In Labor? Eat for Endurance!!

For 30 years I have been reminding my pregnancy exercise and childbirth education classes – not to mention anesthesiologists – that the uterus is a bag of muscle, and that muscles need two things to function well: oxygen and sugar. To contract, muscles burn sugar in the presence of oxygen. Oxygen is renewed by regular, paced breathing. Sugar, on the other hand, has to be supplied first by glycogen at the muscle site, then by circulating blood glucose, optimally provided every few hours by food.

The amount of glycogen that rests at the muscle site in case the muscles need it for quick action lasts about 20 minutes at most. After that, during physical activity, the body will begin to break down fat to provide blood glucose. But. that also has time limits and acid begins to accumulate. Ultimately, nutrition of some kind is the only way that any ultra endurance activity ensures that adequate sugar is continuously supplied to the muscle. Without adequate energy, muscles do not work well.  Without nutrition, acid builds up.

For many decades, there has been a ban on food and water during labor once a laboring mom is in the hospital due to the risk of aspiration – inhaling food or water into the lungs. At last, anesthesiologists have looked at the risk of aspiration in labor and discovered that there has been only one case recorded between 2006 and 2013 associated with labor and birth. Logical conclusion: withholding food and water during the endurance event known as labor is not a great idea. Kudos to the researchers at Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, who suggest a change in practice. Yes, there are factors that might over-ride this conclusion, including obesity and preeclampsia, but for most healthy women, eating lightly in labor is a good thing.

Read the American Society of Anesthesiologists press release on this topic here: https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2015/10/eating-a-light-meal-during-labor

 

Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

I was recently asked some questions regarding blood pressure during pregnancy by my colleagues at Physiquality. In preparing material, I wrote this blog, which includes very basic clinical information and explanations about this topic.

What is the normal range for blood pressure for pregnant women? What readings would fall under high blood pressure?

Blood Pressure (BP) in pregnancy is a complex topic.

First, we need to know: What are the classifications of BP?

The chart below is from the evidence-based 2014 Guidelines of the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute of the NIH. The first number is Systolic BP or during the heart beat. The second number is Diastolic BP or between beats. These numbers are relevant for women of childbearing age.

  • Normal                        <120 mm Hg and <80 mm Hg
  • Pre-hypertensive          120-139 or 80-89
  • High BP Stage 1            140-159 or 90-95
  • High BP Stage 2            ≥ 160 or ≥ 10

Why does low BP (hypotension) occur in a healthy pregnancy?

A healthy pregnant woman with normal BP and no cardiovascular or immune system complications, will have pregnancy BP lower than her non-pregnant BP due to increased progesterone relaxing her vasculature. To create the placental and uterine blood flow, blood volume (V) expands rapidly increasing by around 40%, but stroke volume increases less, so beats per minute (pulse) may increase, systolic BP may drop 5 mm Hg and diastolic may drop 10-15 mm Hg. If V is not adequate with this relaxed vasculature, BP may drop even lower. To help maintain normal BP, women are encouraged to drink sufficient water (about 8 glasses/day) and eat enough protein (about 20-25% of daily intake) to produce a blood volume that will sustain an adequate BP. Other more severe conditions – often genetic – may also be relevant, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.

Other causes of hypotension include lying still on the back with legs extended for long periods of time after the first trimester. The weight of the uterus impinges on the vena cava returning blood to the heart, thus reducing BP and blood flow to the uterus and placenta. Also, standing for long periods of time with a minimum of motion, as happens with teachers, cashiers, line workers and nurses in the second half of pregnancy when increasing relaxin and elastin cause further softening of vasculature. This results in difficulty returning blood from the lower limbs and reducing blood flow to the uterus and placenta.

What are hypertensive disorders of pregnancy?

According to the National High Blood Pressure Education Working Group on High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are presently classified into four categories:

  • Chronic hypertension (pre-existing)
  • Preeclampsia-eclampsia
  • Preeclampsia superimposed on chronic hypertension
  • Gestational hypertension

[The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada categorize these disorders as pre-existing or gestational, with the addition of preeclampsia to either category.]

