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)
Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is a time of restrictions. Avoiding risks can be one thing that makes it seem that way. But, bear with us here in an interesting trip through danger and finding you find ways of enhancing your pregnancy!
Risk Factor #1:
Lack of prenatal care.More than anything else, be sure you have care. Having someone monitor your health and that of your baby during pregnancy is vital to a good outcome.
Risk Factor #2:
Not exercising. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and immune disorders.
I know, I know, you don’t have time to exercise. Well, pay now or pay later, as they say. Make time to go to a class (make sure it includes 20 -30 minutes of aerobics) a couple times a week. A class will also provide social support, another factor that enhances your pregnancy. Take a walk at lunch time. Practice relaxation techniques.
Risk Factor #3:
Breathing dangerous fumes. Yes, this includes smoking and second-hand smoke. But, it also means avoiding environments where there is a lot smog (near highways), living with mold or dust, and fancy cleansers that may have dangerous chemicals in them. Stick with vinegar, ammonia or bleach as cleansers.
Smog can endanger your fetus!
We are learning that combustion exhaust from cars and trucks can negatively affect birth weight and prematurity. If you live or work near a highway or in an area where smog is prevalent, what are your options? Can you transfer or move? Can you wear a mask? Talk to your care provider and figure out the best protection for you and your fetus.
Risk Factor #4:
Poor Nutrition.Yup, just go back one entry and find out how food affects pregnancy. If you don’t eat enough protein and drink enough water, you don’t make sufficient blood volume to nourish your placenta and thus your fetus.
Eat whole foods and learn to read labels when you buy processed foods. What is a “processed” food? Anything with more than one ingredient!
Some processing (ex: homemade soup) takes little nutrition away, but some processing (ex: potato chips) takes everything good away and replaces it with unsafe substances. Look for low sodium, low sugar, high vitamin and mineral content items with no saturated or trans fats.
Read the ingredients; if you don’t know what the words mean, maybe you want to pass it up.
Risk Factor #5:
Alcohol and Drugs. Common items can be as dangerous as street drugs, which
There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine…later.
No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.
Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.
can severely compromise you baby’s future. If you have a drug or alcohol habit, get help.
Risk Factor #6:
Genetics. You can have genetic predispositions for many pregnancy issues. However, that does not necessarily mean you will develop a given disorder. For example, nutrition and exercise greatly reduce the risk and severity of metabolic issues. Some genetic issues are unavoidable however, and your care provider will alert you to these, if they are relevant.
Risk Factor #7:
Social issues — isolation, lack of support, abuse, poverty. All of these factors can have negative effects.
If isolation is a simple matter of needing to meet other moms-to-be, join an exercise program. That way, you get both support and exercise; just be sure it includes aerobics, along with centering, relaxation and appropriate strength.
If your situation is more dire, seek the help of a care provider or social worker at your local hospital or clinic. Safety and support are critical for you at this time. Get the help you need. There are people who care. And, if you know of someone who needs help, help them.
If you have other risk factors to offer, please post them in the comments. Thanks!
The following are notes from co-author Robyn Brancato, CNM (certified nurse midwife) who practices in New York City, or, as she is know here: Wonderrobyn! You can read about both authors in the About tab above. Here they are on the beach in San Diego, when they gave a talk at conference there a couple years ago. Robyn on the left, Ann on the right.
Robyn and Ann, Pathway authors
1. Addition to Small Rant: “Resist the temptation to watch A Baby Story on TLC! It does not portray birth accurately, as they condense 15 hours of labor into 30 minutes and play up the drama so that you will be on the edge of your seat! In the majority of women, birth is not that dangerous.”
2. Regarding: When does conception occur? “This is a really interesting post… I love the discussion about at what point conception occurs! Personally, I like the Biblical notion of quickening. Even though this varies from woman to woman and can range anywhere from 16 to 22 weeks gestation, it seems like the most natural theory.”
Dear Reader: What do YOU think? Did you read the conception post on March 23, ’09?
3. About sperm & preeclampsia. “Is the connection between barrier methods and preeclampsia actually established? I have read studies stating the contrary — that barrier methods have no effect on preeclampsia rates.”
HURRAY! THIS REQUIRES FURTHER CONSIDERATION.
