The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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5. Enhance Baby’s Development
The offspring of exercisers scored significantly higher on tests of both general intelligence and oral language skills, according to studies by James F. Clapp III, M.D., author of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (Human Kinetics, 1998). In an ongoing study, gains began when children were as young as 5 days old and remained at the five-year checkup.
6. Prevent Back Pain
Pregnant exercisers report fewer pregnancy-related complications, including back and hip pain, says Elizabeth Joy, M.D., clinical associate professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Strengthening the muscles that support the back — including the abdominals — can help relieve some of the forward pull that causes lower back pain, says Joy, who is on the board of trustees of the American College of Sports Medicine.
7. Sleep Well
Ninety-seven percent of women fail to sleep through the night by the end of pregnancy, according to a study by Saint Joseph’s University and Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill, Pa. “Exercise is extremely beneficial for sleep problems,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, and one of the study’s researchers. “The only caution is to not exercise at least three hours before bedtime.”
8. Prepare for Childbirth
Some research suggests that maternal fitness results in shorter labor times, fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labor, but the jury is still out. Despite the controversy, most experts agree that training for labor is akin to preparing for a marathon — stamina is key. “Being fit is not going to decrease the pain, but it helps women get through 20 hours of labor and helps them bounce back,” says exercise expert Mottola.
9. Be Ready to Tote That Baby
Carrying your newborn around may sound easy, but even an 8-month-old can tip the scales at 20 pounds — not including the carrier, diaper bag and other baby accessories. To prepare, moms need to strengthen their legs (to squat to baby level), upper-back and torso muscles (to lift and carry) and arms (to cradle and support that fast-growing babe). “Strength training is extremely helpful in giving women the strength and postural awareness to lift and carry a baby in a way that doesn’t cause injury,” says physiologist Anthony.
10. Get Your Body Back
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to health problems. Gaining more than the recommended weight during pregnancy — 25 to 35 pounds for women of normal weight — quadruples a mother’s likelihood of obesity one year after giving birth, according to a recent study by a Cornell University nutritionist. Besides making it harder to lose the weight later, women who gain excessive amounts of weight during pregnancy tend to have bigger babies and may be at higher risk for C-sections, gestational diabetes and other complications.