Exercise Beats Bed Rest During Pregnancy

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Long gone are the days of doctor-prescribed bed rest during pregnancy.

“No longer do people just sit in bed and wait to deliver,” says Dr. Brian Levine, MD.

Levine works as the Practice Director for CCRM New York, a fertility clinic in Manhattan that functions as a major limb for an overall network of fertility clinics across the country.

“Bed rest is the most archaic thing we advise pregnant women to partake in,” says Dr. Levine, “and no formal evidence exists in support of its success.”

Pregnancy puts woman at risk for blood clots, as does remaining inactive for long periods of time. Clearly, the two don’t make for a winning combination.

In order to prevent the formation of blood clots, combat a rise in blood pressure, and minimize stress on the spine that begins in the second trimester, Dr. Levine suggests that all pregnant women consider adding a structured exercise regimen into their weekly schedule.

“An exercise program is great,” says Dr. Levine, “under the advisement of a physician.”

Thankfully, many existing resources provide tips and guides for woman wishing to incorporate exercise into their pregnancy and post-pregnancy routines.

Brittany Citron, founder of PROnatal Fitness, began working in this field as a response to her own positive experience of exercising while pregnant.

Citron believes that fitness was instrumental in her easy term and labor, compared to what she observed in peers who opted to avoid exercise.

While Citron warns that exercise is not proven to completely prevent pregnancy side effects, she does point to research that has proven that women who exercise “report fewer symptoms of morning sickness and fatigue.”

“Exercise during pregnancy is extremely beneficial for most women,” Citron explains, “but there are a very small number of women with certain medical conditions or obstetric complications for whom exercise during pregnancy is not safe.”

Pregnant women, she stresses, should consult with a doctor to find out if they are ineligible for exercise programs or athletic activities.

“I think as a society, we have come a long way over the past three decades in our recognition of the importance of proper exercise during pregnancy,” says Citron. “More women are realizing that proper exercise during pregnancy is good, but the main problem is most women don’t know what to do.”

To put this lack of knowledge into perspective, Citron cites the first set of published prenatal exercise guidelines, which appeared in 1985. “At the time,” she says, “almost no research existed about the impact of exercise on pregnancy, for mother or for baby.”

As a result, she explains, “the guidelines were written from an extremely conservative, ‘do no harm’ perspective.”

Though modern research now points to the effectiveness of pregnancy exercise, these original guidelines were so widely publicized and shared that many people still follow them.

Knocked-Up Fitness, another exercise program for pregnant women, hopes to combat these kinds of incorrect guidelines.

Developed by a personal trainer and nutrition coach who established the program after the birth of her second child, the program focuses on its own guidelines for pregnancy exercise and health.

“For a majority of women, specifically those with no limitations or high-risk factors, exercise can lead to so many amazing benefits for mom and baby,” says Knocked-Up Fitness founder Erica Ziel.

Ziel stresses the role exercise can play on aches and pains, exhaustion, and issues of newfound physical imbalance.

“Many pregnant women find the drive to stay fit and healthy for their baby and growing family,” says Ziel, “but some simply want to stay in control of their changing bodies. Expecting women just want to feel good!”

One such woman is new mother Meredith Gaskins, who lived an active lifestyle prior to pregnancy and continued exercising throughout term under her doctor’s advisement.

“I was very athletic before my pregnancy, and I transitioned into exercising during that time without trouble,” Gaskins says.

Though her pre-pregnancy routine included weight lifting, running, and pole dancing, Gaskins’ doctor helped her streamline her routine in a way that would best benefit her changing body.

“I stopped pole when I became pregnant, just because it’s such a contact sport and my center of gravity was so off,” Gaskins explains. “I also ran for a little while during that time, but it was more uncomfortable for me the further I advanced into the pregnancy, so I eventually slowed the intensity to a walking pace.”

This entire plan also included the purchase of a heart monitor, a tool Dr. Levine suggests to all patients. Heart monitors allow pregnant women to track their beats per minute (bpm), which further allows them to keep their cardio activities managed and controlled.

In this way, they can quickly see when they are exerting too much effort, and scale back the intensity.

Gaskins empathizes with expectant mothers, who find that pregnancy symptoms can interfere with their drive and ability to complete a workout; but, like Ziel, she believes exercise drastically improved her pregnancy, allowing a boost in energy and a feeling of overall productivity.

“During the entire pregnancy,” Dr. Levine advises, “a woman should stay pretty active” despite their less appealing symptoms.

Throughout the first trimester, for example, working out can seem difficult when faced with symptoms including morning sickness. For women facing this problem, doctors stress constant hydration, so the body can more easily bounce back from cardio exercise.

A pregnant woman won’t see many changes in her body within that first trimester, so she can still engage in moderate exercise.

In the second trimester, as blood volume increases and the body begins working harder, strenuous activity of any type can result in dizziness. The solution to this concern includes engaging only in low-intensity activities, and exercising under some form of supervision.

During the third trimester, light activity is still beneficial, but an expecting mother should be wary of pushing her limits and should not ignore the signs her body gives if she does push too much.

Some activities appear to pose no risk, such as cycling; and although stationary bikes present minimal risk of falls, a pregnant woman can become seriously injured while participating in this kind of exercise.

Dr. Levine explicitly warns patients against many popular cycling classes in any trimester, because at this time the hips and lower body align slightly differently than they would normally. Intense cycling can lead to labral tears in the hips as they spread to accommodate the space needed for carrying a baby, and in this way should be avoided.

Of course, an expecting mother should definitely conduct research when engaging in any new or familiar form of exercise, because the body does change shape fairly swiftly during pregnancy.

Doctors and trainers encourage the whole-body workout and low intensity of yoga and barre, which can improve flexibility and balance. Both of these forms of fitness occur under structured supervision from instructors, pose no risk of falling or accidents, and don’t endanger the hips and joints.

While exercise can certainly contribute to easing pregnancy side effects and relieving exhaustion, a strong bonus in developing this type of routine is the formation of a healthy habit that continues after delivery.

“I was able to go back to my normal routine very soon after giving birth,” says Gaskins, who went for long outdoor walks with her new baby soon after recovering from her delivery, “I think keeping up with my workout schedule while pregnant contributed immensely to that, as well as the strong early bond I felt with my daughter.”

BTRtoday advises readers that when it comes to pregnancy exercise, the first thing you need to do is discuss it with your doctor or midwife. Your doctor is going to have the most information about your personal health issues and any risks you and your baby face in the months to come.

Follow their recommendations. A professional or qualified pre/post natal certified trainer with experience training pregnant women is also a great asset during this time. The more knowledgeable, professional people you have helping you, the better.