Mom-Baby Fitness: Modeling Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Guest Blog by Alana Abbott, DTP certified instructor, writer and mom.

My daughter has been taking Mom-Baby Fitness with me since she was six weeks old. When I became an instructor, she did, too. She is older than the children of most of my students, and, although she has a mind of her own on many of our activities, she enjoys dancing along with the mommies.

Her favorite Christmas gift this past year was a stroller and her own baby doll. The enthusiasm she showed for this pairing of toys reflects to me just how much of an example we moms set for our babies and toddlers – just by showing up and going to class. We often think of going to Mom-Baby Fitness as doing something good for our own fitness and our children’s social development. But it is also good for our children’s fitness!

Childhood Obesity

The media bombards us with facts about the growing childhood obesity epidemic. According to the CDC, childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled over the last thirty years. To combat the risk of obesity, the CDC recommends healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity. Diet and physical activity are influenced, unsurprisingly, by the child’s family.

Exercise doesn’t just combat obesity, however; it also lowers the risk of children developing type 2 diabetes and helps children develop stronger muscles and bones. By creating an environment where moms show that exercise is fun – through dancing, walking strollers side by side, or chatting while doing strength training – our babies are shown exercise and activity as an enjoyable activity and a behavior that is an everyday part of life.

Active Together

Recent evidence shows that new parents exercise less than they did pre-children, according to a recent report in Pediatrics. Fitting in exercise is a challenge! Involving your child in your exercise helps you create a healthy lifestyle for yourself – and a healthy example for your child. In a recommendation from the Mayo Clinic, the first step in getting your kids off the couch is to set a good example: “Your active lifestyle can be a powerful stimulus for your child. If you want an active child, be active yourself.”

I let my daughter bring her stroller and baby doll to class, so she can do what the mommies are doing. Her active approach is catching on, too – other toddlers are starting to join in!

It is never too early to start modeling healthy habits!

Healthy Moms Having Healthy Babies – the Challenge in 2011

Welcome to 2011! We want to take this opportunity to say, once again, that our main goal here is to provide credible, evidence-based information on how to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and birth, recover quickly and begin your mothering experience in good health. Why? Because that is what you can do to help get your baby off to a healthy start in life.

Helping women be healthy during the childbearing period is our primary goal. Not everything is within your control, especially genetic factors. But your baby’s life is determined – in part – by your behavior before pregnancy, during pregnancy, during birth and in the early mothering stages. More and more, we are coming to understand that the environment within the uterus is largely affected by the mother’s behavior (exercise, nutrition, stress, breastfeeding and avoidance of risky behaviors such as smoking) and environmental exposures (toxins in chemicals, the air we breathe and food products).

We are recommitting to making up-to-date and well-documented information available through this blog. Now and then you will get a rant, but for the most part, we want to help people have terrific experiences during the childbearing period. Of course, since we are part of Dancing Thru Pregnancy and its Total Pregnancy Fitness and Mom-Baby Fitness programs, you will hear a lot about being fit before, during and after pregnancy BECAUSE fitness has more benefits for mom and baby than any other single factor!

Here are some of the well-documented findings about being fit during the childbearing period:

  • assists in healthy implantation and improves placental function
  • reduces the risk or severity of gestational diabetes
  • reduces the risk of preeclampsia
  • reduces the risk of prematurity and low birth weight
  • reduces the risk for childhood obesity
  • may reduce the risk of surgical (cesarean) birth
  • improves long term maternal heart health
  • reduces the risk of postpartum depression
  • increases the likelihood that a woman will be fit in mid life

You can find references for these findings on this blog, on our website ( or through the American College of Sports Medicine and other organizations listed in our blogroll.

Our secondary goal is adding to the effort to assure Safe Motherhood around the globe. We do this, in part, by supporting the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and helping sponsor projects that improve mother’s lives locally. We are also committed to spreading the word that improving the lives of women and children involves a reality change…namely that helping women plan their families, have healthy pregnancies and give birth in safety are more important human goals than wars and violence.

Please join us this year in this important endeavor.

Thank you.

Ann Cowlin, founder/director,, twitter@anncowlin

Birth and Human Survival

Ever wonder if humanity will become extinct sooner rather than later?

Animal Planet program on sea turtles…hatchlings crawl across the sand to the ocean and the commentator remarks that only one in a hundred will survive to adulthood. Those who escape the pelican beaks or salt water crocodiles waiting for them on the sand may meet with sharks or other swimming predators. Not good odds. Conclusion:  No wonder they lay huge numbers of eggs in the sand.

But, what would the result be if the turtles figured out some way to destroy all these predators so that most of each hundred survived?

