Dimes. The “mother” of all charities for helping prevent and treat disorders and diseases that affect children.
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.
Pregnancy fitness is not only important for moms, but for the fetus as well. Evidence is clear that aerobic fitness improves brain, heart, immune and metabolic function…at all ages, including in utero. If continued early in life, healthy physical adaptations that occur in the uterus become reinforced behavior, preparing a good foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Babies are acute observers of movement and activity, and learn from each other. A key component of a good mom-baby program is the interaction of the babies themselves. A good teacher will facilitate healthy activity among our smallest class members!
There is growing evidence that at all ages, aerobic fitness produces the greatest number of benefits. Recently, researchers determined that aerobic fitness in 9 and 10 year olds produced benefits in the development of two important brain regions – the basal ganglia and the hippocampus – that are significant factors in problem-solving intelligence. This is just one of the latest reports that tells us the capacity to absorb and use oxygen (which improves with aerobic fitness) is a key to health, quality and length of life…beginning in the womb!
“We labored at home for six intense hours, went to the hospital, and he was born forty minutes later. J did such a good job coaching the doctor asked, “Have you taken a birth preparation class?” We got a lot out of your class – thanks a million!!” – A, J & E
“We both feel we had a beautiful birth story that was made up of well educated decisions. From the entire birth team, even though it was not at all what we had envisioned. Thanks Ann for your instruction and class that equipped us for such success!” – O.A .& S.Q.
“We’re happy to report our baby was born on Saturday at 12:31 am…our exercise classes were ESSENTIAL in the later part of labor — the doctor and nurse described me as a “natural” at pushing, but I had to admit I’d been practicing my c-curves twice a week!” — G.S.
“We arrived at the hospital at 8pm on Friday and I was 6 cm dilated…I delivered by 1 am without pain meds. It was an amazing experience. You really do focus inward. I found sitting in the shower holding the sprayer to be helpful. Definitely try different positions. I used the bar for when it can time to push. Just know that there is an end in sight and just holding your baby at the end is the most wonderful, amazing feeling in the world!” — P.E.
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.
Breastfeeding is key for long-term health.
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.