Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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To the surprise of many, pregnant women often feel their most beautiful as they grow bigger with their baby. I know I did. Determined to enter the lazy days of summer with a fabulous maternity bathing suit and a body to go with it, I plunked down money for a gym membership during my pregnancy, even though I have a full set of free weights and workout videos at home.
But after I got the membership, I had a nagging thought: How safe is it to work out at the gym? Well, Michelle F. Mottola, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, says strength training on machines may be preferable to free weights during pregnancy because you can control the movement of the weights more with machines and there’s a reduced chance of getting hurt.
That discovery may cheer you, but it may also leave you with questions. First, will exercise help you through your pregnancy and the birth (i.e., the pain)? In fact, a growing body of research suggests that expectant mothers who exercise have easier pregnancies and healthier babies than their sedentary counterparts. Two studies published in the Journal of Nurse Midwifery found that women who exercise feel and sleep better during their pregnancies and also report higher levels of self-esteem. Likewise, a 1999 study conducted by James Clapp III, M.D., at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland found that women who remain active during pregnancy have calmer, less fussy babies than inactive women.
The list goes on. “Women who exercise regularly and properly during pregnancy experience fewer complications,” says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “These women are less likely to develop gestational diabetes or other problems. More importantly, however, they have a greater level of stamina and seem to have a better attitude toward labor, delivery and their pain.”
That’s all great news, but what should your pregnancy exercise goals be, and what should your workout look like? For one thing, exercising moms-to-be should not work out in the hopes of keeping their weight down during pregnancy. Whatever your workout schedule, the guidelines for weight gain are the same: If you become pregnant when you’re underweight, you should gain 28–40 pounds. If you’re of normal weight, the proper weight gain is 25–35 pounds. Overweight women should gain 15–25 pounds, while obese women should gain no more than 15. Twins and other multiples should bring on a weight gain of at least 35–45 pounds.
In the end, there are basically three important pregnancy exercise goals: 1) to keep your spirits up, 2) to prepare for labor and delivery, and 3) to help you regain your prepregnancy body more quickly after delivery.
To reach the first goal, you’ll need to find activities that make you feel good — swimming, walking, dancing. For the second goal, make sure to do your Kegels (pelvic-floor exercises) and belly breathing.
To help you reach your third goal, Linda Shelton, Fit Pregnancy’s fitness editor, has designed a program that’s perfect for moms-to-be as well as new mothers. This workout is geared toward women who began lifting weights at least two months prior to pregnancy. To complement this workout, we’ve provided a box on how to update your favorite cardiovascular activities.
If you’ve never lifted a dumbbell or sat on a leg-extension machine before, don’t fret. Use our detailed instructions, and ask an instructor at your gym to adjust your form.