New Jersey has just completed a brief bear hunting season in which about 500 bears were killed by hunters because another species that competes with them for space and food has over-populated that space. The close interface of bears and humans resulted in a situation in which the natural predator (bear) was overcome by the competing creature (human) who figured out how to destroy the predator.

Human beings have been party to a number of species’ extinctions or near etinctions because of our capacity to use technology to overwhelm the natural process of competing for resources. Nature has a way of balancing out the advantages that one species gains over another, but the use of advanced technology – everything from guns to in vitro fertilization – oversets this natural order. Essentially, we are working on having more and more surviving members. Check it out:

What questions does this thinking raise for those of us concerned about the safety of birth?

How do we make birth safer throughout the world while at the same time address the issue of over-population? There was a time when the capacity to overset nature worked to human advantage. The notion of “go forth and multiply” worked for us much as it currently does for the sea turtles. But that balance has changed. Essentially, the difficulties of establishing family planning as accessible and acceptable behavior for women goes hand in hand with aiding women in having safe pregnancy and birth, as well as supporting infant survival. For directly working on this issue, a thank you    is due the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

How do we balance women’s need to work, the trend in developed nations to delay childbearing, the dangers of childbearing too young, and the need to reduce population? A hard question we need to ask is whether it is a “good” thing to have a child at 55 or 60. We know it is not safe for 12 year olds bear children. Yet, we go to extreme, expensive lengths to permit older women to have this experience while we spend very little on projects to prevent the atrocity of coerced reproduction in young women and girls.

So, the turtles and bears got me thinking scary thoughts:

  • What are the odds that the human population is growing so fast we cannot sustain safe water and prevent or quarantine infection sufficiently to avoid major epidemics that kill most of us?
  • What if engineered food products turn out to be not so good for us?
  • What if we so disturb the food chain by causing extinctions that we upset our food supply and end in chaos?
  • And, how does climate change fit in to all this?

Why would we allow this? Oh, right, greed. Growth is how economies are sustained. Have to work on that, folks.

Okay. I’ll stick to writing about enabling healthy pregnancy for now. But, let’s all work on raising awareness of the need for family planning.

Active Pregnancy – the rationale

Moving into Motherhood

It’s time to hit the main theme again:  Aerobically fit women are at reduced risk for things that go wrong in pregnancy, improve their tolerance for labor and birth, and recover more rapidly in the postpartum period.

The arrival of the holidays provides a good reason to bring this up, yet again! Pregnancy is a gateway time in women’s lives…we become more aware of our bodies, our sensations, our feelings, our needs, and how versatile and amazing our bodies are. We can make people with our bodies! During pregnancy, we often take precautions…we eat more carefully, avoid toxins, try to avoid stress. When the holidays arrive, we see indulgent behavior in a different light.

Yet, even with all this focus on behavior, we sometimes miss the biggest aid to a healthy pregnancy:  physical fitness. Research clearly demonstrates that fit women do better, are healthier and happier. More and more in the U.S. we see disorders of normal organ function that accompany sedentary pregnancy.

Let’s look at this a little closer (yes, I am going to repeat myself some more, but it is an important concept to spread). We live in a body model that rewards an active lifestyle.

Being sedentary causes things to go wrong

Not moving creates biochemical imbalances because the cardiovascular system atrophies and molecules created in the brain or brought in through the digestion may not get where they need to go for a healthy metabolism.

Your cardiovasculature is the highway that brings usable substances to the place they are used. You have to help it grow and develop, use it to pump things around and give it a chance to be healthy. Aerobic fitness does all these things.

Advice for young women of childbearing age

If you are thinking of pregnancy, have recently become pregnant, or work with women of childbearing age, we encourage you to open avenues of activity for yourself or others in this population. You can learn more from our website You can also read backwards in this blog to get specific ideas. Or, you can seek out local pre/postnatal fitness experts (you can also do this on our site). Yoga is nice…we use some of it in our work, along other specific exercises for which there is a direct health benefit. But, we also see yoga converts who come into our program in mid pregnancy unable to breathe after walking up a flight of stairs. How will they do in labor? Not as well as those who have been doing aerobic dance or an elliptical machine 2 or 3 times a week.

The AHA/ACSM guidelines for the amount of aerobic exercise needed to improve cardiovascular status hold true for pregnant women just as they do for the rest of the population – a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, or a combination of these levels of intensity, per week. If you are not getting this level of activity, you are putting your health – and that of your offspring – at risk.

Fetal Programming

What is fetal programming? Every person living on earth was first exposed to a uterine environment that helped determine their lifetime health and development. The term for this phenomenon is fetal programming. It is a hot topic and deserves attention.

