Exercising during pregnancy benefits both mother, new baby ­—Experts

Expectant mothers receive an avalanche of information about potential risks to their babies. There’s a growing list of foods, toxins and environmental threats to avoid. It’s normal for this to lead to an increased level of anxiety. As a result, some women believe it’s safer to avoid any risk in pregnancy, including exercises, no matter how small.

No doubt, an expecting mother has a lot to do throughout her pregnancy. She is expected to follow a healthy diet, go in for scheduled check-ups with the obstetrician to see that her baby is developing properly and get her entire life and home ready for her unborn baby. However, a pregnant woman must also make  out time to exercise.

Dr Nike Bello, a consultant obstetric and gynaecologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State said that none vigorous exercise is safe and beneficial in pregnancy. This includes 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic and light exercises, including regular walks, swimming and dancing in a day.

When we’re talking about vigorous exercise, this means exercising to an intensity where the individual struggle to maintain a conversation, but can still manage a sentence. This could include activities such as jogging, circuit-based resistance training, or interval training on a stationary bike.

According to her: “Exercise helps to keep fit. In pregnancy, it is usual for the woman to be unfit. Fitness is needed in pregnancy because the woman is more tired and slower because she is carrying an extra weight.

“Exercise releases endorphins, a hormone that makes the body feel better. The hormone also helps to boost the mood. Pregnancy is a phase that a woman feels tired, emotional and even cries sometimes for no reason.”

Mood swings are a natural part of pregnancy due to the increased levels of female hormones and blood volume in the body. Exercising can release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine in the body, which can help to keep those mood swings in check and feel better.

Dr Bello, however, declared that exercising in pregnancy is not about weight loss, but rather to keep fit and increase the rate at which the body uses up stored energy.

“Women have different tendencies. Some feel hungry the more in pregnancy while some may lose their appetite or tend to vomit the more. If you are the type that tends to eat more, by moving more, you will be metabolising the excess calories that you have eaten. That way, you are not likely to gain excess weight during pregnancy.”

Expectant mothers who do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, as recommended by the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines, are healthier, happier, stronger, and develop fewer complications like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

And the safety of doing vigorous exercise during pregnancy has been more controversial. For example, past research suggested that during vigorous exercise, blood flow is re-directed to the muscles and could take away oxygen and nutrients from the growing baby.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion said that exercising during pregnancy may reduce weight gain, the risk for gestational diabetes, particularly in overweight or obese women and risk for caesarean delivery.

Additionally, they declared that it helps pregnant women prevent or manage inevitable aches and pains. Regular physical activity during pregnancy may help psychological well-being and possibly even reduce depression and anxiety during the postpartum period. Additionally, women who exercise during pregnancy may recover more quickly after giving birth.

Of course, many women become pregnant without an established exercise routine in place. Such women can start slowly and ramp up gradually. For example, try walking a few more times per week, then add to the amount of time spent walking gradually and also step up the intensity of walking more quickly.

Moreover, a new study showed that there are probably more advantages to exercising than previously known. The study is published in the latest issue of the journal, Nature Metabolism showed that if breastfeeding mothers exercise regularly, they may end up providing more beneficial breast milk.

This new study revealed that even moderate exercise in pregnant mothers could lead to a rise in levels of a compound in their breast milk that could benefit their babies. The baby has a significant advantage of lowered risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease when they grow up, find the researchers.

Breast milks from the mothers were chemically analysed. Results revealed that mothers who moved more (showing up as more number of steps on the activity tracker) had raised levels of a compound called oligosaccharide 3’-sialyllactose in their breast milk.


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