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)
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.
Back to work! Thank you for your forebearance while we wrote a chapter for a nursing textbook!
During the course of pregnancy, the mother/fetus dance is ongoing. The maternal immune system and the trophoblast cells continue to influence each other even beyond the implantation.
Because the mother’s immune response modulates near the start of each trimester, the fetus is affected to some degree and mounts a response, as well. For a long time it was thought that maternal and fetal DNA material was not exchanged across the placental membrane, however recent findings indicate that there is some exchange of material. Thus, we all carry some portion of our mother’s DNA and our mother carries some of ours.
What is the impact of this chimeric effect? It depends on how well our DNA gets along!
How does this affect the fetus in utero? The fetus may be affected by clotting issues. Depending on maternal health status s/he may be subject to a stronger or weaker immune system.
How does this affect the mother? Women are more likely than men to develop autoimmune disorders (pregnancy playing a role here), and those who bear male offspring are more likely than those who only have girls to have these disorders.
The mother’s prior sperm exposure can affect her pregnancy.
Not every sperm is your friend! Sperm exposure — like so many exposures — affects our immune system. Women who have babies with more than one father may be at risk for disorders of pregnancy because the challenges to their immune system have been extensive. And, very young women who become pregnant are at increased risk of some disorders because they have had very little exposure to sperm.
In addition, women who have primarily and extensively used barrier methods of contraception may be at risk for disorders for reasons similar to young women with little exposure. Unlike women whose immune system has had too much challenge due to pregnancies by several men, women with little exposure may not have a strong defense against foreign DNA. Please do not take this as a reason to not use a condom — one of the barrier methods along with a diaphragm and cervical cap. Rather, if you use a barrier method of contraception, keep in mind that your body’s adjustment to pregnancy may take time.
Another way sperm can affect the pregnancy is that the combination of the mother’s and father’s natural immune responses may be strong against the trophoblast implantation. This is not something you can know ahead of time. Also, women are eight times more likely than men to develop autoimmune disorders. One reason may be the prenatal exposure to foreign DNA encountered in pregnancy.
Keep in mind that by getting good prenatal care, exercise, sufficient rest, stress managment and healthy nutrition, you do all within your power to have a healthy pregnancy. Your health care provider will determine your risk factors that may affect pregnancy outcome and treat you in an appropriate manner.
Moms and babies enjoy exercise together!
Once your baby comes, there will be time to maximize health for both of you. Exercising together is great fun!
Getting there may require some patience, but the reward is well worth it.
When you are looking around for sperm, use your head. The same behavior that protects you from infections you never want to get, protects you from sperm you don’t really want to meet. When the time comes to adopt some sperm, find out about it’s credentials!
Please refer to February 5 entry for complete graphic. The Precondition we will discuss today is Genetics.
There are genetic factors totally outside your control that determine things as simple as your offspring’s hair or eye color, how the earlobe attaches to the side of the head and whether or not s/he can roll the tongue. More complex things, such as a predisposition to types of cancers, bleeding disorders or various other diseases, also have a genetic basis.
Because the male contributes the sex of the offspring, once conception happens, the sex off the fetus is determined — at least genetically. But, it turns out not everything genetic is set in stone. In utero, hormone exposures may affect how male and female characteristics develop, so that some girls will be very girlie, some will be tomboys, and some may be gay. A similar effect will influence how boys develop.
Genetic, environmental and behavioral preconditions can be intertwined. Environmental factors can alter genes, causing them to express proteins that would otherwise be dormant. Likewise, our behavior affects some of our genes. If we have a family propensity for heart disease, but we eat a healthy diet, exercise and avoid risky behaviors, we alter the impact of our genetic code.
Keep in mind that some things will be completely determined by genes. It is not reasonable to hope, for example, that our offspring will be 6′5″ if both parents are short (or vice versa). If the mother has “thrifty genes” — that is, genes that make it easy for her to gain weight — she may well do so during pregnancy, even if she follows a reasonably healthy lifestyle. If the immune systems of both parents have some similarities, it may affect the maternal immune response to the implanting trophoblast cells, thus affecting the placenta and, indeed, the entire pregnancy.
So, how do we advise people who are thinking of pregnancy to prepare themselves for a healthy pregnancy genetically? Surely, to determine all the potential genetic possibilities is not feasible or affordable at this point. Maybe in another century! But, we can know some factors: Is there sickle cell anemia in both families? Is there a Mediterranean type of sickle cell disorder? What about clotting factors or differences in Rh? What about diseases or disorders that are not common, like ALS? These are things that potential parents may want to discuss.
Like so much of life, we can’t know everything. There are no guarantees. There is a lot to be learned still about human genes and how they work.
This blog has at its heart the notion that physical activity has tremendous benefits for mother and offspring…and for partners, too. How does the genetic component affect this? First, preconception fitness lowers some risk factors for mothers and babies. Second, each mother’s genes will make it easier or more difficult for her to enjoy or benefit from the activity of exercise. We appreciate this and encourage young moms-to-be to find something enjoyable that you like doing and find people or situations that support you in being active now before you become pregnant.
If you need assistance or advice, please go to www.dancingthrupregnancy.com (use the BlogRoll)
Find Ask the Expert under the Consumer menu. Let us know how we can help!