How to Safely Exercise During Pregnancy
Experts recommend that pregnant women engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days of the week. The following are general guidelines to help both the fit and unfit get off to a safe start:
- Check local gyms, such as Bay Medical HealthPlex, for prenatal exercise programs.
- Steer clear of any activity that could hurt you or the fetus, such as skiing, scuba diving, mountain climbing or horseback riding.
- After the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, eliminate exercises that require you to lie on your back. This position could reduce blood flow to the fetus.
- Warm up for at least five minutes before exercising to prevent joint and muscle injuries.
- Don’t over-stretch. It can damage joints that have become loosened during pregnancy.
- Avoid jumping, jarring or jerking movements, as well as quick changes of direction, which could throw you off balance.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after working out.
- Make sure you consume the extra 300 calories a day you need during pregnancy.
- You should be able to carry on a conversation when you exercise. If you can’t, you’re exercising too strenuously.
- Check your temperature during or right after exercising. A body temperature above 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit could harm the fetus. Avoid working out in hot, humid weather.
- Stop exercising when you’re comfortably tired; don’t wait till you’re exhausted.
- Cool down for at least five minutes after exercising. Then lie down on your left side for a few minutes. This position increases blood flow to the heart and the placenta.
- If you experience pain, bleeding, rupture of membranes, faintness, irregular heartbeat, or dizziness, or if the baby stops moving, stop exercising immediately and call your doctor.
- Have fun. That’s the best way to ensure that you’ll continue your workouts.
Who shouldn’t exercise
Anyone with one or more of the following risk factors should not exercise during pregnancy:
- pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
- premature labor during the current pregnancy or a prior one
- incompetent cervix
- persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
- slow fetal growth
Smart food choices for moms-to-be
While you’re pregnant, your baby eats what you eat. Pregnant women need increased amounts of various nutrients to keep them healthy and to help ensure their babies’ healthy growth and development.
At no other time in your life will your calorie and nutrient needs be as great as in pregnancy. Striving for 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day will help you meet this energy demand.
Keep in mind, however, that not all calories are created equal. High-fat snacks like cake, candy, ice cream and cookies should be eaten sparingly and not in place of more nutrient-rich foods. Eating a wide variety of foods in moderation is the key to success. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
Most physicians recommend gaining 25 to 35 pounds. That’s broken down to a gain of three to five pounds in the first trimester, and an average gain of one pound per week in the last two trimesters.
When choosing foods, make sure you get enough of the following essential nutrients:
Protein: a building block for cells. In the first trimester, you’ll need four to six ounces per day. In the last two trimesters, try to eat any one item from the following list each day (in addition to what you normally eat):
1 1/2 ounces of lean animal protein or low-fat cheese;
1 1/4 cup of legumes (peas and beans—black, kidney, brown, navy);
1 1/2 eggs;
3/4 cup of tofu;
2 1/2 tablespoons of natural, sugar-free peanut butter.
Calcium: for strong bones and teeth. Try for three or four eight-ounce servings a day of low-fat milk or yogurt. If you can’t drink milk or don’t like the taste of it, see the box, “Sneaking calcium into your diet.” If all else fails, try a calcium-citrate or -carbonate supplement. If you experience heartburn, opt for the citrate version because carbonate can make the stomach produce acid. Calcium is best absorbed when taken with food. Avoid taking a calcium supplement together with your prenatal vitamin because calcium interferes with the absorption of iron.
Folic acid: important early on. Research shows that getting enough of it in early pregnancy (from the time of conception) can prevent almost 75 percent of the birth defects known as neural tube defects (spina bifida is an example). Best food sources of folic acid include cooked spinach, leafy green vegetables, legumes, broccoli, peas, orange juice, and fortified cereals.
Fluid: for tissue development and amniotic fluid. Strive for eight to 10 glasses of water each day. Juices and herbal teas are fine, but water is best.
In addition to eating more of some foods, eating right during pregnancy means giving up or reducing your intake of others. Alcohol is perhaps the most obvious example. You should give it up for the sake of your baby.
Caffeine is another beverage that can have an adverse effect on your pregnancy. Some studies have shown that it increases the risk of having a low birth-weight baby, and it interferes with the absorption of iron and calcium. To avoid these potential risks, limit your caffeine consumption to less than 10 ounces of coffee or two caffeinated sodas a day.
Because many additives, pesticides and pollutants found in food can cross the placenta, they’re considered potentially harmful to a developing baby if consumed in larger than normal amounts. To help reduce exposure, limit your intake of nitrate-rich foods like hot dogs, bacon, salami and bologna. Wash all fruits and vegetables with soap and water before eating.
When fish is the dish
Fish, especially freshwater fish, may contain several different pollutants. Eat ocean fish, such as salmon, flounder, haddock, red snapper and sole—in moderation. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has issued a warning advising pregnant women not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because of concerns about unsafe mercury levels. Farm-raised tuna and salmon also have been found to contain high levels of mercury. Limit your consumption or look for wild varieties.
What about sweeteners?
Many health professionals say you should limit artificial sweeteners while you are pregnant. Ask your doctor for advice.
Take some time to plan meals that help you stick to the guidelines in this article and any nutritional advice your doctor gives you. Eating well during pregnancy is one of the smartest investments you can make for a healthy baby and a healthy you.
Sneaking calcium into your diet
If you don’t like the taste of milk, then sneak calcium in by:
- Making skim-milk puddings.
- Making fruit and yogurt shakes.
- Melting low-fat cheese over vegetables and sandwiches.
- Eating four ounces of salmon or quiche, or two cups of broccoli. Each has the same amount of calcium as one glass of milk.
- Drinking chocolate milk or calcium-fortified orange juice—but only if you can afford the extra calories and sugar.
If you have trouble digesting milk, then try:
- Consuming Lactaid products, yogurt,or sweet acidophilus milk.
- Mixing milk with a fiber-rich food, such as cereal.
- Choosing whole milk or cheese. The fat delays stomach emptying and improves digestion of the lactose.
It’s important to take your prenatal vitamins to ensure that you get enough of the right nutrients. But your body utilizes the nutrients in food better than the ones in vitamins. So taking a vitamin supplement is no excuse to skip meals or choose foods low in nutrients.