Chronic hypertension is BP >140/90 prior to pregnancy or before 20 weeks. New onset of high BP after 20 weeks may indicate preeclampsia (PE), which requires further consideration. PE involves other symptoms and organs. It occurs in about 5% of all pregnancies, 10% of first pregnancies and 20-25% of women with a history of chronic hypertension. It is a serious disorder and major cause of adverse maternal and fetal outcomes, including strokes, seizures and restricted fetal growth and development.

The underlying pathogenesis of preeclampsia-ecclampsia is not yet fully understood, but is a fundamental dysfunction of the placenta leading to endothelial dysfunction and vasospasm. Possible causes include pre-existing endothelial dysfunction, metabolic dysfunction, auto-immune responses and infection. It is likely that the placenta is affected very early on, during implantation, trophoblast invasion of the uterus and opening of the spiral arteries to form the blood pool on the maternal side of the placental circulation.

Gestational hypertension is the onset of BP >140/90 after 20 weeks without other features of preeclampsia. About 1/3 of these women develop preeclampsia. Gestational hypertension is highly associated with hypertensive disorders later in life. Diabetes can also be a factor associated with hypertension.

Whenever a woman has elevated BP in pregnancy, she needs to be evaluated and have a follow up course of observation and treatment. At its most severe, a hypertensive disorder can affect all the body’s organs and systems, and can be fatal.

What can pregnant women do (diet, exercise, healthy habits) to keep their blood pressure within a normal range?

Some risk factors for hypotension or hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are inherited, others are a consequence of behavior, and many are a combination.

What can a woman do before pregnancy?

Because the events that pre-dispose a woman to hypertensive disorders may occur before she knows she is pregnant, some efforts at prevention may be helpful in the six months to a year prior to pregnancy. Preparing for the implantation period by maintaining optimal health and fitness is likely the most helpful behavior. Cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, which prevents or reduces the severity of endothelial dysfunction is highly valuable. An adequate daily nutrient intake along with sufficient water, and maintaining a BMI <25 are important factors. Women with elevated blood pressure should discuss with their care provider the balance of sodium and potassium intake, along with the total allowable amounts.

Avoiding infections or illness around the time of conception may be a factor. Hypertensive disorders are mediated by inflammation. Unfortunately, another factor may be the maternal immune response to the fetal DNA. This may also be dependent on combined maternal/paternal immune system responses.

What can a woman do once she is pregnant?

Once a woman is pregnant, maintaining optimal health and fitness continue to be important. Even if there are pre-disposing factors for disorders, she may be able to reduce the severity by staying fit, well nourished and well rested. A balanced and colorful diet, along with avoidance of alcohol, drugs and unsafe behaviors are critical.

The ability to achieve the Relaxation Response, meditation, deep breathing and hypnosis are valuable for acute BP reduction. Each of these skills is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system response (or alpha brain rhythm) and mitigates the effects of stress on a temporary basis. Cardiovascular or aerobic fitness is effective for long-term BP reduction, as well as cardiovascular health.

Resting on the left side maximizes circulation and – if possible – finding 15 or 20 minutes to rest this way during the day is beneficial, especially if a woman’s work involves standing for long periods of time. Avoiding lying on the back or standing for long periods of time is advisable. Finding a community of support for having a healthy pregnancy can be a great asset, as well.

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: Avoiding Risks

Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is a time of restrictions. Avoiding risks can be one thing that makes it seem that way. But, bear with us here in an interesting trip through danger and finding you find ways of enhancing your pregnancy!

Risk Factor #1:

Lack of prenatal care. More than anything else, be sure you have care. Having someone monitor your health and that of your baby during pregnancy is vital to a good outcome.

Exercise! Avoiding it is a risk factor for diabetes and preeclampsia.

Exercise! Avoiding it is a risk factor for diabetes and preeclampsia.

Risk Factor #2:

Not exercising. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and immune disorders.

I know, I know, you don’t have time to exercise. Well, pay now or pay later, as they say. Make time to go to a class (make sure it includes 20 -30 minutes of aerobics) a couple times a week. A class will also provide social support, another factor that enhances your pregnancy. Take a walk at lunch time. Practice relaxation techniques.

