Exercise During Pregnancy May Prevent Obesity in Baby

Filed under: Nutrition, Pregnancy Health, Expert Advice: Pregnancy, Research Reveals

It can be tempting to turn couch-potato once your belly starts expanding. But there's a new reason to exercise during pregnancy, and it could have far-reaching benefits for your unborn child. A new study, out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, shows that regular aerobic activity during pregnancy can lead to a reduction in the birth weight of a baby.

"Given that large birth size is associated with an increased risk of obesity, a modest reduction in birth weight may have long-term health benefits for offspring by lowering this risk in later life," said the study's authors.

But how can you incorporate exercise during your pregnancy safely and enjoyably?

Eva Redpath is a certified group fitness expert and personal trainer based in Toronto. A specialist in women's fitness, she says that exercise during pregnancy can be a way to both keep your body healthy and help you feel beautiful while your body changes.

"Not only does exercising release powerful endorphins to boost your energy, self-esteem and create that healthy glow, the benefits of exercise during your pregnancy can positively prepare you and your body for birth," she says.

Redpath says the first step is to consult your physician before undertaking any exercise regime while pregnant. Particularly with a high-risk pregnancy, the guidelines for physical activity may change. If your doctor does give you the green light, Redpath says it's important to focus on proper form and alignment when you are pregnant, to take your time and always be safe.

If you do get the green-light from your doctor, there are plenty of different fitness options open to you. Here are Eva Redpath's 5 ways to exercise during pregnancy:

1. Go for a walk every day.

"Walking is good for mental and physical health," says Redpath. She recommends teaming up with a walking partner, or, if you prefer to walk alone, bringing along a playlist of favourite tunes to keep you motivated. "Babies love when you move and groove," says Redpath, "so don't sit still for too long. Get up and walk around frequently."

2. Keep your heart rate in check.

If you were a regular gym-goer before pregnancy, there's no need to cancel your membership once your belly begins to bulge. According to Redpath, the stationary bike, elliptical machine and treadmill can be great ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness during pregnancy, but it's important to always wear a heart monitor. Since blood volume increases during pregnancy, your heart rate will also increase. "You may need to go slower or do a little less," she says. "The key is to listen to your body, reduce intensity and stay within a safe exercise heart-rate zone."

3. Build up your core strength.

"Core strength is essential in developing stability and strength to go along with the added baby weight," says Redpath. In fact, strengthening the core (your abs and back) can relieve bump-related back pain and improve your posture. To beef up core strength, Redpath suggests slow, controlled Pilates exercises designed specifically for pregnancy. "It's important to focus on breathing, alignment and moving in a safe and comfortable range of motion," she says. She recommends sitting on a large Pilates ball throughout your pregnancy, even during delivery, where the ball can help you remain comfortable. And once your baby is born, that ball could come in handy. Redpath says many of her clients have had great success bouncing on the ball to soothe crying newborns.

4. Consider yoga.

It's no coincidence that many yoga studios offer classes for pregnant women. "Yoga can be a great way to connect with your baby on a spiritual level, maintaining a sense of calm and relaxation," says Redpath. And who couldn't use a little tranquility during those last few months? As well, Redpath says that being able to tap into that relaxed mindset can be very beneficial during the birthing process. But since not all postures are appropriate during pregnancy, it's important to be sure your instructor is well-educated about what will and won't work for you.

5. Go jump in the pool.

"Swimming is great because it strengthens large muscle groups, both in your upper and lower body," says Redpath. "It can be a great form of low impact, low-intensity cardiovascular exercise, and allows you to feel weightless during pregnancy, without any additional strain or stress on your joints and body."

In order to reap the benefits of any exercise program, Redpath says it's important to start with a healthy diet and adequate sleep (preferably on your left side, the optimal position for blood supply). She recommends staying away from exercises that include twisting or inversions, to avoid lying on your back for long periods of time, and to wear a "belly band" during exercise to take the pressure off the pubis bone in the last couple months of pregnancy.

Though it might be tempting to chill in front of the TV with a bucket of ice cream, incorporating regular exercise in your pre-natal life can be beneficial for you and your babe-to-be. As Redpath puts it, "A healthy mom makes a happy baby."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.