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Baby on Board: Fitness Needs for Expecting Mothers

Whether this is your first pregnancy or you are already the mother of a growing family, figuring out how to balance your own fitness and dietary needs with those of your unborn child can be a challenge. Luckily, certified personal trainer Yana Hempler and clinical exercise physiologist Karen Owoc of the Healther Reporter have great advice on how to stay fit while looking out for your little one as well.

When is it safe for expecting mothers to incorporate exercise regimens into their routine during the course of pregnancy? Is there a cutoff point where women should be focusing on rest and relaxation and slow down on strenuous workouts for a bit?

YH: Provided that the exercises are not intense, it is safe for pregnant women to mildly exercise 2 to 3 times a week throughout their pregnancy. If a woman was in shape before pregnancy, then she should decrease the intensity of her exercising sessions as the pregnancy continues and the baby becomes bigger and heavier. If she was not in shape before becoming pregnant or if she has any medical conditions, it is advised that she speak to a medical professional before beginning an exercise regimen during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, it's very important that women listen to their bodies and not exercise to exhaustion. The intensity of their exercise sessions should allow them to still be able to talk while working out. If they feel any pain or that something is wrong, then they should stop exercising and see a doctor before resuming their regimens.

KO: Strenuous workouts during pregnancy are not recommended. Exercise is encouraged throughout pregnancy but should be performed at a moderate intensity. There are risks to being sedentary and inactive. Delivering your baby will be much easier, more tolerable and safer if you are in better physical condition.

It is vitally important to monitor responses to exercise and re-evaluate your program based on symptoms, discomforts, changing abilities, and special considerations during pregnancy. A prenatal exercise prescription is similar to that of the general healthy adult, but avoids the following: contact sports, sports that could cause loss of balance or trauma to the mother or fetus (e.g., downhill skiing, vigorous intensity racquet sports, basketball, soccer, horseback riding), scuba diving, exercise at high elevations (greater than 6,000 feet) and excessive environmental temperature and dehydration (to avoid heat stress).

Is it generally better to stick with cardio exercises, or can women practice strength training as well?

KO: Pregnant women may participate in a strength-training program that works all muscle groups. Low resistance exercises during pregnancy will help prevent a significant loss of muscular tone and strength and should be limited to moderate training and exclude isometric exercises. Also, be especially careful not to perform the Valsalva maneuver (breath holding) when lifting weights.

The strength training program should incorporate low resistance lifts (40 percent to 60 percent of estimated one repetition maximum) and high repetition sets (12 to 15 repetitions). Lifts should be performed to the point of moderate fatigue and should never be performed to the point of complete muscle failure (where you cannot perform even one more repetition).

Weight machines and/or resistance bands are preferable over free weights. That's because during pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts and can cause problems with balance and instability. Also, hormonal changes increase joint laxity (looseness).

How should weight management strategies figure into an expectant mothers' workout plans? Are there any precautions that women should take when trying to avoid gaining too much weight during the course of their pregnancy, especially in relation to cardio exercises and dietary habits?

YH: It's healthy for a woman to gain around 25 pounds during her pregnancy, but gaining too much weight can be detrimental to her health. To avoid gaining too much weight, women should focus on eating balanced meals and healthier snacks like almonds, fruits, veggies and minimize their intake of pop, greasy fast foods and candy.

They should eat smaller meals more often throughout the day to avoid overeating later in the day. Light cardio exercises such as jogging, walking and swimming as well as light weight lifting are ways to keep in good shape while pregnant. A doctor can help women determine if starting a certain exercise program is safe while pregnant.

KO: A growing fetus needs calories. During pregnancy, your metabolic demand increases by 300 calories per day. Regular exercise also increases metabolic demand. Crash dieting and/or excessive increases in exercise intensity and duration to avoid weight gain can be dangerous. It's important to increase your caloric intake to meet the caloric costs of both pregnancy and exercise.

You and your developing fetus need the proper vitamins and nutrients to sustain the pregnancy. A sensible diet can reduce your risk for complications, such as developing pre-eclampsia (a spike in blood pressure caused by excessive protein in the urine), gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and premature birth.

The best eating plan during pregnancy balances protein, carbohydrates and fat, and includes foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Consult with a registered dietician to help provide the nutritional guidance you need for a healthy, safe pregnancy.

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Cybex is a provider and manufacturer of premium commercial fitness equipment. Content featured in the Cybex Fitness Blog is meant to inspire healthy living and wellness and should not be taken as medical advice. For medical advice please consult a doctor.