Accepting the importance of fetal programming places responsibility on the mother-to-be to do all she can to insure her body provides nutrients and oxygen to her growing infant while avoiding possible risks and toxins. At the same time, genetic and environmental factors contribute greatly to the potential for some disorders and problems that arise. Thus, we must be careful in assigning guidelines for acceptable behavior or blame for poor outcomes to pregnant women.

On the one hand, we can all see the negative consequences of something like fetal alcohol syndrome…clearly the result of maternal behavior. Is a pregnant woman whose baby has been damaged in this way guilty of abuse?

But, what if a mother is obese, eats poorly and ends up with an infant with a disturbed metabolism. Is this abuse? What if the mother has an infection that results in cerebral palsy? Or what if she lives near a highway and involuntarily inhales fumes that negatively affect the placenta?

How do you get a healthy baby? Of course, there are no guarantees. There remain many unknown factors that can affect the course and outcome of a pregnancy. Some factors we are aware of, such as avoiding certain fumes or chemicals.  There are some behaviors we know can maximize the potential for a good outcome, such as eating adequate protein, aerobic conditioning and strength training. [Note for new readers…lots of these factors have been covered in our previous posts.]

But, what about all the things we don’t know about?

If these goats eat the wrong grass, will they go into labor?

Here is a cautionary tale:  There is a species of goat that, if they eat a certain type of skunk grass on day 14 (and only day 14) of pregnancy, will not go into labor? Why? Plant toxins in this grass interfere with the development of a small portion of fetal brain, the paraventricular nucleus. This nucleus is involved in the signaling cycle of labor. Without it, the mother will not go into labor!

What are the take-home messages here?

  • Probably no one is ever a perfect fetus…too many possible threats.
  • There are some threats we can avoid…being lazy, over-eating, smoking.
  • There are some threats we cannot avoid, so we do the best we can.

Do the best you can by your baby…aerobic fitness, good nourishment, sleep, good hygiene and de-stressing your life. Check out more information on the website and let us know how you are doing!

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Behavior, part 2: Nutrition

Let us discuss food!      Yeah, food!

Fresh fruit = vitamins & minerals!!

Fresh fruit = vitamins & minerals!!


How many extra calories do you need in each trimester to offset the metabolic cost of pregnancy?


First trimester – 0; Second trimester – 300; Third trimester – 500 (source: Institute of Medicine).

Keep in mind that you may also need calories for any fitness program you are doing. If you are continuing a program, the only change is due to the pregnancy.

If you begin or increase your activity, you need to take that into account. One yoga class = 100 – 150 calories. One aerobics class = 200-400 calories. Walk one mile = 100 calories.

1 slice whole grain bread = 50-100 calories

1 slice whole grain bread = 50-100 calories

Be sure you read food labels so that you can balance your food intake and your calorie output. A small woman (under 5’3″ & 130 lbs.) probably needs about 1200 calories per day as a base. A medium sized woman needs about 1400, and a large woman (over 5’9″ & 160 lbs.) probably needs 1600 to 1800 calories. Add your activity and pregnancy needs to your base amount.


What foods are necessary for a healthy pregnancy?

Answer, part A:

PROTEIN. Lean proteins like turkey and those with omega 3 fats like ocean fish and eggs….yes! EGGS!

Turkey is a good protein

Turkey is a good protein

Ocean fish 1 or 2 times/wk = good protein & omega 3 fat

Ocean fish 1 or 2 times/wk = good protein & omega 3 fat

Eggs are a perfect pregnancy food!

Eggs are a perfect pregnancy food!

70-90 grams of protein are necessary each day, along with  adequate water.  These are needed to make an extra 40% blood volume required to support the placenta.

Answer, part B:

WATER. Two (2) quarts of water…more if you are very active…are needed to make extra blood and to prevent dehydration.

Question: What else?

Fresh vegetables also provide fiber

Fresh vegetables also provide fiber

Answer: CARBS. Fresh, colorful fruits & veggies provide necessary vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. Eat 5 servings a day from all the colors:  yellow, orange, red, purple and green, and you will get live vitamins all day long that help your baby develop properly! Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are low glycemic index carbohydrates – the good ones!

Dairy provides calcium

Dairy provides calcium


Do I need dairy products and red meat? Can I get the needed minerals in other ways?


Calcium is needed in adequate amounts for bones and teeth. It is most easily obtained by drinking milk or eating cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese. Soy, dark green leafy vegetables and calcium fortified juice are alternatives.

Iron is necessary for red blood cells to take up oxygen. It is found in high amounts in beef,  and lesser amounts in raisins, spinach, and prune juice. Prenatal vitamins are your insurance against deficiencies of these essential minerals.


Anything else that’s essential?


