The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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3) Stay fit; exercise is good for you
Pregnancy is not an excuse to be a couch potato. Unless you have a high-risk pregnancy, you should exercise three times a week or more, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Staying fit and strong also helps prepare your body for labor.
Research has shown that fit women are likely to have improved cardiovascular function, as well as easier, less complicated labors. They also require fewer interventions during delivery. Other benefits include higher self-esteem; more energy; a better ability to handle stress; reduced physical discomfort, such as backaches, constipation and swelling; and improved posture, muscle tone, strength and endurance.
What types of activities are the best? Practically anything you were doing before: walking, low-impact aerobics, strength training and swimming. Don’t have time to join a class? Try a pregnancy exercise video that follows ACOG guidelines. (Or try our Love Your Body” workout)
4) Slow down; you have permission
Tired? Put your feet up and thumb through a magazine. Need air? Take a brisk walk. As a registered nurse and educational counselor in San Francisco, Tori Kropp counsels pregnant women about how to take care of themselves. When it was her turn — Kropp had her first baby in December 2000 — she found out just how necessary it was to simply take a break. “Even if you don’t want to slow down, your body will eventually make you,” says the 40-year-old Kropp.
5) Reach out to people
Social support, which a growing body of research links to overall health and well-being, is crucial throughout pregnancy — and it may be just as important for your baby. A recent government study looked at 247 pregnant women and found a link between babies’ higher birth weight and the amount of support that their mothers received during pregnancy.
The researchers, who conducted the study at the University of California campuses at Los Angeles and Irvine, speculate that support may alter the nervous system’s response to stress and improve fetal growth. Sign up for a prenatal exercise class. Find out if a pregnancy or new-mothers support group exists in your community. If you can’t find one, start one.
Let the cares of the world dissolve, even if it’s simply for a few minutes. Try the Relaxation Response, a simple, 10-minute practice developed by Herbert Benson, M.D., at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass. It involves three basic steps: repeating a word, sound, phrase or muscular activity; breathing slowly and deeply; and disregarding everyday thoughts. This can help you counteract the harmful effects of stress and anxiety by reducing your heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and muscle tension. Learning to relax can pay off: Women who practiced a relaxation program had larger newborns and longer pregnancies, according to a 1999 study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing.