During my two pregnancies, I never felt more alive and in shape. Always active, I was determined to not become a slouch just because I had developed the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Four days a week, I walked three miles around a nearby reservoir. Two nights a week, I did prenatal aerobics at Jane Fonda’s now-shuttered Beverly Hills Workout Studio (OK, so I’m over 30). Exercising with other pregnant women was a great incentive; it kept me fit, sane and on the go, especially during that less-than-fun ninth month. I doubt I could have endured two mind-bending labors had I not been working out.
I stayed in shape because I instinctively felt it was the best thing to do for my pregnant self. My doctor said that since I had been exercising before, it was all right to continue, as long as I didn’t overdo it. In other words, I should stop when tired and not add anything to my usual routine. Today, that attitude has become established as scientific doctrine. Working out not only is safe, research confirms, but also extremely beneficial for your body and state of mind.
Maternal benefits galore
Here are a few findings that support prenatal exercise.
- Women who stay fit improve posture and muscle tone.
- Prenatal exercise may give women more strength and stamina for the hard physical work of labor — provided the exercise is continuous, weight-bearing and pursued at 75 percent of the woman’s prepregnancy level. Second-stage labor has been shown to be shorter for exercising women (compared with nonexercisers), according to research by James F. Clapp III, M.D., a professor of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He speculates that exercise may make the uterus more elastic, thus speeding labor along. His research shows exercisers also were less likely to need pain medication and medical interventions such as forceps deliveries and Cesarean sections.
- Prenatal exercisers may have less risk of gestational diabetes because of more stable blood glucose levels.
- Cardiovascularly, the benefits are “dramatic,” says Michael Collins, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist in Portland, Ore., and a faculty member of Oregon Health Sciences University. “If you are aerobically fit, your ability to store oxygen and meet the demands of day-to-day activity is greater.”
- Studies confirm that active women feel a greater sense of control during pregnancy and have a better self-image. They’re even less likely to have negative feelings about sex when they’re pregnant.