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Eat and Exercise for Two, Have a Fit Pregnancy - Illustrated Article

Suddenly everything you eat and every move you make is in the spotlight. Find out how staying active and eating right can keep you and your baby healthy.

Have a Fit Pregnancy

Many moms-to-be wonder if they'll have to give up their regular pre-pregnancy work-outs. Others, who've been meaning to start an exercise plan, question if they need to wait until after the baby is born. In most cases, the answer to both questions is no. Read on to find out why staying active is especially important during these amazing nine months.

Why Exercise During Pregnancy?

Whether you're pregnant or not, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and emotional health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women without health problems or pregnancy complications exercise moderately for 30 minutes or more on most, if not all, days of the week.

Pregnant or not, exercise helps keep the heart, bones, and mind healthy. Staying active also seems to give some special added paybacks for pregnant women.

Here are some really good reasons to get regular exercise during pregnancy:

* It can ease and prevent aches and pains of pregnancy including constipation, varicose veins, backaches, and exhaustion.
* Active women seem to be better prepared for labor and delivery and recover more quickly.
* Exercise may lower the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy.
* Fit women have an easier time getting back to a healthy weight after delivery.
* Regular exercise may improve sleep during pregnancy.
* Staying active can protect your emotional health.

Pregnant women who exercise seem to have better self-esteem and a lower risk of depression and anxiety.

Is Exercise Safe for All Pregnant Women?

No. But for most healthy moms-to-be who do not have any pregnancy-related problems, exercise is a safe and valuable habit. Even so, before exercising during pregnancy talk to your doctor or midwife. She will be able to suggest a fitness plan that is safe for you. Getting a doctor's advice is important for both women who exercise before pregnancy and for those who'd like to start a fitness routine.

Women with the follow problems may not be able to exercise during pregnancy:

* heart disease
* lung disease
* obesity
* severe diabetes
* thyroid disease
* seizure disorder
* persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester
* complications with past pregnancies
* premature labor
* pregnancy related high blood pressure

What Type of Exercise is Best During Pregnancy?

Low-impact exercise that requires moderate exertion is probably best. Walking, swimming, dancing and cycling seem to be comfortable and enjoyable activities for most pregnant women.

According to the ACOG, many different types of exercise can be safe for most pregnant women. They do recommend following these guidelines when choosing a pregnancy exercise plan:

* Avoid activities in which you can get hit in the abdomen like kickboxing, soccer, basketball or ice hockey.
* Steer clear of activities in which you can fall like horseback riding, downhill skiing, and gymnastics.
* Do not scuba dive during pregnancy. Scuba diving can create gas bubbles in your baby's blood that can cause many health problems.

What Guidelines Should I Follow?

Follow these tips to have safe and healthy work-outs:

* When you exercise, start slowly, progress gradually, and cool down slowly.
* You should be able to talk while exercising. If not, you may be exercising too intensely.
* Take frequent breaks.
* Don't exercise on your back after the first trimester. This can put too much pressure on an important vein and limit blood flow to the baby.
* Avoid jerky, bouncing and high-impact movements. Connective tissues stretch much more easily during pregnancy. So these types of movements put you at risk of joint injury.
* Don't exercise at high altitudes (more than 6,000 feet). It can prevent your baby from getting enough oxygen.
* Make sure you drink lots of fluids before, during and after exercising.
* Do not work-out in extreme heat or humidity.
* If you feel uncomfortable, short of breath or tired take a break and take it easier when you resume exercise.

How Will I Know if I'm Overdoing It?

Stop exercising and call your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following:

* Dizziness
* Headache
* Chest pain
* Calf pain or swelling
* Abdominal pain
* Blurred vision
* Fluid leaking from the vagina
* Vaginal bleeding
* Decreased fetal movement
* Contractions

How Can I Prepare my Body for Labor and Delivery?

Pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises can help prepare your body for delivery. The pelvic floor muscles support the rectum, vagina, and urethra in the pelvis. Strengthening these muscles by doing Kegel exercises may help you have an easier birth. They will also help you avoid leaking urine during and after pregnancy.

Pelvic muscles are the same ones used to stop the flow of urine. Still, it can be hard to find the right muscles to squeeze. You can be sure you are exercising the right muscles if whenyou squeeze them you stop urinating. Or you can put a finger into the vagina and squeeze. If you feel pressure around the finger, you've found the pelvic floor muscles.

Kegel Exercises

* Tighten the pelvic floor muscles for 5 to 10 seconds, relax for 5 seconds.
* Repeat 10 to 20 times, 3 times a day.
* You can do Kegel exercises standing, sitting, or lying down.

Source: The National Women's Health Information Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office on Women's Health

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