Extreme Sports, Vigorous Exercise – Good or Bad for Pregnancy?

by For Two Fitness January 30, 2012

We found this amazing article written by Rita Rubin on the USA Today website (click here to see the full article).  Read on to hear Carrie’s story and consider whether “extreme” sports are good for pregnancy, or an unnecessary risk…

When Carrie Cooper realized she could still go rock-climbing while pregnant, even she was surprised. “I was shocked that rock-climbing was going to be the perfect activity for me,” says Cooper, 32, a Salt Lake City mother of two who reached that decision after talking with her doctor. “It enabled me to keep my balance and keep my strength and allow for my body to change.”

Enough pregnant women want to continue climbing — and kayaking and mountain biking — that Teresa Delfin, lover of those sports, founded a company in 2010, Mountain Mama in Ontario, Calif., to make clothing for them.

“Sales have been really good,” says Delfin, 35, who got the idea for Mountain Mama when she couldn’t find long underwear to fit when pregnant. Like Cooper, Delfin rock-climbed during both of her pregnancies.
Expert advice
For extreme mamas:

Pain means stop. 
“When they’re not pregnant, athletes are taught to work through pain, to run through pain,” says Andrew Satin, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore. “Pregnancy is not the time to do that.” In pregnancy, episodes of pain or shortness of breath are “a time to stop and reassess.”

Use common sense. If you’ve been running, keep it up, but your balance might be a little off, so “you have to be really careful with the footwork.”

Avoid falls. In the latter half of pregnancy, avoid sports in which there’s a danger of falling, such as bike or horseback riding or downhill skiing, or getting hit, such as soccer. (While pregnant, long-time climbers Cooper and Delfin did only top-roping, in which their rope was always anchored above them. Generally, top-roping minimizes the chance that a climber could fall very far.) 

For couch potato mamas:

Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. “You’ll have a nicer delivery, and you’ll just feel better,” says Laura Riley, director of labor and delivery at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

Don’t worry. Riley repeats the fears: “Oh, I was scared. I was worried I’d have a miscarriage if I exercised too much. I was worried that the cord would become tangled if I ran.” As she points out, even couch potatoes have miscarriages. 

Just do it. Studies show that women are more motivated to clean up their act during pregnancy, Riley notes. They stop smoking. They stop drinking. But, she says, “I’m not certain that the whole exercise piece has gotten to that level.”
Labor is easier for exercisers
Compared with most pregnant women, Cooper and Delfin are pretty exceptional. And few top Amber Miller, who garnered international headlines when she completed the Chicago marathon in October only hours before giving birth to her second child. But the three serve as reminders that women need not — and in most cases should not — take pregnancy sitting down.
Not only can exercise during pregnancy make for an easier labor and delivery, but it also can help prevent excessive weight gain, which reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, a leading cause of illness and death in moms and babies.
“For years, women were discouraged from either continuing or initiating exercise in pregnancy,” says Andrew Satin, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore. “I think that’s recently been questioned on a lot of fronts.”
Research is overdue
Still, Satin says, doctors often don’t encourage exercise because of safety concerns: “There’s been a lack of good quality research.”
Satin is working on it, though, spurred by his 20 years in the military caring for extremely fit women. He studies the effects of standardized exercise testing on women and their fetuses. As the women run on a treadmill, Satin and collaborator Linda Samanski, who has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, monitor fetal heart rate and blood flow.
“When are you pushing yourself so hard that it does actually affect blood flow to the baby?” Satin says. It turns out pregnant women can exercise much more vigorously than previously thought without diverting blood from the placenta to their muscles, he says.
Trainer Josh Stolz, who works at an Equinox fitness club in Manhattan, says he only tweaks pregnant clients’ workouts. They shouldn’t do full-range-of-motion crunches, he says, and beginning in the second trimester, they should lie on an incline with their head elevated when they bench-press.
So, what’s your take?  How much is too much? 


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