Yes! Healthy FAT!!

Avocado is an excellent source of omega 6 fat

Avocado is an excellent source of omega 6 fat

In addition to omega 3 fats found in fish, walnuts and flax seeds, you need also need omega 6 fats, which are found in avocados, olive oil and other vegetable oils. Healthy fats help balance cardiovascular constriction and dilation, reducing the risk for hypertension.

Last Question:

What is a healthy weight gain?


In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences revised its recommendations. It now bases desirable weight gain on pre-pregnancy BMI (Body Mass Index…google this!).

BMI less than 18.5 (low) – 28 to 40 lbs.; BMI between 18.5-24.9 (normal) – 25 to 35 lbs.; BMI 25.0 to 29.9 (high) – 15 to 25 lbs.; obese women (BMI over 30.0) – 11 to 20 lbs.

Coming Next: Avoiding Risks.

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Behavior, part 1: Exercise continued!

MORE?!! You didn’t think that was it? Only a few comments on evidence as to WHY moving around, burning calories, being strong and learning to relax while pregnant is beneficial? No, of course not. You know there is more to it, like WHAT movement is safe and effective during pregnancy?

So, what is safe? Well, first, unless you have a very few conditions that your health care provider considers unsafe, every woman – fit, currently sedentary, young or a little older – can exercise safely in pregnancy. How much of what kind depends on your fitness level and exercise history. Get medical screening first.

If you are fit, you can do vigorous exercise

If you are fit, you can do vigorous exercise

If you are fit, you just need to learn how to modify some movements to accommodate your biomechanics. As your body changes, stress on the joints and tissues means a little less jumping or ballistic motion will be more comfortable and safer. If you are fit, you can continue with vigorous exercise and it will be of benefit to you and your baby.

If you are not so fit or are sedentary, find a certified pre/postnatal instructor and join a group where you will have fun, get some guidance and be monitored for safety. How do you find such a person? Try our Find A Class or Trainer page.

What is effective? Don’t spend your time on things that may be nice to do but don’t help you focus and prepare for birth, relieve discomforts or have the stamina for birth and parenting. There is substantial scientific evidence and information from large surveys that these things are helpful.

Cardiovascular or aerobic activity is the most important activity you can do. Already fit? Keep working out; join a class if you want support or new friends. If you are sedentary or somewhat active, you can improve your fitness by doing at least 20 – 30 minutes of aerobic activity 3 times a week. Work at a moderate pace – somewhat hard to hard – so that you can talk, but not sing an aria! If you are more than 26 weeks and have not been doing cardio, you can walk at a comfortable pace. Aerobics is key because it gives you endurance to tolerate labor and promotes recovery.

Strength and flexibility exercises that do not hurt and are done correctly are also safe. There are some special pregnancy exercises that actually help you prepare for birth. Essential exercises that aid your comfort, alignment and birth preparation include:

Kegels (squeezing and relaxing pelvic floor muscles) – squeezing strengthens them and thus supports the contents of the abdomen, and learning to release these muscles is necessary for pushing and birth.

Abdominal hiss/compress and C-Curve® – contracting the transverse abdominal muscles reduces low back discomfort and strengthens the muscle used to push and later to recover abdominal integrity after birth.



Squatting – getting into this position strengthens the entire leg in a deeply flexed position; start seated and use arms for support, stability and safety. Leg strength improves mobility and comfort in pregnancy and postpartum; plus, deep flexion is a component of pushing in almost all positions.

Strengthening for biomechanical safety – strengthening some parts of the body helps prevent injury to bone surfaces, nerves and blood vessels within joints re-aligned in pregnancy. This can be done using resistance repetitions (weights, bands, calisthentics or pilates) or isometrics (yoga or ballet). A responsible class will focus on upper back (rowing), push-ups, abdominals, gluteals, hamstrings, and muscles of the lower leg.

Stretching of areas that tend to get tight – relieving some discomforts through flexibility helps you maintain a full range of motion. Static stretches, used in combination with strength exercises or following aerobics, is most effective. Stretching prior to exercise tends to produce more injuries than not stretching. Areas needing stretching include the chest, low back, hamstrings and hip flexors (psoas).

Mind/Body skills are very important. There are two activities that exercisers constantly tell us are a big help in pregnancy, birth and parenting.

• Centering employs a balanced or neutral posture, deep breathing and mindfulness to help you work in a relaxed way. Athletes and dancers call this “the zone.” Starting your workout in association with your body establishes economy of motion, something very useful in birth and parenting, and reduces risk of injury.

• Relaxation is another key activity; it relieves stress, promotes labor in the early stages and helps you enter the zone!

Remember: Birth is a Motor Skill™