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Exercise to Your Baby's Content!

Congratulations on the wonderful news that you are expecting a baby. As an athlete, you're probably concerned that you won't be able to continue training, and may have concerns as to how your training might affect your baby. If you are very fit and have participated regularly in sports or exercise before becoming pregnant, this is the article for you. Be that the case or not, please talk to your physician before continuing or beginning a training program.

There are several major concerns for pregnant athletes. There are also precautions that you need to take for the safety of your baby. This just means that expectant mothers need to be aware and take appropriate measures to avoid injury to themselves and to their baby.

Let's focus on the major concerns for the baby first. Hyperthermia (higher than normal body temperature) is the most common concern for the fetus during high intensity exercise. Training in hot conditions, at high intensities, or for long durations can cause hyperthermia. The fetus cannot regulate it's own body temperature and is very susceptible to the mother's. It helps if the mother wears breathable, light-colored fabrics to stay cool and drink a lot of water throughout the training session.

Oxygen deficit is another concern when a woman inconsistently trains at extreme levels. The duration and intensity of the woman's exercise can affect the baby's heart rate. If a pregnant athlete trains regularly, the fetus will be better conditioned and will be able to adapt to the stresses of exercise. If the fetus is unable to adapt, it will experience a serious oxygen deficit due to a decrease in uterine blood flow.

The third concern is a sports injury. An extreme blow to the abdomen can damage the placenta at any stage during the pregnancy. During the latter part of pregnancy, there is greater risk of damage to the fetus by direct impact during a sport. This is due to the fetus moving higher and being less protected by the pelvis. Sports that are considered high risk for injury are contact sports such as boxing, football, and soccer, as well as sports during which a fall may occur, such as gymnastics, horse back riding and cycling (as the size of the fetus increases balance becomes a concern).

Now let's talk about the mom-to-be. The three major concerns are hyperthermia, hypoglycemia and dehydration. We already know that exercise intensity, duration and climate can have an adverse effect on the pregnant athlete. Not only is it unsafe for the expectant mother, it is also unsafe for the fetus. Medical experts recommend that women take their temperature immediately before and after their longest workout, and adjust their intensity and duration accordingly. Hypoglycemia is also a concern because blood sugar levels can drop rapidly and can be dangerous for the expectant mother. According to medical experts, pregnant athletes should monitor their blood sugar levels frequently and try to maintain levels above 55 to 60 milligrams per decileter.

Dehydration is another concern that doctors have for pregnant athletes. Since blood volume decreases during the early stages of pregnancy, physicians encourage women to drink approximately 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. If an expectant mother feels thirsty, she is already dehydrated and should not exercise.

When the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) published its guidelines for prenatal exercise in 1985, they were fairly conservative. Guidelines for exercise intensity, strength training, flexibility and sports participation didn't leave much room for pregnant athletes to step out of those boundaries. Today, physicians are less conservative in their recommendations based on the woman's health history, risk factors and current state of health and fitness.

Although the 1985 ACOG guidelines cautioned women not to exceed a maximum of 140 beats per minute when monitoring their exercise intensity, most doctors now recommend that pregnant athletes exercise at a level that feels comfortable. They're encouraged to use the "rating of perceived exertion" (RPE) as a guide. If it feels bad, it probably is. It's not a good idea to exercise until exhaustion. Medical experts have also cautioned women from lying on their backs after their first trimester. This position can put too much pressure on the vena cava, which is the vein that returns blood to the heart from the lower extremities. This can cause a decrease in cardiac output, blood pressure and fetal blood supply. Pregnant women will usually feel nauseous, dizzy or breathless if this occurs. Since very few women experience this, some doctors recommend that those athletes who don't have those symptoms should just limit the amount of time they spend on their backs to a few minutes.

Here are some guidelines that pregnant athletes can follow (talk to your primary care provider about these guidelines):

Strength Training:

1. Breathe normally during strength training and avoid holding your breathe.

2. Avoid maximal lifts and heavy resistances. ACOG guidelines recommend a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions for each exercise but some pregnant athletes may be able to perform up to four sets of 8 to 10 reps without undue fatigue.

Flexibility Training:

1. Avoid stretching to maximal tension because of the hormone relaxin's effects on the ligaments and joints make increase the likelihood of injury.

2. Ballistic stretching is not recommended during pregnancy to avoid the potential for muscle tears.

Cardiovascular Training:

1. Since heart rate is only one indicator of exercise intensity, use the RPE and stay in tune with how you fee. If it feels too hard, discontinue the activity. You should never be out of breath.

2. Avoid exercising to exhaustion

3. Avoid exceeding your pre-pregnancy intensity levels.

If you ever feel any dizziness, pain, shortness of breath, vaginal bleeding or an absence of fetal movement, discontinue exercising and contact a doctor immediately. Pregnancy is not the time to set a PR but if you have been training up until you found out you are pregnant, you should be able to continue training with a few precautions. Besides, you're training for the most exciting event of your life.

Michi Seagrist is the Fitness Coordinator at Treehouse Athletic Club in Draper, Utah. She is a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Michi can be reached by email at, or by calling 801-553-0123.

· American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 1985. Exercise during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.
· Druxman, Lisa , MA. The Pregnant Athlete. IDEA Health and Fitness Source. 2003

Article Reviewed: January 19, 2016
Copyright © 2015 Healthy Magazine

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