Risk Factor #3:

Breathing dangerous fumes. Yes, this includes smoking and second-hand smoke. But, it also means avoiding environments where there is a lot smog (near highways), living with mold or dust, and fancy cleansers that may have dangerous chemicals in them. Stick with vinegar, ammonia or bleach as cleansers.

Smog can endanger your fetus!

Smog can endanger your fetus!

We are learning that combustion exhaust from cars and trucks can negatively affect birth weight and prematurity. If you live or work near a highway or in an area where smog is prevalent, what are your options? Can you transfer or move? Can you wear a mask? Talk to your care provider and figure out the best protection for you and your fetus.

Risk Factor #4:

Poor Nutrition. Yup, just go back one entry and find out how food affects pregnancy. If you don’t eat enough protein and drink enough water, you don’t make sufficient blood volume to nourish your placenta and thus your fetus.

Read labels!

Read labels!

Eat whole foods and learn to read labels when you buy processed foods. What is a “processed” food? Anything with more than one ingredient!

Some processing (ex: homemade soup) takes little nutrition away, but some processing (ex: potato chips) takes everything good away and replaces it with unsafe substances. Look for low sodium, low sugar, high vitamin and mineral content items with no saturated or trans fats.

Read the ingredients; if you don’t know what the words mean, maybe you want to pass it up.

Risk Factor #5:

Alcohol and Drugs. Common items can be as dangerous as street drugs, which

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.

There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.


No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.

No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.


Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.

can severely compromise you baby’s future. If you have a drug or alcohol habit, get help.

Risk Factor #6:

Genetics. You can have genetic predispositions for many pregnancy issues. However, that does not necessarily mean you will develop a given disorder. For example, nutrition and exercise greatly reduce the risk and severity of metabolic issues. Some genetic issues are unavoidable however, and your care provider will alert you to these, if they are relevant.

Risk Factor #7:

Social issues – isolation, lack of support, abuse, poverty. All of these factors can have negative effects.

If isolation is a simple matter of needing to meet other moms-to-be, join an exercise program. That way, you get both support and exercise; just be sure it includes aerobics, along with centering, relaxation and appropriate strength.

If your situation is more dire, seek the help of a care provider or social worker at your local hospital or clinic. Safety and support are critical for you at this time. Get the help you need. There are people who care. And, if you know of someone who needs help, help them.

If you have other risk factors to offer, please post them in the comments. Thanks!

What’s next?  BIRTH!!

Pregnancy Pathway…Important Notes from Wonderrobyn

The following are notes from co-author Robyn Brancato, CNM (certified nurse midwife) who practices in New York City, or, as she is know here: Wonderrobyn! You can read about both authors in the About tab above. Here they are on the beach in San Diego, when they gave a talk at conference there a couple years ago. Robyn on the left, Ann on the right.

Robyn and Ann, Pathway authors

Robyn and Ann, Pathway authors

1. Addition to Small Rant: “Resist the temptation to watch A Baby Story on TLC! It does not portray birth accurately, as they condense 15 hours of labor into 30 minutes and play up the drama so that you will be on the edge of your seat! In the majority of women, birth is not that dangerous.”

2. Regarding: When does conception occur? “This is a really interesting post… I love the discussion about at what point conception occurs! Personally, I like the Biblical notion of quickening. Even though this varies from woman to woman and can range anywhere from 16 to 22 weeks gestation, it seems like the most natural theory.”

Dear Reader:  What do YOU think? Did you read the conception post on March 23, ’09?

3. About sperm & preeclampsia. “Is the connection between barrier methods and preeclampsia actually established? I have read studies stating the contrary – that barrier methods have no effect on preeclampsia rates.”

HURRAY! THIS REQUIRES FURTHER CONSIDERATION.

More information: The immune maladaptation theory suggests that tolerance to paternal antigens, resulting from prolonged exposure to sperm, protects against the development of preeclampsia. Thus, barrier methods and being young may predispose women to this major disorder of pregnancy.

