"I had awesome energy through my pregnancy," remembers Sarah Elizabeth Choiselat of Vancouver, British Columbia. "And I felt beautiful in my pregnant body." Sound too good to be true? It doesn't have to be.
Carrie Myers Smith

Exercise offers many wonderful benefits for you during pregnancy -- including increased energy. "I ran and walked throughout both of my pregnancies," says Cindy BeMent of Warsaw, Indiana. "I think it made a tremendous impact on my energy level, ability to carry the increasing weight and my body confidence as I lost my pre-pregnancy shape."

"I feel much more energized and in tune with my body," says Colorado Springs mom Gretchen Ferraro. "The workouts help me listen to my body even more, and I feel I am doing my part in 'training' for labor and delivery."

And in Little Rock, Arkansas, Robin Shain noticed it helped her avoid many of the typical pregnancy discomforts, including swollen ankles and fatigue. "But I gained the greatest benefits with the stretching exercises, which helped me remain limber, comfortable and ready for labor when it began."

Real benefits
Many pregnant exercisers also find they heal and bounce back more quickly following birth. "Getting back on track postpartum was pretty easy," says BeMent, "because it hadn't been a long break -- I worked out until a week or so before delivery. My body completely 'remembered' what it was like to be in shape."

But the advantages don't end there -- studies show that exercise can also help decrease:

  • length of labor, especially the pushing stage
  • your chances of a c-section
  • your need for medical interventions, such as forceps or vacuum delivery
  • your risk of postpartum depression

    So being fit while pregnant doesn't only reward you -- the benefits also extend to your baby. From higher Apgar scores to a calmer infant, why wouldn't you hit the gym (or trails)? While it's true that most expecting moms get the green light from their healthcare providers to work out, some conditions can make exercising too risky. Always get permission from your caregiver first and make sure you choose a regimen that is right for your condition, body type and takes into account any special needs you have.

    Ready, set, go!
    You don't have to be Ms Olympia to begin exercising while you're pregnant. It can be as simple as going for a brisk walk -- and starting slowly. When Marty Smith from Alameda, California, became pregnant at age 40, she made walking a regular part of her day. "I have fibromyalgia, and when I first started walking, I couldn't even get to the end of the street without being exhausted," she remembers. "The doctor instructed me to lean against a tree until I could go again and then to walk some more. Before it was all over, I could walk a very long distance without resting."

    Swimming was ideal for Robin Barker. "It was so awesome," says this mother from St. Louis, Missouri. "It was really as if we had merged and become one. the way the water felt as it went over my belly as she kicked and moved about, as if swimming with me."

    Kim Delutis of Littleton, New Hampshire, agrees. "I diligently attended water aerobics and found it so helpful to relieve the tightness that I often felt in my abdomen."

    Classes and other options
    For those of you who love to pound the pavement but thought you'd have to give it up when you became pregnant, you might not have to -- at least not right away. Shain continued her six-mile morning jog routine up until her fifth month of pregnancy, a time when many women feel too uncomfortable to continue the jarring motion and choose to slow down some. "After I quit running, I joined a low-impact step aerobics class," says Shain. "I attended the class regularly through the end of my pregnancy, modifying the steps that were difficult for me."

    For some women, however, just the thought of modifying and motivating themselves to work out on their own is too much during this time. If you fit this bill, then a prenatal exercise class may be just what the doctor (or midwife) ordered.

    Fringe benefits
    According to Bonnie Berk, RN, founder and president of Motherwell, working out with other moms in your situation has many advantages. For starters, she points out, "You are performing exercises specific to the pregnant body, and there is no question that what you are doing is appropriate and safe for pregnancy."

    Of course, being with other women who are expanding and growing larger is nice, too -- not to mention comforting; being able to network with them is just another added bonus. "The socialization benefits of group exercise were so important during pregnancy," declares Shain. "It was a time when I welcomed all opportunities to talk with other women and moms about the life change ahead of me."

    Exercising while you're pregnant is a wonderful gift to yourself and your little one. And while it carries so many immediate benefits, you're also passing on the lasting inheritance of health (and a healthy mom!) to your baby.

    Tips for beginners

  • Choose safe activities. Experts recommend that you avoid certain activities, such as scuba diving, competitions, activities with high risk of abdominal trauma and those performed at high altitudes.

  • Pick something you like. Choose fitness activities you'll stick with -- something you may have enjoyed when you were younger, or a sport or hobby you enjoy.

  • Do it regularly. ACOG recommends a minimum of three times a week.

  • Make it whole body. For greatest benefits, include cardio, strength training and stretching.

  • Multitask. Yoga benefits many things at once! It strengthens, stretches, relaxes and teaches proper breathing, all of which prepare you for labor -- physically, mentally and emotionally.

  • Above all, use common sense -- and listen to your body! Pregnancy isn't a time to become a new triathlete. The main event for which you're training is labor and delivery. Use common sense when it comes to choosing activities. If it hurts or you have any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, stop and seek help immediately.PregnancyAndBaby.com
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