Until some years ago pregnant women were advised not to exercise during pregnancy. But while that view has changed and expectant women are encouraged to work out, it is still not clear as to how much exercise is good for mom and the baby. Now doctors at the John Hopkins Medical Centre at Baltimore are trying to collect data and fill the gaps.
The doctors hope that they will soon be able to provide specific guidelines and personalized fitness schedules for women in different levels of fitness.
“We do know that not only can exercise be done, it should be done,” said Dr. Andrew J. Satin, of the Hopkins School of Medicine. “But the level of fitness should impact the individual’s prescription.”
According to Dr. Satin and Dr. Linda Szymanski, there is very little data available on what kind of and how much exercise will suit different pregnant women like an elite athlete or a couch potato. Much that they are asked to do now is based on opinion and common sense. Research in the area is limited because of the fear of testing pregnant women.
After conducting the study for nine months, there have been no adverse reactions, but as a precaution, the hospital’s labor and delivery area is close by.
About 60 women in their third trimester of pregnancy have been asked by the researchers to take turns on the treadmill. This group of women includes regular athletes and those with a sedentary lifestyle. All of them are asked to walk moderately while scientists measured the fetal heart rate, blood flow to the womb, fetal movement and amniotic fluid levels. The regular runners also run until they reach their peak capacity. Before and after the regime fetus conditions are checked using ultrasound.
The first round of tests results are expected to be completed in the next couple of months. Eventually the doctors also plan to partner with biomedical engineers to develop new ways to monitor fetus while exercise and collect long-term data.
Currently doctors give a blanket advice to pregnant women to exercise 30 minutes a day. The benefits include improvement in general health, decreased chance of gestational diabetes and hypertension, and also easier labor, delivery and recovery. But these advices are based on American College of Sports’ general recommendation and have precautionary warnings like seeing a doctor, starting slow and stopping if there is bleeding.
James Pivarnik of Michigan State University says that the physical guidelines published for Americans in 2008 do indicate, “that the elite runner can continue doing what she is doing for a bit, provided her health care provider is in the loop, and that she has no warning signs or other issues.” But he adds “boutique” recommendations are hard with so many possible circumstances. Dr. Satin agrees to the precautions and adds that the increased heart rate, dehydrations and overheating might cause problem to the babies but because the benefits and precautions of exercising is so generalized, not many pregnant women have gotten the message of exercising.
Szymanski said the incomplete data has only confused the message.
“Pregnant women express frustration because a number of doctors give different advice. Some still tell them not to exercise, especially if they haven’t been exercising.”
Outdated information and myths circulating through the internet also add fear into moms.
On the other hand Dr. Satin believes that pregnancy is a good time to encourage women to begin exercising as they are apt to take care of themselves and the developing baby and get into good habits like quit smoking, eat better and exercise.
“As long as jogging is comfortable, runners can keep at it. Stationary bikes and running in a pool also are good exercises,” Satin said. “And walking is safe for nearly everyone. The fetuses are not “flipping and flopping,” he said. “In fact, the entire uterus is moving with the exercise motion, buoying the fetus.”
The researchers hope to convince more pregnant women to exercise by giving specific directions.
– Atula, Staff Writer
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