Sensible prenatal exercise is good for mother and child

Special to the Sunday News
March 16. 2013 2:25AM

It's a challenge to dance when you can't see your feet. It's difficult to practice yoga when the only cat pose you feel up to striking is a nap-time curl.

But being pregnant is not an excuse to stop moving. In fact, prenatal exercise can alleviate some of the most common pregnancy discomfort and help Mama get ready for the big day.

"Most (pregnant) people are actually still able to carry on their fitness routines with some modifications," said Heather Feltmate, an OB-GYN at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Nashua. "Certainly 30 minutes of a good workout daily actually helps the pregnancy. Somebody who is more fit is just more likely to have a better experience pregnant."

For starters, Feltmate said, women who exercise are more likely to reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes and hypertensive issues. Further, she said, given concerns about obesity - a national epidemic that can cause a slew of complications during pregnancy and birth - attempting to get some activity while pregnant is a great idea in order to avoid some of those complications.

And then there's the child the mother is carrying.

"It sounds cliche," Feltmate said, "but a healthy mom is more likely to have a healthy baby."

Strengthened muscles

Prenatal fitness routines can also help prepare women for the birth process, said Darcy Sauers of Dover, a postpartum doula, or non-physician who supports moms during labor. Sauers does before- and after-birth support as well, including a prenatal yoga class.

"You're not only strengthening your muscles and maybe toning your body, but you are also learning to relax," she said.

That relaxation and deep breathing is key to a smooth labor process, Sauer noted. Not to mention, she said, there are some yoga poses that can help during the birth because they keep the hips warm and loose, helping the pelvis to expand.

For women who weren't very active before the pregnancy, it is OK to start once pregnant, Feltmate said, though she added a note of caution.

"I wouldn't recommend jumping into a really rigorous workout routine," she said. "But certainly some cardio, some stretching would be fine. As long as they ease into it."

Even elite athletes will need to modify routines somewhat as they get further along into the pregnancy, Feltmate said.

"Certainly in the first trimester there aren't a lot of changes that occur that really interfere with rigorous activity," she said. "But by the second and third trimester, that's entirely different. The center of gravity changes during the pregnancy, and cardiac volume increases."

Feltmate said she typically tells people to follow the same guidelines as they would if they were just starting a workout routine in pre-pregnancy.

"You should be able to kind of carry on a conversation. You may get a little winded, but you should be able to talk through a routine," she said. "And that's a pretty good indicator that you're not pushing it excessively."

Feltman advises against activities where there is a risk of falling - skiing and non-stationary bike-riding for a couple of examples.

"Anything that has a high potential for trauma, you don't really want to do," Feltman said.

Lots of options

In New Hampshire, there are dozens of options for pregnant women to participate in a fitness program - prenatal yoga, dance and aquatics among them.

Prenatal yoga programs are among the most ubiquitous. Sauers said yoga is particularly good for pregnancy because it's gentle and the deep breathing helps with relaxation. "Which is so wonderful when you are pregnant," she said, "because when you're relaxed, that's when your cells grow; that's when your baby's cells grow. Also, in the middle of the night when you're pregnant and can't sleep, the deep breathing can help with that."

As for the actual poses, Sauers said they can go a long way toward alleviating common pregnancy ailments such as sore hips, back and knees, because yoga strengthens those muscles.

Julie Mudd, a certified dancing-for-birth instructor at Nini Bambini, a maternal wellness center in Nashua, said the Polynesian, African and belly-style dancing the women in her classes do can help get the baby in positions that are more comfortable for the mom and ready for birth.

Further, she added, dance really helps to work, hone and strengthen birthing muscles in the abdomen.

But maybe most important, Mudd said, dancing helps remind mom that she's still a woman.

"The intention is to help these women feel connected to their bodies," Mudd said. "Sometimes we don't have that chance to connect with our bodies the way we used to, before we were pregnant. So this really gives a chance to reconnect with our bodies."

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