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Pregnancy and fitness can go hand-in-hand

Many area hospitals offer exercise classes specifically tailored to pregnant women. | THINKSTOCKIMAGES.COM

She was two weeks past her due date, and while she might have felt physically uncomfortable, anxious or tired, Kerry Maiorca felt as energetic as ever.

“I was energetic and mobile right to my due date,” says Maiorca, the now mother of three and owner of Bloom Yoga in Chicago.

The business owner exercised throughout her pregnancy, doing “a little something everyday.” Combining a mix of yoga, massage and cardio, Maiorca says that exercising throughout pregnancy offered her so much more than just a pregnant and toned body. “There is just something about taking time for yourself during your pregnancy,” she says. “We are strong women, but everyone needs this time to reflect and get ready for the challenges ahead.”

“There are specifically three categories of women: athletes, regular exercisers and women who don’t exercise at all. No matter what, exercise is valuable in any low-risk pregnancy,” says Dr. Lauren Streicher, medical director for Northwestern Medicine’s Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause. “I will ultimately have different recommendations for a non-exerciser compared to an athlete. But in general, staying active and hydrated is always a good thing for any woman. And in terms of exercising, if you can talk while exercising, you are in a good place.”

If you don’t have lower back pain, and you’ve checked with your doctor, brisk walking during pregnancy could be a good exercise option for you. | THINKSTOCKIMAGES.COM

An expectant mom can modify her exercise throughout each trimester. “As long as their doctor agrees and as long as a woman listens to her body, a pregnant woman can continue exercising as normal during the first trimester,” explains Candy Morales, a certified personal trainer at Spa at Trump at Trump Hotel Chicago. “But beginning with the second trimester, you need to start using some common sense and modify your exercise plan as needed.”

Doctors agree that pregnant women truly have their choice of great and effective cardio workouts — such as indoor cycling, swimming and brisk walking — that they can do throughout their low-risk pregnancy. However, it’s important for pregnant women to ensure that their heart rate stays in a safe zone.

“If a sedentary person never worked out prior to pregnancy, a safe heart rate would be not to go over 140 bpm,” explains Morales. “But, now doctors want their patients to use the Borg RPE Scale, which is the rating of perceived exertion on a scale of 1 to 10.”

Indeed, the Borg Scale instructs pregnant women to stay in the moderate intensity zone rating of 12 to 14, which usually means you can talk through exercising without feeling short of breath. Morales also says that she encourages her pregnant clients to eliminate any moves that will put the baby in any sort of danger, such as raising their arms over their head for an extended period of exercise time.

“I have seen some women still doing burpees at seven months pregnant, but you do have to be careful, especially when you reach the third trimester,” says Morales. “In the third trimester, we tend to focus more on stretching exercises and focusing on those body parts that are giving them trouble, such as their back.”

Countless women have experienced the benefits of prenatal yoga, both emotionally and physically. “It’s not only a great form of exercise, but it’s a great excuse to sit quietly and relax both the mind and the body,” Maiorca says. “There can be really challenging moments in each pregnancy, and this helps to combat those. Plus, the classes are specifically geared toward the pregnant body, along with giving you the opportunity to bond with other women who are going through the very same thing.”

Of course, as with any exercise plan, it’s also of vital importance to pay close attention to what you are eating throughout a pregnancy. “This is not the time to be eating chocolate and potato chips, even though you might be craving them,” says Noreen Sajwani, a clinical dietitian at Weiss Hospital in Chicago. “In most cases, you are not going to be craving fruits and vegetables. It goes without saying that the foods that you are craving are not going to give you the nutrients you desperately need as a pregnant woman.”

Sajwani suggests five essential nutrients every woman should strive to fit into their meal plan while pregnant, including:

Protein – “Lean proteins are of vital importance. Meat and eggs and dairy along with soy or tofu can give pregnant women this essential nutrient. And when preparing the meat, try to avoid frying.”

Iron – “It’s essential to be sure that you are taking enough iron into your diet. Spinach, collard greens and cabbage along with cereals fortified with iron are all good options.”

Folic Acid – “Folic acid plays a key role in avoiding neuro-defects in babies, so it’s important that pregnant women be sure that they eat a lot of leafy green vegetables along with fruits such as strawberries, melons, oranges and tomatoes. There are also cereals that are once again infused with folate.”

Calcium – “Calcium is a key nutrient for each and every pregnant woman. It can be found in dairy items such as milk and cheese and yogurt, along with items such as eggs and beans and tofu.”

Vitamin C – “Luckily, Vitamin C can be found in a number of different foods, including citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit.”

One thing is for certain — every pregnancy is different, which means that every exercise plan will be different. But with the correct plan, women can end up sleeping better, gain strength and find it much easier to recover quicker once the baby is here. Working with your doctor and assessing the best fitness/wellness class for your specific needs is key. There are also multiple area hospitals that offer exercise classes specifically for pregnant women, including Northwestern, Swedish Covenant and Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.

But no matter what – rely on your intuition. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that anytime a pregnant woman feels dizzy or faint, she should stop their physical activity and rest, or even contact a doctor. Extended shortness of breath or any sort of chest pain means an immediate call to 911.

“Women instinctively know when something is too much and when not to push it,” says Maiorca. “As long as they listen to that voice inside of them along with the advice of their own doctor, everything should be just fine. The truth is that one’s pregnancy marks an amazing time in a woman’s life where they can not only truly realize their own strength but also be able to take the time to reflect on the miracle they are about to experience.”

Swimming can be a good exercise option for pregnant women. It’s low-impact and soothing. Check with your doctor before attempting any exercise regimen. | THINKSTOCKIMAGES.COM

According to ACOG, whether you are new to exercise or it already is part of your weekly routine, choose activities that many experts agree are safest for pregnant women, including:

Walking: Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles.

Swimming and water workouts: Water workouts use many of the body’s muscles. The water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain. If you find brisk walking difficult because of low back pain, water exercise is a good way to stay active.

Stationary bicycling: Because your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls, riding a standard bicycle during pregnancy can be risky. Cycling on a stationary bike is a better choice.

Modified yoga and modified Pilates: Yoga reduces stress, improves flexibility, and encourages stretching and focused breathing. There are even prenatal yoga and Pilates classes designed for pregnant women. These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance. You also should avoid poses that require you to be still or lie on your back for long periods.

If you are an experienced runner, jogger, or racquet-sports player, you may be able to keep doing these activities during pregnancy. Discuss these activities with your health care professional.

The ACOG also lists precautions pregnant women should keep in mind during exercise. Some of these include drinking plenty of water before, during and after a workout to prevent dehydration. Look for signs of dizziness or a racing/pounding heart, which can signal dehydration. Also be sure to wear a sports bra with full support. Always wear loose-fitting clothing, and try to exercise in a climate-controlled room (avoid hot/humid locations, for example).

Most importantly, consult your doctor before engaging in any type of regular exercise or workout regimen during your pregnancy.

For more information on exercising during pregnancy, visit the ACOG website at www.acog.org.