There is a long list of dos and don’ts that people (like your mother, your child’s teacher, your boss, your bus driver, the person sitting next to you on the train, the cashier at the grocery store, etc.) feel compelled to share with you. Whether any of these suggestions are evidence based is highly questionable, but in an effort to identify some myths and facts, I am starting this column, dos and don’ts, in which I’ll explore the research behind some of these strangers’ warnings.
Let’s start with exercise during pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) put out some guidelines on exercise in pregnancy, stating that “pregnant women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to continue and engage in physical activities”. ACOG also identifies some boundaries for healthy exercise during pregnancy, recommending that if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should stop what you’re doing:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Shortness of breath (also called dyspnea)
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Preterm labor
- Decreased fetal movement
- Amniotic fluid leakage
Rebecca, from Evidence Based Birth, recently wrote about pregnancy and exercise, identifying several benefits, including: lower pregnancy weight gain, maintenance (or even improvement) of physical fitness during pregnancy, and significant risk reduction for gestational diabetes.
My personal favorite exercises are walking and prenatal yoga. Walking is pretty easy to build in to my normal routine (during pregnancy and the rest of my life), and yoga has some remarkable additional benefits, besides physical fitness.
Prenatal yoga has been demonstrated to reduce pain and anxiety, improve birth weight and decrease preterm labor, improve sleep, and decrease depression. Additionally, I would say that prenatal yoga teaches you skills that you can draw on during labor and birth – skills that can help you remain calm, breath well, and cope with discomfort. Although I didn’t do prenatal yoga specifically as birth preparation, it prepared me better than anything else for labor and birth!
Oh, and don’t worry about exercising while breastfeeding. This meta-analysis in Pediatrics says there are no consequences for breast milk or infant growth resulting from maternal exercise.