More information: The immune maladaptation theory suggests that tolerance to paternal antigens, resulting from prolonged exposure to sperm, protects against the development of preeclampsia. Thus, barrier methods and being young may predispose women to this major disorder of pregnancy.
Evidence exists on both sides of this theory. Here are two recent studies (one of each) that readers may find helpful in understanding this idea. Keep in mind that other factors than just sperm exposure may be affecting research findings. But, it does seem that under some conditions, barrier methods and amount of exposure to sperm can affect the pregnancy itself.
Ness RB, Markovic N, Harger G, Day R. Barrier methods, length of preconception intercourse and preeclampsia, Journal: Hypertension in Pregnancy 23(3):227–235. 2005. Results did not support the immune maladaption theory.
Yousefi Z, Jafarnezhad F, Nasrollai S, Esmaeeli H. Assessment of correlation between unprotected coitus and preeclampsia, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 11(6):370–374. 2006. In a matched controls study, women with <4 months cohabitation or who used barrier methods had higher risks of developing preeclampsia than those with >4 months cohabitation. Oral contraception users had a lower preeclampsia rate than those who used no oral contraception.
In a commentary article in OB/GYN News ‚ July 1, 2002, the following note was made by Dr. Jon Einarsson: With insufficient exposure, pregnancy may induce an immune response and preeclampsia in some women with predisposing factors such as an endothelium that already is sensitive to injury due to age, insulin resistance, or preexisting hypertension.
Is there a plain and simple truth about sperm exposure and pregnancy risks? Alas, no. But, know your circumstances. If you are young, protect yourself. Wear a condom. When you are ready to be a mom, you will be ready to figure out your risks. So, this, too follows the axiom:
Events in life are rarely plain and never simple.
Please refer to February 5 entry for entire graphic. Today: Behavioral Preconditions to Pregnancy.
Why do you suppose the American College of Nurse Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the minimum time between pregnancies to be two years? Why is it critical to eat foods high in B vitamins (including folic acid) and calcium during the childbearing years? How does your exercise regimen in the six months prior to conception affect your risk for some disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia?
Answer: Your preconception or interconception behavior affects the course and outcome of your pregnancy. As it turns out, it takes about two years for a mother’s body to replenish her stores between pregnancies. Prior to a first pregnancy, behavior in the six months leading up to conception has been shown to affect outcome.
During pregnancy, nutritional and functional resources must support two beings in one body, one of whom is growing at a very fast speed by biological standards (think cell time NOT computer time). Essential vitamins and minerals (such as B vitamins and calcium) are taken from the mother’s body — already in metabolic stress due to demands on the kidneys and liver to clear toxins and filter metabolic waste from the fetus as well as the mother.
Insuring that maternal stores of valuable nutrients are adequate to provide for both fetus and mother is a job that only the potential mother can do. By eating a balanced and colorful diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s — fish, walnuts, olive oil, avacado, eggs), as well as adequate aerobic exercise leading up to and during pregnancy, a woman improves her odds for a healthy infant. Smart behavior reduces her risk for conditions that cause immune system and cardiovascular disorders that disturb implantation, blood pressure and blood flow to essential organs.
Further, avoiding risky behaviors that may lead to systemic infections, metabolic syndromes or malnutrition leading up to conception is an aspect of behavior known as “risk-aversion” — the ability to avoid behaviors that have negative consequences. Infection at the time of conception (to be discussed in a future post), an extreme lifestyle (either sedentary or anorexic), toxic food choices, drugs, tobacco and alcohol are all behaviors that incur risk for poor pregnancy outcomes, including prematurity and low birth weight — outcomes on the rise in the U.S.
As discussed in the previous two posts, behavior is intertwined with genetics and environmental influences. Having a certain gene mutation or an environmental risk may predispose a woman to possible problems in pregnancy or the development of certain cancers, but some behaviors — especially exercise — may mitigate this potential or reduce the severity or course of disease. Behavior is the area in which we have the greatest control. Exercise, healthy nutrition and risk aversion are the three areas in which women can exert control over their destiny as moms-to-be. It’s a difficult set-up. We live in a time of instant gratification of personal acts. But, motherhood is a long-term commitment to the biological and psychic wellbeing of a new human who is — and is not — us.