The 51% Factor: Pregnancy, Power & Health

Recently I came across this posting and thought it worth posting again. On one hand I see signs of continuing progress, and on another hand it seems to me there are fundamentalist influences popping up everywhere (including among U.S. evangelists) that threaten women’s right to reproductive freedom and health. There is no end to the need to be vigilant.

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, approximately 51% of the population is female. Most females give birth at some point in their lives, although, in any year, only about 2% of the population gives birth.

No one living on earth got here any other way than gestation, so there ought to be some power attached to being part of that 51%. Historically, it might be said that the power has been merely for survival…the good breeders survived long enough to produce heirs and those who lived on knew where the roots and fruit grew.

Only women can make more people with their bodies.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Women make people
  • Women’s health and fitness before pregnancy affects whether the pregnancy is healthy
  • Women’s health and fitness during pregnancy affects her lifetime health and that of her offspring
  • Maternal survival is important to offspring well-being
  • Maternal health and fitness affects maternal adaptation and thereby offspring well-being

Thus, is it not a sanguine notion that the health and survival of women is critical to the health of everyone? After all, the health of nations is associated with this slight majority of females, and the wealth of nations is associated with its health.

The good news is that people working from this understanding are making some headway around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization noted that maternal death among pregnant and birthing women world-wide has been dramatically reduced from the 1980’s to recently. This is very good news!

Here is the interesting footnote:  Maternal death in the U.S. has risen 42% in the same period. While the absolute numbers remain small, this is a disturbing picture. What could be causing this?

Time will tell if we can figure it out and fix it. I venture to suggest some directions for consideration:

  • The elevated cesarean birth rate with its sequellae of cardiovascular and immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Why am I hopeful, then? I see among our current educated generation of new moms and moms-to-be a willingness to exert their influence – as breeders – over the health care scene. They want less technological birth. They want support. They want more information. They want to be healthy. These are wonderful things. I salute these young women…they also make my job easier in the process.

In addition, I see among young health care practitioners an understanding of the value of these things. Among practitioners working in public health clinics there is a sense of desperation on the one hand that the poor and indigent have no capacity or will to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the first step is always education and there are a lot of people working on this issue.

Which brings me to the closing point:  How do we bring more resources and intelligence to helping women be healthy, prepare for pregnancy, have healthy babies, reduce pregnancy complications, and improve infant and maternal death rates? I, for one, will keep blogging on this issue. You, I hope, will vote for people who understand this issue. The political power and will is in our hands.

51% of us are women…some day 51% of us can set priorities

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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 dancingthrupregnancy.com. 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.

High Birth Weight: The New Bad Outcome

While public awareness of low birth weight and premature infants is becoming – at long last – interesting to the mainstream culture and media, another phenomenon is beginning to shake the professional birthing world:  high birth weight. Because it is occurring in a more affluent element of society, it is alarming. This tells us that you cannot buy your way out of pregnancy risks that are created by a sedentary, toxic food life-style.

Here is the dilemma:

Normal weight and some overweight women who eat too much in pregnancy tend to have babies who are, basically, already obese at birth. Therefore, these infants already have metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction. Babies born over 8 lbs. 14 oz. are at increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.

Interestingly, the Institute of Medicine  recently issued new guidelines on pregnancy weight gain. After nearly 20 years of adhering to the “normal” weight gain being 25 to 35 pounds, the Institute recognized that prenatal BMI plays a role in how much weight gain is necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

The evidence that underlies this change demonstrates that gains greater than 22 pounds – for all classifications of prenatal BMI – is the demarkation point for increased health problems.  More information on this is available at:  New IOM Guidelines.

We have known for a while now that obesity in pregnancy puts mother and infant at risk for a number of problems from cardiovascular, metabolic and immune disorders to prematurity, low birth weight, increased need for cesarean birth and slow recovery. Add another one:  Obese newborns with increased risk for heart and metabolism problems.

Reference on weight gain and high birth weight:

Ludwig DS, Currie J. The association between pregnancy weight gain and birthweight: a within-family comparison. Lancet. 2010 Sep 18;376(9745):984-90. Epub 2010 Aug 4.

A good reference for issues surrounding obese pregnancy:

Leddy MA et al. The Impact of Maternal Obesity on Maternal and Fetal Health. Rev Obstet Gynecol 2008;1(4):170-178.

The 51% Factor: Pregnancy, Power & Health

In the U.S. and most of the developed world, approximately 51% of the population is female. Most females give birth at some point in their lives, although, in any year, only about 2% of the population gives birth.

No one living on earth got here any other way than gestation, so there ought to be some power attached to being part of that 51%. Historically, it might be said that the power has been merely for survival…the good breeders survived long enough to produce heirs and those who lived on knew where the roots and fruit grew.

Only women can make more people with their bodies.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Women make people
  • Women’s health and fitness before pregnancy affects whether the pregnancy is healthy
  • Women’s health and fitness during pregnancy affects her lifetime health and that of her offspring
  • Maternal survival is important to offspring well-being
  • Maternal health and fitness affects maternal adaptation and thereby offspring well-being

Thus, is it not a sanguine notion that the health and survival of women is critical to the health of everyone? After all, the health of nations is associated with this slight majority of females, and the wealth of nations is associated with its health.

The good news is that people working from this understanding are making some headway around the globe. Recently, the World Health Organization noted that maternal death among pregnant and birthing women world-wide has been dramatically reduced from the 1980’s to recently. This is very good news!

Here is the interesting footnote:  Maternal death in the U.S. has risen 42% in the same period. While the absolute numbers remain small, this is a disturbing picture. What could be causing this?