Evidence exists on both sides of this theory. Here are two recent studies (one of each) that readers may find helpful in understanding this idea. Keep in mind that other factors than just sperm exposure may be affecting research findings. But, it does seem that under some conditions, barrier methods and amount of exposure to sperm can affect the pregnancy itself.

Ness RB,  Markovic N, Harger G, Day R. Barrier methods, length of preconception intercourse and preeclampsia, Journal: Hypertension in Pregnancy 23(3):227-235. 2005.  Results did not support the immune maladaption theory.

Yousefi Z, Jafarnezhad F, Nasrollai S, Esmaeeli H. Assessment of correlation between unprotected coitus and preeclampsia, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 11(6):370-374. 2006. In a matched controls study, women with <4 months cohabitation or who used barrier methods had higher risks of developing preeclampsia than those with >4 months cohabitation. Oral contraception users had a lower preeclampsia rate than those who used no oral contraception.

In a commentary article in OB/GYN News ,  July 1, 2002, the following note was made by Dr. Jon Einarsson: With insufficient exposure, pregnancy may induce an immune response and preeclampsia in some women with predisposing factors such as an endothelium that already is sensitive to injury due to age, insulin resistance, or preexisting hypertension.

Is there a plain and simple truth about sperm exposure and pregnancy risks? Alas, no. But, know your circumstances. If you are young, protect yourself. Wear a condom. When you are ready to be a mom, you will be ready to figure out your risks. So, this, too follows the axiom:

Events in life are rarely plain and never simple.

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions – Behavior

Please refer to February 5 entry for entire graphic. Today:  Behavioral Preconditions to Pregnancy.
bubblus_preconditions-behavior

Why do you suppose the American College of Nurse Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the minimum time between pregnancies to be two years? Why is it critical to eat foods high in B vitamins (including folic acid) and calcium during the childbearing years? How does your exercise regimen in the six months prior to conception affect your risk for some disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia?

Answer:  Your preconception or interconception behavior affects the course and outcome of your pregnancy. As it turns out, it takes about two years for a mother’s body to replenish her stores between pregnancies. Prior to a first pregnancy, behavior in the six months leading up to conception has been shown to affect outcome.

During pregnancy, nutritional and functional resources must support two beings in one body, one of whom is growing at a very fast speed by biological standards (think cell time NOT computer time). Essential vitamins and minerals (such as B vitamins and calcium) are taken from the mother’s body – already in metabolic stress due to demands on the kidneys and liver to clear toxins and filter metabolic waste from the fetus as well as the mother.

Insuring that maternal stores of valuable nutrients are adequate to provide for both fetus and mother is a job that only the potential mother can do. By eating a balanced and colorful diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s – fish, walnuts, olive oil, avacado, eggs), as well as adequate aerobic exercise leading up to and during pregnancy, a woman improves her odds for a healthy infant. Smart behavior reduces her risk for conditions that cause immune system and cardiovascular disorders that disturb implantation, blood pressure and blood flow to essential organs.

Further, avoiding risky behaviors that may lead to systemic infections, metabolic syndromes or malnutrition leading up to conception is an aspect of behavior known as “risk-aversion” –  the ability to avoid behaviors that have negative consequences. Infection at the time of conception (to be discussed in a future post), an extreme lifestyle (either sedentary or anorexic), toxic food choices, drugs, tobacco and alcohol are all behaviors that incur risk for poor pregnancy outcomes, including prematurity and low birth weight – outcomes  on the rise in the U.S.

dtp_mover22As discussed in the previous two posts, behavior is intertwined with genetics and environmental influences. Having a certain gene mutation or an environmental risk may predispose a woman to possible problems in pregnancy or the development of certain cancers, but some behaviors – especially exercise – may mitigate this potential or reduce the severity or course of disease. Behavior is the area in which we have the greatest control. Exercise, healthy nutrition and risk aversion are the three areas in which women can exert control over their destiny as moms-to-be. It’s a difficult set-up. We live in a time of instant gratification of personal acts. But, motherhood is a long-term commitment to the biological and psychic wellbeing of a new human who is – and is not – us.