By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many fit women enjoy extreme workouts to stay healthy and challenge themselves, whether it’s long-distance running, weight lifting, training for “warrior” events, hitting the gym hard or competitive fitness.
What if they become pregnant — can they continue working out?
David Gandell, OB-GYN in practice at Rochester Gynecologic & Obstetric Associates, said that with a few exceptions, he doesn’t restrict healthy, athletic women from participating in sports and activities as long as they’re comfortable.
“Fitter women deliver easier and lose the weight after delivery faster,” he said.
Pregnant athletes should take a few precautions, however. Since the pregnant body releases relaxin, a hormone that loosens ligaments for delivery, women should take care to not sprain a joint. Supportive sport wraps may provide additional stability to joints.
“They won’t harm the baby, but if the mom gets hurt, it can be harder to treat them,” Gandell cautioned.
Many types of pain medication aren’t safe for babies.
Fit mamas should also modify their activities to avoid direct contact and falling. This could include inline skating, horseback riding, skiing, martial arts sparring, boxing, football and soccer. Women who lift weights should isolate their movements so they don’t strain their abdomens. They should also be careful to not allow free weights to strike their abdomen. As always, using a spotter can help improve safety.
Amy V. Haas, Bradley certified childbirth educator and founder of the Rochester Area Birth Network, said that women who aren’t fit but become pregnant should stick with generalized toning and conditioning exercise like walking.
“If you have no experience in rigorous exercise, it’s not a time to start,” Haas said.
But a woman who’s been running should feel free to continue, Haas said.
After 20 weeks, pregnant women should avoid lying flat on their backs since the baby’s weight can press against a blood vessel called the vena cava, which can restrict the blood flow to the baby and cause dizziness to mom.
Pregnant women should avoid working out in very warm environments, such as hot yoga or running outside on a hot day, since that can harm the baby.
Haas also advises pregnant women to stay hydrated while working out and to adjust their diet to ensure they get enough calories.
“Athletic women burn a great deal of their food for energy,” she said. “They need a higher level of complex carbohydrates to supply adequate energy sources so they’re not burning protein for energy.”
Healthful sources of complex carbohydrates can include brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, popcorn and other whole grains.
Before engaging in exercise, pregnant women of any fitness level should discuss their health and any concerns with their OB-GYN. They should also carefully explain the details of their activity to ensure it is safe for themselves and baby.
Anytime an activity feels like it’s “too much”, a pregnant woman should listen to her body and reduce her activity level.