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Baby kicks, mom paddles

Women stay on active fitness routine during pregnancy

Women stay on active fitness routine during pregnancy

January 09, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

As Lacey Fegan approached her ninth month of pregnancy, she had never felt better.

Before the 26-year-old, first-time mom gave birth Jan. 5, she was feeling energetic and continued to swim 100 laps at least twice a week.

Fegan is one of a growing number of women choosing to maintain an active fitness routine throughout their pregnancies, according to local gynecologists and information from the American Pregnancy Association.

"The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are enormous," says Dr. Mitesh Kothari, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Comprehensive Women's Care at Robinwood Medical Center. "If you exercise and you maintain good physical tone, you will be better prepared for the exertion required during delivery."

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Studies reported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists indicate that women who exercise regularly through a pregnancy have fewer complications in delivery, are less likely to require a cesarean section and have smaller babies. That's all good news for an expectant mom, Kothari says.

Just ask Frieda Stayman, 30, of Chambersburg, Pa. In February 2004, Stayman gave birth to a healthy baby girl without using any painkillers.

"The doctor told me that I was her hero," Stayman says. "I was able to just focus on other things, and I was able to work through the pain that I did have and have the baby naturally. I think that the exercise does help aid with the delivery. Your body is fit. It's ready to do work."

Stayman admits, before she thought about having a family, her exercise regimen was "sporadic." But once she and her husband, Michael, started planning to get pregnant, she began to exercise twice a week. With her first pregnancy she took a pregnancy-oriented swim class and was able to exercise "pretty much till the time when the baby was going to be born," she says.

Not only did Stayman's pregnancy go well, but she believes her regular exercise helped her bounce back after she delivered.

"I felt really good about myself when I had my first baby and was then able to work (the weight) off," she says.

Stayman is now six months pregnant with her second child. She has kept up her fitness routine by taking a water aerobics class at her local YMCA.

"Swimming is wonderful because that actually reduces the stress on your joints," she says. "Another benefit of swimming when you are pregnant is it takes the pain off your back. You feel so light. You don't want to get out of the water."

A major concern of many expectant moms is weight gain, Kothari says. While it is necessary to gain some weight when having a baby, "routine exercise during pregnancy will keep you from gaining excessive amounts of weight," he says. That means it also will be easier for moms to get back to their weight prior to pregnancy after delivery, he adds.

While doctors have found that women can do any number of physical activities through their third trimester, some precautions should be taken, and all activities should be approved by a doctor.

Kothari had a patient who asked if it was safe to continue running throughout her pregnancy. He told her it was perfectly fine as long as she listened to her body and didn't push herself more than she did before her pregnancy. He later found out that she was a marathon runner and ran up to 10 miles a day. She even ran 10 miles the morning that she delivered her baby.

"It's not about how much exercise you do. It's about how much exercise you did" before the pregnancy, Kothari explains. His marathon runner "did absolutely fantastic the whole time."

Women who do not exercise regularly are not advised to start exercising once they become pregnant, according to recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Walking, however, is an activity that anyone can do, regardless of age, physical fitness or pregnancy status, says Angela Kershner, wellness specialist at the Washington County Health Department, office of Nutrition and Wellness.

"Pregnancy is just mainly a time to maintain your fitness," Kershner says. "It's not a time to make huge goals or try to improve your fitness. You are naturally going to slow down a little bit."

There are certain activities pregnant women should stay away from, Kothari says. He once counseled a patient who was a volleyball coach to not participate in volleyball games or drills. He was concerned she might collide with another player causing injury to her growing abdomen, or lose her balance and fall while running for the ball.

Pregnant women should avoid activities with "jerky" movements, and they should be aware that they lose their sense of balance in the latter part of pregnancy, Kothari says.

"Swimming is completely perfect for pregnancy," he adds. In a pool there is minimal risk of a woman losing her balance and falling, exercises in the water will not jostle the growing baby and the water's buoyancy takes pressure off of the joints and back.

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