Time will tell if we can figure it out and fix it. I venture to suggest some directions for consideration:

  • The elevated cesarean birth rate with its sequellae of cardiovascular and immune system disorders
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndromes
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

Why am I hopeful, then? I see among our current educated generation of new moms and moms-to-be a willingness to exert their influence – as breeders – over the health care scene. They want less technological birth. They want support. They want more information. They want to be healthy. These are wonderful things. I salute these young women…they also make my job easier in the process.

In addition, I see among young health care practitioners an understanding of the value of these things. Among practitioners working in public health clinics there is a sense of desperation on the one hand that the poor and indigent have no capacity or will to take care of themselves. On the other hand, the first step is always education and there are a lot of people working on this issue.

Which brings me to the closing point:  How do we bring more resources and intelligence to helping women be healthy, prepare for pregnancy, have healthy babies, reduce pregnancy complications, and improve infant and maternal death rates? I, for one, will keep blogging on this issue. You, I hope, will vote for people who understand this issue. The political power and will is in our hands.

51% of us are women…some day 51% of us can set priorities

Childhood Obesity Prevention Strategy: Pregnancy Fitness

Stopping The Epidemic

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic may best be stopped by creating a healthy environment in utero. Public discussion on the topic of childhood obesity is turning from children to infants. The image of the rolly polly baby as a healthy infant is fading. Evidence is mounting that babies born to overweight mothers and those with insulin resistance or glucose intolerance are already at risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We have to ask the question: How do we prevent childhood obesity at its root?

DTP® suggests that pregnancy fitness – especially aerobics or cardiovascular conditioning – can play a critical role in the effort to prevent childhood obesity. While scientists have yet to do direct studies on this theory, there is enough information available to indicate that moms who exercise vigorously prior to and during pregnancy are at reduced risk for disorders of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia that lead to later metabolic and cardiovascular disease for themselves and their offspring. There is also some evidence that babies of exercising mothers see health benefits during their childhood.

Vigorous exercise produces the best health outcomes for mom and baby.

Why Is Pregnancy Fitness Important?

The first and most obvious answer is that if a pregnant woman exercises vigorously enough, she is burning sugar, thus reducing the type of metabolic stress that can result in gestational diabetes. We know that overweight women who require insulin reduce the amount of insulin needed if they exercise. At the same time, they are reducing the impact of the disorder on their offspring. Recently, we have begun seeing reports of children as young as three years old having coronary artery disease, in part due to the conditions of their gestation.

Second, and the more intricate possibility, is that the whole biochemical milieu in which the exercising mother’s fetus develops is teaching it to survive in a fit environment. Think:  The cells drive the behavior of the organism. If the cells are used to a bath of healthy chemicals, the bottom up drive to provide that environment will help produce behavior achieving the desired result. In a manner of speaking, an exercising mom-to-be helps provide her offspring with an appetite for motion.

How Do We Get There From Here?

There are two major steps that need to be taken to help bring at-risk moms/babies into the realm of the active.

1. Care providers – midwives and obstetricians – need to support their patients in finding appropriate cardiovascular conditioning activities or programs.

2. Pre/postnatal fitness professionals need to insure that appropriate and enjoyable activities are available not only to those likely to exercise in any case, but also to those who would like to be active, but for whom social support and a safe psychological environment are necessary.

For more information, visit our website: www.dancingthrupregnancy.com.

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy – Behavior, part 2: Nutrition

Let us discuss food!      Yeah, food!

Fresh fruit = vitamins & minerals!!

Fresh fruit = vitamins & minerals!!

Question:

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

Answer:

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.

Question:

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

Question:

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

Answer:

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.

Question:

Anything else that’s essential?

Answer:

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?

Answer:

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

How lucky is this? Just a few days ago, yet another study was released and has been circulating on Medscape and other medical sites that indicates exercise is beneficial in pregnancy, whether the mother is a previous exerciser or not. Just in time for this entry!

Behavior Affects Pregnancy Outcome

Behavior Affects Pregnancy Outcome

Physical exertion (we call it “exercise” nowadays) is a normal state for healthy humans. Only in the last century has the desire to rest or the need to store extra calories as fat become more possible to achieve than our need to move about to survive.

Pregnancy is a state in which both of these factors (resting and storing calories) are enhanced through organic changes in body chemistry, adaptations that favor fetal survival. The current sedentary lifestyle exaggerates these metabolic changes and results in syndromes that increase the risk for a number of metabolic, cardiovascular and immunological disorders of pregnancy.

When confronted by the idea that it is counterintuitive to think exercise in pregnancy might be safe (let alone beneficial) I am dumbfounded. To me, it is counterintuitive to think that a sedentary lifestyle in pregnancy might be safe!

Burning Calories in Pregnancy Improves Outcomes!

Burning Calories in Pregnancy Improves Outcomes!

What is the evidence that exercise in pregnancy is beneficial? Keep in mind that some studies have been executed more expertly than others. But, what is compelling is that numerous well-respected researchers have sought to test the hypothesis that exercise is not safe, but come away with results that indicate the opposite!

Here are some of the major findings:

• The placenta is larger and has more transport surface in exercisers than sedentary women

• The fetuses of (aerobic) exercising mothers make beneficial cardiovascular adaptations

• Women who do aerobic exercise are less likely to develop severe preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, and the long term health problems that accompany these disorders

• Women who are aerobically fit recover from birth 10 times faster than sedentary women (as measured by time needed to metabolize free radicals produced in labor)

• Women who exercise in pregnancy are more likely to be physically fit in midlife

• Babies of aerobically fit women are at reduced risk for prematurity and low birth weight
DTP_mover2
So, we have arrived at the take-home message: MOVE!! Pregnancy works best when you move and burn calories in a moderate to vigorous fashion. But, alternate this activity with rest and good nutrition, and be sure to stay well hydrated.
If you want more specifics and resources on this topic, try these:
“Women and Exercise” in Varney’s Midwifery.