Basic Dos and Don'ts of Pregnancy
There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about pregnancy that are confusing to expectant moms. However, many can be cleared up through the research that has been done over the last decade. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) first recommended guidelines in 1984 regarding pregnancy in exercise. These guidelines were significantly revised in 1994 and again 2002. This helped to answer the questions that so many pregnant women have. The following list is a basic list of actions to do and others to avoid.
Get regular prenatal check-ups. Visits are usually scheduled once a month until week 28, every two weeks until week 36, then weekly during the last month. This will help keep you informed of your baby's growth and progress and will also help the doctor know if you develop any irregularities that should be monitored, such as gestational diabetes, or a contraindication to exercise, such as placenta previa. If you are not yet pregnant but are trying to conceive, make sure you inform you doctor so that (s)he can recommend prenatal vitamins which have the essential ingredients such as folic acid to help prevent birth defects. If your doctor performs certain tests, such as an amniocentesis, he/she will tell you not to exercise for 3 days. You must obey these directions to protect yourself and the baby. You can still do your pelvic floor exercises though.
ACOG revised their guidelines regarding pregnancy in 2002, virtually dismissing the myth of the delicate condition.
Exercise regularly as long as you feel well and do not have contra-indications to exercise. Gone is the day of the "delicate condition" of pregnancy that once was thought to be a good reason for women to cease exercising, or reduce their exercise level. If you are not a regular exerciser, begin with an easy to moderate program with walking, swimming, or prenatal fitness classes. These classes are designed specifically for expectant moms and often include water and bathroom breaks to keep everyone involved and feeling welcome. It is also a great way to meet other moms who can grow to be a support network for each other. If you enter pregnancy with a high level of fitness, you may be able to continue with your regular exercise for some time, as long as you feel okay. The most important thing to remember is listen to your body. ACOG recommends that pregnant women avoid exercise to exhaustion. Make sure you are adequately hydrating every 15 minutes during exercise, wear clothing to keep you cool and use fans when necessary, and stop exercising if you get short of breath, dizzy or nauseous. Call your doctor if those symptoms do not cease within minutes after stopping exercising.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to contractions and pre-term labor. When you become pregnant, your blood vessels begin enlarging in order to increase blood volume to provide enough blood to the mother and baby. This happens gradually but the effects can be felt before you even know you are pregnant. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, chances are you are not drinking enough water. Get a water bottle that you like to hold and is easy to drink out of so that you are encouraged to hydrate at home and on the run.
Eat small, frequent meals balanced with carbohydrate and protein. Whether you are a vegetarian or not, make sure that you are getting about 60 grams of complete protein (containing the 8 essential amino acids) each day. This is important to keep your energy level steady and to provide the building blocks necessary for the fetus' development. Pregnancy requires about 300 additional calories per day, so be sure to consume enough of the right kinds of calories to nourish your body and your baby's. This includes carbohydrates, proteins, and unsaturated fats. Sugar and fats usually take care of themselves and do not require extra effort to make sure you are consuming them. Eat a pre-workout snack an hour before your workout so that your blood sugar level does not drop. An apple with peanut butter, cottage cheese with grapes, or a small sandwich with cheese and/or meat are some suggestions of balanced snacks.
Listen to your body when you are tired, nauseous, or irritable. Find time to relax-if the mother is stressed, the baby will be stressed. This includes mental and emotional stress as well as physical stress. The apprehension over the birth, fear of the unknown elements of parenthood, and the lack of control of certain circumstances contribute to stress. Many women concentrate this stress in their neck, shoulders, jaw, and calves. Exercise and stretching can help alleviate some of this physical discomfort. However, it is important to take time to rest or stop for a nap whenever you feel fatigued or sleepy. This is especially important in your first trimester. One method you can use for relaxation is the "tense and release" method. To do this, contract a muscle and hold it for 4-5 seconds, then completely relax it, allowing a heavy, relaxed feeling and sense of warmth replace the tension.
Stretch your calves, lower back, and chest daily to prevent cramps. Your stretches should be light to moderate due to increased joint laxity caused by pregnancy hormones. Due to the shift in the pelvis during pregnancy, your abdominal muscles will lengthen and your lower back muscles will shorten and tighten. Your shoulders may also begin to round forward due to the weight of the enlarging breasts. Try to stand up straight with your chin parallel to the ground and shoulders pulled back, as if you are standing against a wall with your head, shoulders, hips, and heels touching the wall. This will help center your gravity and almost make the baby sit more upright than pitch forward in front of you. You may want to get a massage by a massage therapist certified in prenatal massage to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation. Prenatal massage can also help decrease insomnia, assist in maintaining proper posture, and decrease sciatic pain and headaches. Prenatal massage is often done on your left side in order to not decrease circulation to you or the baby. It can also be done on your stomach with special prenatal pillows that allow for the abdomen to fit into the cutout in the pillow, no matter how far along you are in your pregnancy.
