The Importance of Exercise for Pregnant and Post-Partum Women

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Join Symmetry Physical Therapy on Monday, September 18th at 6:30 pm for a free workshop:   Maintaining Your Body During Early Motherhood”

Exercise is known to be beneficial throughout the human life cycle. Pregnancy is no exception. A multitude of health benefits for both women and their developing children can be obtained via physical activity during pregnancy and also after a baby is born.

For example:

  1. Exercise during pregnancy can limit the impact of increased stress on an expectant mom’s muscles and skeleton as her body changes and grows. With any luck this means decreased instances of back pain, foot pain and ankle swelling, as well as other common pain complaints commonly associated with pregnancy.
  2. Being fit while pregnant also increases the likelihood of a smooth labor and delivery. After babies are born, exercise can help moms to regain their pre-pregnancy body weight and shape.
  3. Post-partum exercise is also useful to assist in the regulation of mothers’ sleep cycles, moods and emotions, and energy levels.
  4. Babies in the womb can benefit from their moms’ exercise as well. When pregnant women keep active, they decrease the risk of developing complications such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes that can lead to pre-term births or to birth weights in newborns that are less than or greater than optimal.
  5. Newborn babies have been observed in some studies to be more alert and engaged in their surroundings when they have moms that exercise. Exercising together is also a nice way for moms and babies to bond and spend quality, healthful time together.

Distressingly, according to this article abstract, only a small proportion – less than 20% – of pregnant women in the United States are exercising at recommended levels during their pregnancies. Sometimes, there are medical reasons that necessitate limited activity for an expectant mother. But often, it is likely that pregnant women are self-limiting their recreation simply because they are unsure what they can or should be doing. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that “absent contraindications, pregnant women should be encouraged to engage in regular, moderate intensity physical activity.” This can safely include both aerobic activity and resistance training.

Before undertaking a new or adapted exercise program, it is always a good idea to consider individual health status and possible risks. Physical therapists can help pregnant women to determine how they can best plan to exercise during the course of their pregnancy by reviewing each expectant mother’s musculoskeletal health history in conjunction with their obstetric progress and then designing individualized activity plans that provide appropriate levels of challenge. A physical therapist can also help pregnant women to manage any pain symptoms that arise during the course of their pregnancy.

Once babies arrive, exercise is an important component of new mothers’ recovery from labor and delivery. Exercise can also help new moms to successfully adapt to the rigors of caring for a newborn. Lifting and carrying a new baby, along with all of the accompanying baby gear – strollers, car seats, diaper bags, etc. – can be a challenge. Feeding and changing newborns and transferring them in and out of cribs and cars or on and off the floor for play time can all be stressors to posture and the muscles that maintain spinal alignment. It is likely that at some point during pregnancy or labor and delivery – whatever the route – a mother’s pelvic, spine and hip position has been at least temporarily altered. If neutral alignment of musculoskeletal structures is not regained post-partum, it is likely that at some point pain issues will begin to develop. It is not at all uncommon for the therapists at Symmetry to see patients several months after having been pregnant who come in complaining that they are having difficulty or pain on returning to activities that were previously normal and well-tolerated. Symmetry is of the opinion that all post-partum women should have a structural assessment when they are cleared by their ob/gyn to return to exercise after pregnancy – typically at about the 6-week mark past the delivery date. Identifying alignment issues and strength deficits before they create pain can increase the likelihood that new moms will be able to successfully return to pre-pregnancy levels of activity without delay.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy or post-partum periods, please consider joining Symmetry for our upcoming seminar: “Maintaining Your Body During Early Motherhood” – scheduled on Monday, September 18th at 6:30 pm.  For more information about this event, check out this Facebook post.  If you would like to attend, please RSVP to julie@symmetryptaustin.com or to 512-339-1500 to reserve your class space.  (Class size will be limited to 12 participants.)

 

 

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