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Prenatal Exercise – The Benefits

by Sarah on October 17, 2010

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Despite the fact that labor and delivery can feel like the equivalent of completing the Ironman triathalon, most of us moms-to-be do not think of ourselves as world class athletes.  And we certainly don’t train like one. 

  

But think of it this way:  Labor and delivery, not to mention building a new person, is a tremendous physical task.  Ideally your body should be in top form to do this for minimal stress and maximum success.

  

As prenatal exercise pioneer, Dr. James Clapp reported in one study of 500 pregnant women,

  

women who exercised during pregnancy . . .

              • delivered a healthier baby
              • experienced labor that was 1/3 shorter than than norm (65% delivered in four hours or less)

  

And there are other benefits: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) came out with a statement in 2006 on the benefits of exercise for expectant mothers.  ACSM noted that exercise during pregnancy . . .

  • Reduces risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure associated with pregnancy);  
  • Prevents gestational diabetes;  
  • Helps alleviate and manage musculoskeletal issues, like low back pain;  

Not only that, prenatal fitness means post-natal fitness.  If you stay in shape during your pregnancy, it’s easier to get back in shape afterwards.

 

And to top it off, exercise during pregnancy and afterwards helps ward of the "baby blues" or post-partum depression.  Recent studies conducted in Canada and Taiwan indicate that women who exercise after pregnancy experience less fatigue and less depression than women who don’t. 

 

But this goes deeper.  I spoke with Sara Cooperman, a personal trainer who specializes in pre- and post-natal exercise.  She pointed out that women who feel stronger, who feel better about their bodies will feel better overall.  Common sense – yes? 

 

Pregnancy and becoming a parent turns your life upside down.  When you exercise, it’s like saying that with all the new demands on you, you’re going to give yourself something.  That trimmer reflection in the mirror, combined with the internal good stuff that’s going on when you stay active, is the biggest treat ever 

 

I exercised during both of my pregnancies. And believe me, both my labors were relatively short (I won’t say sweet or painless). I was able to deliver naturally without any painkillers and be fully alert to greet my little ones when they came out into the world.

  

But better yet, not only did this extra effort to stay in shape before delivery help with the delivery, but I experienced two other fantastic benefits:

  

  1. I recovered from delivery so much faster.  I was ready to take on caring for my babes the same day I delivered.  Tired, yes, but able to move around and do things nonetheless.
  2. I recovered my pre-pregnancy weight and shape much quicker.  Not only was my body already in pretty good shape, but also, because I was in shape, I was able to get exercising and moving around much quicker than if my body was completely zapped.

  

Finally, remember that this is the beginning of family fitness.  As Dr. Clapp’s research has shown, exercising moms means healthy babies. My babes were very healthy, ready to get going with this thing called life right from the start.  And they continue to be so.

  

But I think it goes deeper.  They were used to the movement and got to enjoy it.  Some research indicates that the rocking motion of the mother moving around helps babes in utero go to sleep. 

  

And much to my dismay, my husband used to delight in talking right up against my belly, even poking gently a bit to get a few hard kicks in response.  I would have enjoyed the whole experience if I wasn’t caught in the middle.  Independent of my discomfort, there was clearly some playful interaction going on there at the physical level. 

 

For ideas on a prenatal fitness routine, check out this article.  And for mom-baby fitness ideas, read this article.

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