The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Lisa Anderson became pregnant for the first time at age 43—with twins. Twenty years ago, her doctor may have suggested that she stay near a bed for six months for fear that too much jostling could harm her growing girls.
But times have changed. During her pregnancy this past year, Anderson—a former ballet dancer, avid hiker and cross-country skier who lives in Park City, Utah—kept up a steady exercise program. Wanting to avoid the typical lower back pain and overall postural weakness caused by the stress of an enlarging belly, she took daily jog-walks in the gentle local hills, worked out with light weights and did lots of stretching. Anderson hardly missed a day’s workout. And on the night before her scheduled Cesarean section (one of her babies was breech), she, her husband, her dog and 11 pounds, 7 ounces of soon-to-be-born babies went for an evening walk. “I had no backaches and no swelling,” she says. “I felt really good physically and emotionally; staying active made me feel in control of my body. And now my doctor thinks I’ll recover quickly from the surgery and delivery because I’m in really good shape.”
Exercise: It’s good for you and your baby If a woman in her 40s who’s carrying twins can have a safely fit pregnancy, logic suggests that almost any woman—with her doctor’s guidance—can. Scientific evidence gathered in the past 20 years proves the point. Exercise can lower the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and keep women from gaining too much weight. It may also help prevent varicose veins.
Research also suggests that exercise may help relieve morning sickness, constipation and lower back pain. And a University of North Texas study reported in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Neonatal Nursing showed that the odds of having a C-section were 4.5 times higher among sedentary women than among those who exercised.
But the greatest benefit of exercise for pregnant women may be mental. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the improvement in overall well-being,” says Layne Smith, M.D., an
obstetrician-gynecologist in Sandy, Utah, who treated Anderson during her pregnancy. “They report less discomfort and less fatigue.” Smith also notes that women who choose natural childbirth seem to have an easier time during labor if they’ve stayed fit and are better able to return to exercise and lose their pregnancy weight after delivery.