Perform abdominal and pelvic floor exercises daily. You will need your abdominals muscles for labor and delivery and to help support your body as it goes through the drastic changes which pregnancy introduces to your body. Additionally, if you keep your abs strong before the birth, they will be better prepared to return to their regular state once the baby is born. Pelvic floor exercise will strengthen the muscles which support you during such exercises as walking, running, jumping, and even coughing and sneezing. If these muscles are strong, they will remain slightly contracted at all times to prevent unwanted elimination. Your pelvic floor muscles can go through a traumatic experience during childbirth, depending on the size of your hips, your dialation, and the size of your baby. The stronger and more resilient they are, the more likely they are to be supple and able to withstand stress. This can prevent years of uncomfortable medical issues. The simplest way to perform your abdominal exercise is seated in a chair, laying on your side, or on your hands and knees. Take a deep breath in, then exhale and pull your abdominals towards your spine as if you are hugging your baby. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat up to 10 times. The basic pelvic floor exercise, or Kegel exercise, as named by Dr. Kegel, is the following: think of your pelvis as a bowl, then lift the bottom of the bowl (the part that makese contact with a table) towards the rim of the bowl and hold for 3-10 seconds. Relax completely, or "let go" of those muscles, then repeat. After 10 repetitions, slightly engage the pelvic floor muscles and then go about your daily tasks. It is best to do them every day, only one set of 10 at a time to prevent those muscles from spasming. You can work your way up to 5 sets a day. Both of these exercises can be done anywhere and without anyone knowing, so you have every reason to do them!
Omit alcohol, drugs, and smoking. If you find out you are pregnant and have any of the habits, stop right away. If you need help stopping, contact your doctor or a professional for assistance. It will almost definitely affect the development of your unborn baby in some way. Remember: everything that enters your body also enters the fetus. Loading up on nutritious foods and plenty of water is the way to go.
Don't ignore signals from your body. If you are feeling pain, dizziness, or small contractions, call your doctor immediately, as it may be pre-term labor or show that your baby is in distress and needs medical attention. If you have vaginal bleeding or a rush of fluid from the vagina, contact your doctor or caregiver immediately. If your doctor gives you instructions to cease exercise due to an absolute contraindication of exercise, listen and obey. These include, but are not limited to, pregnancy induced hypertension, premature rupture of membranes, incompetent cervix, and intrauterine growth retardation. You are much better off listening to your doctor than exercising if diagnosed with an absolute contraindication.
Don't be hesitant to discuss your feelings, whether they are about your excitement or hesitation about being a new mom. There are hundreds of emotions that expectant and new moms will experience. Some feelings you may feel comfortable talking about with your friends or family or other moms; others you may only be able to discuss with your spouse or your doctor. Other moms or expectant moms will usually be ready to listen and maybe exchange ideas with you, so speak up when you are able. They will probably welcome the discussion so that they know they are not the only ones going through those emotions!
Don't forget to eat or drink or think that it can wait until it is convenient. Get in the habit of carrying snacks in your bag or purse. Low blood sugar can creep up on you a lot faster during pregnancy than when you are not pregnant. Even a small snack of 100-200 calories or a glass of juice can help until you get a more substantial snack or meal. Snacks can be fruit, nuts, pastas, salads, and whole grains. The suggested dietary balance is 65% carbohydrate, 15% protein, and 20% fat. It is best to minimize salt-cured, smoked, or charbroiled foods, as well as caffeine and artificial sweeteners. High fiber food will help prevent or relieve constipation, a common side-effect of pregnancy.
Don't exercise if you are dizzy or nauseous. The best thing to do when you are exhausted is to take time to lay down, or at least find a quiet spot to rest and relax your body as much as possible. If you notice sudden swelling, pallor (heart rate beating rapidly), vaginal bleeding, or extreme changes in temperature, stop exercising and and contact your caregiver or doctor.
Don't use a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, or anything else that will cause you to overheat. Your pregnant body does have the ability to to eliminate fetal heal through diffusion. However, fetal hyperthermia occurs at 38.9 Celsius, or 102 Fahrenheit, so should be avoided at all costs. Hyperthermia places the fetus at serious risk for malformations (i.e. Facial and skeletal defects). Keep yourself cool and hydrated and avoid extreme heat.
Don't ignore the fact that your "water" broke. Call your doctor and inform him or her. Your doctor needs to know so that (s)he can prepare to admit you to the hospital as soon as (s)he deems appropriate. If labor has not started within 24 hours after your water breaks, your doctor may intervene to encourage labor to begin. The amniotic fluid, or "water", should be clear and odorless. If it is colored or has a smell, make every effort to call your doctor immediately. You should NOT exercise after your water breaks.
Don't use pregnancy as an excuse to eat unhealthy foods. High-glycemic foods like doughnuts and fried chips will raise your blood sugar then cause it to fall rapidly. This can lead to unnecessary mood swings and leave you feeling hungrier. Instead, choose whole grains, lean protein sources, and fruits and vegetables. The typical recommended weight gain is about 25-30 pounds, though underweight women should try to gain 40 pounds or maybe more. Most importantly, you need to eat nutritious food in small, frequent meals. It takes about 300 calories more than usual to be pregnant, so make sure you consume that many more than your usual caloric intake. And remember to add more calories on days when you exercise. Pregnancy is not the time to lose weight. You can lose the weight after you give birth.
In conclusion, pregnancy is a very exciting time filled with anticipation, changes, and emotions that you may not experience at any other point in your life. It is a journey that billions of women have taken, but each individual has a unique experience that should be treasured and, if you wish, shared with your friends and loved ones. Exercise if you are able, relax, and take care of yourself. Your body and your baby will thank you for years to come.