The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Staying ultrafit during pregnancy was a given for Juliana Nievergelt, 39, an elite triathlete in Medfield, Mass. “It never even occurred to me to quit exercising,” she says. “I felt great and I found it fascinating to see what my body could do.”
Although Nievergelt raced in a swim meet and a 5k early on in her second pregnancy, she stopped competing after eight weeks because she didn’t feel like pushing herself. Still, she swam, cycled on a stationary bike and ran/walked an hour at a time four days a week. Plus, she weight trained right up until her delivery. Nievergelt, who won a major triathlon 10 weeks after giving birth, says, “Much of society stills thinks that [pregnant] women should severely restrict and limit their activities. But I really doubt that I would have felt so healthy and strong if I hadn’t kept active.”
Even women who don’t enter pregnancy in top-notch condition report that being active helps make them feel good. Naomi Raimon, a 40-year-old elementary reading teacher from Ithaca, N.Y., who is pregnant with her first baby, hadn’t worked out seriously for several years before she became pregnant. Pregnancy inspired her to walk briskly for an hour at least three times a week and take a prenatal yoga class twice a week. “The exercise kept me feeling energetic and limber,” she says. “At work I spent a big part of my day sitting on the floor or in tiny chairs with kindergartners — I doubt I would have been able to get up and down like that if it hadn’t been for my yoga stretching and walking workouts.”
Even though they worked out at vastly different intensity levels, Nievergelt and Raimon are convinced that exercising helped keep them healthy during their nine months of pregnancy. Can they both be right?
There’s little dispute that moderate exercise is beneficial in a healthy pregnancy. According to a variety of studies, recreational exercisers are less susceptible to common pregnancy discomforts such as swelling, nausea and leg cramps. Their risk of gestational diabetes, preterm delivery and Cesarean delivery is lower, too.
But are high-level workouts safe? Yes, says Karen Nordahl, M.D., associate clinical professor of family practice at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine and founder of Fit to Deliver, a prenatal-exercise program. “The studies haven’t documented any adverse effects,” she says, “which suggests that pregnant athletes can safely maintain pretty intense levels of training, providing certain guidelines are followed.”