By Laurie Kocanda -
Twin Cities Sports
Staying in Shape During and After Pregnancy
I've taken some time off serious training
before. Plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, pulled hamstrings,
Achilles tendonitis, general fatigue, the flu I've had it all.
And, most recently, I came down with the one
thing many female athletes get somewhat anxious about: I had a full-blown case
Like many women, it was never a question of
my wanting to start a family. Id always pictured myself someday having
children. The big question, however, was when was the "right time?
For an athletic woman in the prime of her
racing career, pregnancy can seem like a threat to everything youve
worked so hard to achieve. Does it mean kissing the letters "PR" goodbye?
Does it mean standing on the sidelines
watching other people race while you get fat and out of shape? Or, worse yet,
does it mean that life as you know it will no longer include long runs on
Sundays or challenging yourself in new events each year?
Indeed, there is always another marathon
around the corner, another triathlon for which to train. Taking a season off to
start a family, however, doesnt mean you have to stop participating in
these events altogether. And it certainly doesnt mean you have to stop
doing the things you love.
Staying fit during pregnancy is important.
Provided you are not high-risk, working out is important to the health of both
mother and baby. If staying fit and racing are important to you, you can
continue to do the same things after the birth of your child.
Committing to an active and fit lifestyle
means setting priorities, both personally and as a couple/family.
Keeping it together during
For many people, the word "pregnancy
goes hand in hand with the word "craving. The only craving I had during
my pregnancy was to work out to exhaustion, something I knew I couldnt
do. But I knew I could maintain some level of fitness most likely more
than what others led me to believe.
By setting a personal goal of daily
workouts, I was able to swim, bike and run myself through nine months of
pregnancy. While the running slowed and the miles tapered, I made sure I hit
the pavement at least once a week. I continued low-impact exercise, teaching
Spinning class three days a week and swimming two days a week, up until the day
Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy is not
a prescription to stop exercising but rather an important time to maintain
fitness. Much of the available information regarding exercise during pregnancy
cites outdated guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and
Gynecology (ACOG) that (prior to 1994) advised women to keep their heart rates
below 140 beats per minute.
Since walking up a flight of stairs spikes
most pregnant womens heart rates well above that, it is difficult for
many women to get a good workout following that guideline.
In 1994, the ACOG changed it, advising women
to exercise "at a moderate level. Of course, this will vary from woman to
woman. I used the "talk test to keep myself in check keeping my
intensity at a level that still enabled speech.
In an opinion published earlier this year,
the ACOG stated, "In the absence of contraindications, pregnant women should be
encouraged to engage in regular, moderate intensity physical activity to
continue to derive the same associated health benefits during their pregnancies
as they did prior to pregnancy.
It is recommended that non-risk pregnant
women exercise for 30 minutes a day up to seven days a week, just like their
Timothy Hernandez, M.D., a family practice
physician who sees a large number of pregnant women in his practice, says
exercise is equally important for body and mind.
"Anything a woman can do to make herself
feel healthy and strong will help her both during and after pregnancy,
Hernandez says. "The psychological effects of moderate exercise can instill
confidence and prevent depression both preterm and postpartum.
The ACOG does offer a few guidelines for
exercising while pregnant. Moms-to-be should avoid getting their core body
temperature too high because unborn children cannot cool themselves through
sweating. Additionally, the guidelines emphasize proper hydration, which speeds
the ability for both mother and baby to stay cool. Pregnant women should also
drink 6 ounces of water every 15 - 20 minutes of exercise and avoid getting to
the point of feeling thirsty.
Of course, expectant mothers should stop
exercising and contact their health-care provider immediately if they
experience pain, bleeding, faintness, irregular heartbeat, pelvic pain or
difficulty walking. It is also a good idea to find a health care provider who
supports an active lifestyle to discuss your options with.
Labor and delivery
Several months of training go into the
preparation of running of a marathon, which takes most people three to five
hours to complete. Considering labor usually lasts much longer than that, it
makes sense that women should "train for labor as an intense physical and
Although the results are not conclusive,
some studies have shown women who exercise during pregnancy have shorter labors
as well as a decreased need for induction and painkillers during labor and
delivery. Women who know their physical and mental limits and who have worked
out during pregnancy are also more likely to go into labor feeling confident
and ready to face its demands.
One woman on the iVillage Pregnant and
Staying Fit bulletin board wrote, "I think that my workouts helped me both
physically and mentally during labor and delivery. I had a longer labor than I
expected (24 hours start to finish), but I never really felt exhausted until I
was about half way through my hour of pushing at the end. And that was where
the mental edge kicked in. It gave me the strength to continue to push with all
my might even when I thought there was nothing else in me.
I am confident my level of fitness helped
keep my spirits up during labor and delivery as well. By drawing from my own
personal experience, I was able to keep my mind confidently focused on the task
at hand, alleviating the need for an epidural or painkillers.
Postpartum exercise helps restore a new
mothers sense of identity, particularly if she was athletic before
pregnancy. It helps women shed the extra weight gained during pregnancy,
restore cardiovascular fitness and improve mental stability.
Physically fit moms generally recover more
quickly from childbirth, both mentally and physically, than unfit moms.
Waiting to get a doctors approval for
postpartum exercise can seem eternal. The American College of Obstetrics and
Gynecology notes that the physiologic effects of pregnancy may persist for up
to six weeks postpartum, advising gradual resumption of activity as tolerated.
That window may be longer for women with complicated pregnancies or
With an infant at home, it may be difficult
for a new mother to find time to exercise. However, it can be done: Many gyms
offer on-site daycare for parents, parents can swap babysitting with one
another, jogging strollers free up time for runs. There is also the option of
in-home fitness equipment and videotapes.
Breastfeeding moms must plan exercise around
feeding and/or pumping. By feeding or pumping just before exercise, women can
avoid the discomfort and high levels of lactic acid in breast milk (which some
studies have found is less preferable to infants).
Take care getting back into regular workout
routines. The effects of increased levels of relaxing make it very important to
stretch well after exercise. And dont be frustrated by seemingly
decreased endurance levels. It all comes back very quickly. My running pace
increased significantly during my first few postpartum runs.
Maintaining your lifestyle
So far, so good. My daughter was born in
mid-May, and it took me 2.5 weeks to resume running and biking. Of course, I
started off slowly and listened to my body, but it felt great to get out there
so soon. I attribute my quick recovery to having stayed physically fit
throughout my pregnancy.
My biggest fear has not materialized. We
have a beautiful daughter who has changed our world but only for the
better. My husband and I continue to live the active lifestyle we did
To be good parents, we know we must keep our
identities and continue to do the things we love. We will still participate in
marathons, triathlons and long-distance endurance events. It just takes
Maybe one child is all we will have. Maybe
not. However, if we do not have more children, it will not be because we fear a
big lifestyle change. It can be done. Having children means giving them the
gift of who you are.
Its important to keep your own
identity, both during and after pregnancy. Its important to share what
you love with those whom you love. And it can be done. Healthfully.
Laurie Kocanda and her husband, Tony,
have finished numerous marathons as well as Ironman-distance triathlons. They
welcomed 8-pound-5 ounce Cadence into the world on May 17, 2002. Laurie will be
running Twin Cities Marathon this fall.