Filed under: Pregnancy
You’ve probably seen the pictures on social media and in the news: a very pregnant woman, with a heavy barbell on her shoulders, mid squat, in an Olympic powerlifting move. But is it safe for mother and baby? If this is a situation you might find yourself in, and/or you’ve talked to your doctor about a pregnancy exercise regimen, there are some things you should know about weight lifting and exercise. Read HPRC’s “Lifting weights during pregnancy” for more information.
The Air Force recently launched a new website to support pregnant Airmen: Pregnancy A to Z. It provides information from real parents and physicians through videos that provide tips for the first trimester all the way through to delivery and post-partum. Check out the exercise library too—keeping fit while you’re pregnant is essential for a healthy pregnancy and an easy recovery. And the site isn’t just for moms. Dads-to-be will find helpful information as well.
There are more than 200,000 women in the military today—almost 15% of active duty members. Not surprisingly then, pregnancy in the military has become a hot health topic as more and more women choose to serve. Even though most women should exercise during pregnancy, pregnant women still engage in less physical activity than their non-pregnant counterparts. Being active during pregnancy has a lot of health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and reducing risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, stress, operative or assisted deliveries, and labor time. Remember this very important message – Don’t ignore pain or fatigue; listen to your body and consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns!
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that healthy pregnant women engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes a week, which comes out to around 20-30 minutes a day. Women who already engage in vigorous-intensity exercise can continue physical activity at this level as long as they remain healthy and check with their healthcare provider about when to adjust activity levels (and what limits they should keep in mind). A healthy fetus is not adversely affected even by vigorous exercise, but be careful that you don’t overdo it. Remember that your body is changing with pregnancy—it may take more effort to do the same exercises you did before you were pregnant, and you may not realize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Monitor your heart rate and use tools such as the talk test to gauge intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has adopted the age-based heart rate ranges for pregnant women from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.
After giving birth, you may find that the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy is stubbornly hanging around. Excess weight carries a whole host of adverse health risks, so keep moving—even walking for 45 minutes three to four times per week at low to moderate intensity can reduce risk of chronic disease. As with any exercise program, resuming activity after giving birth should be a gradual process (after consulting with your Doctor).
Certain general precautions should be taken with exercise during pregnancy. Avoid contact sports and exercises that increase the risk of falling. Avoid exercises that require stomach-down (supine) positions, with the exception of swimming during pregnancy, which doesn’t place stress on your joints like other forms of exercise do. Regular exercise before you get pregnant can help you prepare for the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and keep you ready and resilient for your family and your military service.
If you’re pregnant, keep in mind there isn’t any consensus about exercising at altitude, so it’s even more important to know the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Take time to acclimatize if you travel to altitudes above 2500 meters and allow two or three days before exercising moderately. Wait for complete acclimatization before engaging in heavy exercise.
First and foremost, however, if you become pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise routine. Also, each service branch has its own policies regarding pre- and post-natal exercise ().
Military servicewomen are exempt from physical fitness tests for a minimum of six months after giving birth. For many, though, this may not be enough time to get back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels. To date, studies have found that after pregnancy many active-duty women had slower run times, were not able to do as many push-ups, and had lower overall fitness scores compared to their pre-pregnancy fitness tests. One Air Force study found that sit-ups were the only component of the fitness test that didn’t change after pregnancy, despite increases in abdominal circumference. While exercise is generally recommended for women during pregnancy, there are many reasons why a lot of women stop, decrease, or are unable to do physical training during this time—having a baby is exhausting! Lack of sleep and sleep disturbances, quality and quantity of family support systems, breastfeeding needs, hormonal changes, and the physical stress of childbirth all impact recovery and performance. Getting back into an exercise routine takes time and patience. Discuss any possible restrictions with your doctor before starting. Begin slowly and at lower intensities until you feel stronger. Brisk walking, especially with your baby, is good exercise and good bonding time.