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Exercise benefits expectant mothers

By Airman 1st Class Christopher R. Morales | JBER Public Affairs | April 4, 2016

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Pregnancy is a time of change. From the transition of 'I' to 'we,' an expectant mother accepts the responsibility of caring for another life.

"We know - as more research has come out in the last few years - excess weight gain can cause serious complications with pregnancy," said Air Force Lt. Col. Anne Gray, 673d Surgical Operations Squadron Women's Health clinic flight commander "It can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, blood pressure issues, and the need for a C-section."

Exercise is a healthy way to minimize weight gain during pregnancy and promotes a better outcome for the mother and child, Gray said.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. This increases energy, mood and posture; promotes muscle, tone and endurance; and reduces backache, constipation, bloating and swelling for pregnant mothers.

"If you are already in an exercise regimen and very fit beforehand, just see what works for you during pregnancy," Gray said. "If you are not, I would avoid those things to reduce injury - on top of being pregnant."

Expecting mothers can encounter a lot of difficulty during this time of change, and there are some actions riskier that are than others.

"When you're pregnant, your whole center of gravity is off [balance], which increases the risk of a fall," Gray said. "Stay away from things that require a lot of balance like bike riding.

"People who already run, can keep running - as long as everything else with the pregnancy is normal," Gray said. "If you're not a marathon runner before you get pregnant, then pregnancy is not the time to start."

A safe alternative to higher-intensity activities, while keeping up cardio, can be walking or using a stationary bike.

"For me the StairMaster and stationary bike are my favorite cardio workouts," said Airman 1st Class Nicole Rent, 703d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, who is 16 weeks pregnant. "Find a routine that works for you, [but] if you are military, keep your cardio and upper-body strength up, because your core workouts will need to be modified."

When women are in their third trimester, it is dangerous to lie flat on their back due to the enlarged size of the uterus possibly blocking the vena cava, one of the largest veins that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.

Exercises like leg lifts, butterfly kicks and sit-ups can be modified by performing them on one's side. Another concern for pregnant women is jumping, jarring motions and rapid change in direction because of a risk in ligament laxity and joint instability.

Even though stretching is healthy after a workout, pregnant women should be mindful not to stretch for too long, because there is a chance of joint injury.

"During pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called relaxin, and that's exactly what it does, it relaxes the ligaments," Gray said. "The closer you get to delivery, the higher those levels of that hormone are in the body because it's all in preparation for the baby."

According to the U.S. Army Public Health Command; A Guide to Female Soldier Readiness, some signs to stop working out are: swelling of the face and hands, severe headache, dizziness, light headedness, shortness of breath, palpitations, faintness and pain. If symptoms get worse, consult medical personnel.

Nutrition and fitness go hand-in-hand with health, and expecting mothers have a few specific needs compared to other women.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say expecting mothers need more folic acid, iron and water.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent major birth defects in a child's brain and spine called neural tube defects. Iron helps red blood cells carry more oxygen to organs and tissues, which is important because it also supplies oxygen to the child.

Mothers should not only stay hydrated for the usual reasons, but also because dehydration is more hazardous while pregnant.

"Dehydration can lead to pre-term contractions, which are uncomfortable and lead to many hospital visits," Gray said. "You should visit if contractions persist for four to six an hour and continue after rehydrating and resting."

Rent experienced these exact conditions, which led to stress and discomfort.

"When I found out I was pregnant, I still walked my dogs," Rent said. "[But] one day, I didn't expect to be out for so long, which led to becoming dehydrated and I had a headache that lasted 25 hours.

"The best advice I can give is just drink, drink, drink more water," Rent said. "Now, I always have a water bottle handy."

Being prepared for dehydration, hunger and injury are important lessons to know for one's safety, but are potentially more important for a newborn child.

"Pregnancy is a great time - if you know there are lifestyle modifications that you need to make - because now that you have a baby to take care of it's a great time to make those behavioral changes that can carry on after the baby," Gray said. "Starting those behavioral changes and patterns is healthy for the whole family in the long-term."

Being healthy is not just a phase, it's a way of living. Eating right, staying hydrated and actively exercising benefit the body and improve the quality of life for anyone.