Healthy Pregnancy & Birth Essentials – Be Fit! Be Prepared!

Moving relieves stress.

Moving relieves stress.

Do you want a healthy pregnancy, labor, birth and early mothering experience?

This post is designed to provide basic information about achieving this goal. As with any life situation, there are things you can do to help achieve the best outcome of your pregnancy. Some things will be outside your control. Your baby will have blue eyes or brown hair or attached ear lobes depending on genetic factors. But many things are in your control. If you are fit and eat well you will help your baby’s development.

Circumstances can also play a role. For example, where you live can impact how much you walk or whether you are exposed to second-hand smoke. Sometimes you can change these things, but not always. We have put together just the basics, the things you CAN do to help yourself have a healthy pregnancy and birth!

  1. PRENATAL CARE – Repeated studies show that women who have regular health care started early in pregnancy have the best outcomes.
  2. AIR & FOOD – Your muscles need oxygen and blood sugar in order to achieve activities of daily living (ADL), fitness activities, labor, birth, and caring for a newborn. Muscles – including the uterus – need these two essentials in order to this work. Therefore you must do these things:
    • Breathe deeply to strengthen your breathing apparatus.
    • Eat in a way that is balanced (carbs, fats & proteins in every meal or snack) and colorful (fresh fruit & veggies) to train your body to
      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      Fresh fruit provides vitamins & minerals!!

      produce an even supply of blood sugar and provide needed vitamins & minerals. You need 200 – 300 calories every 2 – 3 hours, depending on your size. Prenatal vitamins are your backup safety mechanism. Eat real food, not edible food-like products (example: potatoes, not potato chips).

    • Drink fluids (primarily water) and eat protein to maintain an adequate blood volume. Blood delivers oxygen and sugar to your muscles, placenta and baby. Pregnancy increases needed blood volume by about 40%. More if you exercise regularly.
    • You don’t need other items, especially things that are dangerous, like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Continue safe sex.
  3. PHYSICAL FITNESS – Pregnancy, labor, birth and parenting are ENDURANCE events. Strength, flexibility and mindfulness will help, but only if you have stamina to tolerate the stress to your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    Aerobic Dancing improves stamina while having fun!

    • Cardiovascular conditioning or aerobics is the cornerstone of fitness. Make sure to get 20 – 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 3 or 4 days a week. Find a qualified prenatal aerobic fitness teacher. If you are more than 26 weeks pregnant, start very, very slowly.
    • Core, shoulders, hips, pelvic floor – these areas need adequate strength training and gentle flexibility for range of motion.
    • Relaxation practice has been shown to help reduce the active phase of labor.
    • Mindfulness can be a big help in birth if you have adequate endurance and are not in oxygen debt, out of blood sugar, dehydrated or too tired.
    • Find classes here: DTP Take-a-Class
  4. EDUCATION – Be sure these items are included in your childbirth education course:
    • Landmarks of labor & birth progress
    • Sensations at various points in labor
    • Physical skills that promote labor progress and help achieve a healthy birth

      Learn the benefits "skin-to-skin" after birth.

      Learn the benefits “skin-to-skin” after birth.

    • Pain Management techniques to help you deal with the intensity of birth
    • How to maintain oxygen and sugar supply in labor before going to the hospital and while in the hospital
    • Standard hospital procedures (so you can decide when to go to the hospital)
    • Complications that can lead to medical interventions, including surgery
  5. GET SUPPORT – Make sure you will have continuous support for your labor and birth
    • Spouses, partners, and female family members can be helpful if they accompany you to your Childbirth Education class and know how to help you during the process.
    • A Doula is a great option for support because they are trained to guide a mom and family through the birth process.
  6. POSTPARTUM ACTIVITY WITH BABY – This is a great way to get in shape after birth.
    • Early General Fitness in the first few weeks: walk with the baby in a stroller or carrier, work on kegels and suck in your belly.
    • After 4 – 8 weeks you will be ready to join a Mom-Baby fitness group!
Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

Birth begins the bond or unique love between mother and child.

Women and Exercise: Figuring out what works

My current challenge is building a conceptual systems framework around health outcomes for women and offspring. Doing so requires a careful reading of historical threads as well as current individual findings. I thought I would share some of the what I am working on in this area.

  • Thread: Learning in the physical activity environment.

This work forms one of the underpinnings for much of the current research on girls (and boys) in the school PA environment. Most significant may be Arnold’s delineation that during exercise activities, learning is taking place on 3 levels: 1. How to do something (e.g., hit a ball or jump from one foot to two feet). 2. Observations about nature and motion (e.g., effects of gravity, the wind, distance or force vectors). 3. Social or interactive learning (e.g., “I like moving with these people” or “this group works well together”). [see pp. 10-15 Cowlin, Women’s Fitness Program Development.]

When I am training teachers, I make sure they have a clear grasp on what skill(s) they are teaching, what interesting natural phenomena are possibly connected, and how they will discover what the participants learn from each other as well as from the activity.

  • Thread: How young girls differ from boys in game settings and how this plays out over time.

An interesting finding of Gilligan’s research into the ‘tween age (10-12) was that – while boys’ primary concern in game settings is the strict application of rules, even if argument over what the rules mean stopped the game – for girls the main concern was maintaining the social fabric, which sometimes meant bending the rules to keep everyone happy. A recent example of how this plays out was the report in the news a couple year ago of a woman college senior softball player who, in her last game, hit her first home run. Rounding first base, she slipped on the base, fell and tore her ACL. The women on the opposing team picked her up and carried her around the remaining bases saying it was the right thing to do, even if it was the game-winning run.

From reading this text, I realized that an important aspect of program development is not how to make girls have the same values or results as boys. Some girls and women want to be in a highly competitive, rule-driven environment, but these are a minority. And thus, the relevant research questions we ask are not about what will make girls have the same outcomes as boys, but rather, what outcomes are desirable for girls and women, and how do we construct environments that allow this.

I wonder how often we ask questions that seek to get the same results for women as men. Here is an example: Women have more ACL injuries than men in some sports. In general, strengthening the quads is the most common method recommended to solve this problem. Works great for men. Unfortunately it ignores the main issues for women:  the rotation component of hip flexion/extension is greater in women than men, and the track of the patella tendon is more narrow in women than men. The discipline that finds both less injury and equal rates of ACL injury between the sexes is dance. Once seen as a “feminine” activity, there is increasing participation in this form of activity by all sexes. Dance relies on effective rotator control at the iliofemoral joint, and not so much on quad strength, for guiding motion at the knee.

Ballet class fall 2011

If we offer students a choice between a ballet class and a football class, most girls and a few boys will pick ballet. Most boys and some girls will pick football. What does this teach us? Most girls like the skills and group activity that is found in a dance class, and most boys prefer those things in a football game. But, there are variations in our physiology, and where we fall along the spectrum affects our preferences for activity. Other traits also affect our preferences.

A note on the influence of mobile devices:

One fairly recent development affecting programing is the proliferation of screen/social media. Interestingly – although it has produced transparency – it has not altered the activity issues surrounding the diverse spectrum of sexual identity, associated behaviors and resulting outcomes. We still have food issues; girls still think having a six pack will make them sexy (while it is just as likely to create low back pain if the transverse abdominals are weak), being with other girls/women is still one of the main reasons women come to exercise programs. Screen media does provide opportunities for understanding recent perceptual shortcomings, such as lack of depth perception, that can result from constant use of these media. Importantly, it also lets us see advantages that are gained from their use. Reducing teen pregnancy has happened – in part – because of viral messaging about using birth control.