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The ‘Birds and the Bees’ Of Pregnancy

I have had two conversations with clients this past week who are tossing up the idea of falling pregnant sometime in the near future.


It prompted me to write this article, so I may share with you (and all the other mothers-to-be) my opinion as to what are the important factors associated with a healthy pregnancy.


There are 3 things every pregnant women needs to do:


1. Eat well.


2. Train well.


3. Stress less.


Let me break all three points down for you, starting at the top.


#1 “Eating for two”



In the 1st trimester (Wk 1 – Wk 12) you should be eating 300 or so more calories per day.


By 2nd trimester (Wk  13 – Wk 27) you should be expecting to gain ½ kg a week, or thereabouts.


By 3rd trimester (Wk 28 – Wk 40) you can expect to gain anywhere from 8 – 12kg.


Over 40% of women exceed the institute of medicine’s guidelines for optimal weight gain during pregnancy, and maternal obesity increases the risk of pregnancy complications, including hypertension, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.


Overnutrition, like maternal undernutrition, can also predispose offspring to develop obesity and type 2 diabetes.


So, yes, you are literally feeding for two. But does that warrant a packet of crisps loaded with sugars, calories and trans-fats? Absolutely not.


Optimal maternal body weight during pregnancy, associated with optimal levels of nutrition, are absolutely critical to the short and long term well-being of both mother and child.


This is the most critical time to be feeding your body with vitamins and minerals, and avoiding anything that could be damaging to your baby’s health.


Eat a diet rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids to support fetal growth and brain development. In fact, I would highly recommend you supplemented your diet with a good quality fish oil capsule.


Eating a balanced diet rich in proteins, vegetables, fruits, and wholegrain products is essential, whilst avoiding deep fried and fast food, sugar, chocolate and sweets, alcohol, and aspartame (sweeteners).


#2 Training whilst pregnant


People often ask me if it is a good idea to train whilst pregnant. The answer, in short, is yes!


Goals such as “losing weight”, “increasing fitness”, and “increasing muscle tone”, should be placed on the back burner for now.


Your goal in the gym up until birth should now be to maintain your level of fitness, rather then make any gains. Most importantly, a sub-maximal resistance program and light aerobic work will prepare your body (and mind) for a healthy pregnancy, and aid in a quicker recovery post pregnancy.


If you were not training prior to falling pregnant, then this is not the time to take up training! This will place unnecessary stress on your body. Instead, light walking and/or swimming would be advised, along with your “kegel” exercises (more on them later).


For those who have been training regularly prior to falling pregnant, you may continue to train as long as you greatly reduce intensity and change positions when necessary.


Firstly, buy a heart rate monitor! Wear it every time you train, and never let your heart rate increase to over 70% of your max heart rate. I find that somewhere between 130bpm and 140bpm is a safe point.


Secondly, take your current intensity of your training down to 70%. So lift 70% (or below) of the weight you were in your previous program, and in your group fitness classes start to take the “low impact” options. Again, you’ll know how hard your able to push by monitoring your heart rate at all times. I wouldn’t suggest any high impact training. Pressure on your bladder will increase as the fetus grows.


Thirdly … lift weights!


Bending, twisting, pushing, pulling … You will be doing all of these movement patterns on a daily basis as a new mum – And you’ll be doing them while you hold a weight that is going to increase in size as the years go on! (Yep, I’m talking about your baby). So it would make a whole lot of sense to strengthen our body in those movement patterns before the baby comes along!


Picking the baby up from the floor (aka squat), bending over to pick the baby out of the cot (aka deadlift), not to mention all the physical work you’ll likely be doing throughout the first few years of your child’s life. A mother’s life is exhausting, and you’ll need a basic level of strength so that you can manage it.


Please keep the training intensity low to moderate by focusing on high repititions, and not pushing to complete failure or fatigue in your set. Avoid balance equipment (bosu/dura disks), and deep squatting or lunge patterns. By week 12, avoid any exercises that require you to lie or rest on your stomach!


And last, but definitely not least … Strengthen your pelvic floor!


By this I don’t mean do 100 crunches a day – Please don’t do that. You should never be lying on your back for longer then 2 minutes once you are into the 2nd trimester.


Strengthen your pelvic floor by doing your kegel exercises aka “clench and release”. Do them every day (about 15-20 reps), in all three trimester’s, and after the birth!


47% of women over 35 suffer from incontinence – This is a very real problem for many ladies. It can be prevented with adequate strengthening of the pelvic floor. (Did you know that 4% of women who lift weights suffer from incontinence, compaired with 38% of runners)? Food for thought.


I would suggest that you enlisted the help of a personal trainer who is trained to specialise in pre-natal training to help you devise a program that is suitable for you, and your current level of fitness.


I would also highly recommend that you did not attend the gym if you suffered from morning sickness that morning, or felt very lethargic due to poor sleep. So on that note, try to find a trainer that is understanding that you may not be able to give 24 hours notice prior to cancelling a booked session.


Listen to your body, and only do as much as it will allow you too. Your health and wellbeing is the number 1 priority.


#3 Relax


We all know that the effects of stress on the body are damaging, in any case. For a pregnant woman it is more crucial then ever that she does not expose herself to high levels of stress.


Maternal exposure to severe life events, particularly in the 6 months before pregnancy, may increase the risk of preterm and very preterm birth.


Interestingly enough, it has also been suggested in a recent study that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity in their offspring later in life.


In this study it was found that children exposed to severe prenatal stress had higher BMI values and a higher prevalence of overweight when they approached the age of 10 years. The association was particularly strong when the exposure happened in the months just before conception.


In short, it seems that exposure to excess stress hormones during fetal life is associated with a number of physiological pathways that can be linked to future obesity.


A woman will be going through so many changes in her body and hormones levels over the course of pregnancy, which will already be stressful! It is important that you enlist the help of your trainer, doctor, obstetrician and partner to ensure that you are as stress-free and healthy as possible. This will almost guarantee a healthy pregnancy, and life for your child!


-V xx




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