Fitness Friday

What Should Pregnant Women Know About Working Out?

Houstonia spoke with Dr. Adrian Harvey Mass, an OB/GYN at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, to find out.

By Abby Ledoux April 27, 2018

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The Woman's Hospital of Texas knows babies. In fact, the Houston facility delivers more infants than any other hospital in the state. Fittingly, the hospital has a long-standing partnership with March of Dimes, the national non-profit dedicated to preventing premature birth, infant mortality, and birth defects and promoting the moms' and babies' health.

On May 6, the Houston March for Babies–the largest in the nation–will take place at the UH campus, and The Woman's Hospital CEO Ashley McClellan, this year's chair, has challenged the community to raise $2 million for the cause. In Southeast Texas, premature birth rates are among the highest in the nation, estimated between 12.5 and 15 percent.

"I definitely understand the things these families [of premature babies] go through," said Dr. Adrian Harvey Mass, an obstetrician and gynecologist at The Woman's Hospital. "It's one of those situations where until it affects your own family in some way, I think people don't realize how often it happens and how devastating it can be. When you need them, it's really wonderful that March of Dimes is available."

Beyond fundraising for vital maternal services, the March for Babies serves the dual purpose of being good exercise–a brisk walk is a tried-and-true method of fitness for pregnant moms looking to stay active and healthy. Ahead of next week's walk, Houstonia spoke with Dr. Harvey Mass about the benefits, misconceptions, and advice associated with working out during (and after) pregnancy. 

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Dr. Adrian Harvey Mass

What's the importance of exercising during pregnancy?

Really, there's all the [same] benefits it has when you're not pregnant: a way to improve mood, improve energy, and overall to feel better in your body, to feel strong. It can also help decrease constipation if you're moving well; it can help with reducing muscular types of pain–back pain in particular is so common during pregnancy and [exercise] can actually help to keep things stretched out and a little more limber. If it helps you to maintain your weight, it may help you reduce your risk of developing things like diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. We know that increased obesity is associated with a higher risk of c-section, so it might help with that, too.

What are some common fears or misconceptions pregnant women may have about working out?

Things out there that say 'consult your doctor before you do this if you're pregnant'–that's associated with a lot of exercise videos and programs–make people concerned that in the average pregnancy they shouldn't be doing things like lifting weights or exercising at all. It makes people nervous for routine activities. In reality, most pregnancies are very healthy pregnancies and you definitely can work out and really should be to help improve the health of that pregnancy.

What forms of exercise are best during pregnancy?

Basically whatever activity that you were engaging in before is most likely going to be something that's good for you to continue. If you're used to doing CrossFit, you might need to modify a few things, but you can probably keep doing that. If you've never done CrossFit before, I probably wouldn't start it during the pregnancy.

If you've never done something before, basic stretching or brisk walking, swimming, using a stationary bike–things like that are kind of gentle, easy things to start with. If you've not been very active before, [avoid] anything with risk of falling on your stomach. We don't want people to be doing contact sports ... a pretty aggressive basketball game, that can be a contact sport.

Watch your temperature–hot yoga, you don't want to do. You do get dehydrated and over-heated more easily when you're pregnant, so be ware of that and listen to your body. If somebody feels like they're at their maximum before they typically get to that in their workouts, pregnancy is not the time to push through. Listen to your body, get some water, dial back the intensity.

What else should pregnant women know about certain exercises?

Plyometrics have gotten so popular, the jumping activities. Realistically, is it safe to do a little jump associated with something? Sure, absolutely. But the problem is how you're doing it. If it's part of a class, sometimes it's easy to get swept up in the moment of it and to jump like you would when you're not pregnant, which means without paying much attention to what you're doing. Because of the changes of hormones during pregnancy, your joints have a little bit of looseness and you're maybe not quite as stable as you would be when you're not pregnant. It's a little easier to hyper-extend things; your balance is different even when you're not very big yet, your center of gravity does start to switch. It's very easy if you're not being very slow and deliberate with your movements that you can overdo it and find yourself falling when you wouldn't ordinarily have a problem doing that. Your body is different.

You also want to be cautious with things where you're directly on your back when you get to the mid-point of pregnancy and beyond. You can start to have obstruction in the blood flow. Have a little bit of a tilt to your hips, or avoid activities that are straight on your back.

If there are complications with the pregnancy—or even if there aren't—run it by your doctor to make sure that you're cleared to do your activities, especially if you know you have certain medical problems.

Can you work out all the way through pregnancy?

As long as your doctor doesn't tell you differently, yes, absolutely. Everything with pregnancy is listening to your body. If somebody's beginning to have a significant amount of pelvic pain and discomfort ... that might be more strain on the pelvis and what it can do at that point. Stay active and keep going for walks and do something with your arms.

How soon can you work out postpartum?

Again, listen to the body. Right away with a c-section or vaginal delivery getting up and walking is actually fantastic for you ... decreasing the risk of blood clots by getting up and moving. From there, [do more] gradually. You don't want to be lifting heavy weights, but you can start briskly walking. With a vaginal delivery, your pelvic floor needs to recover, and you really push your pelvic floor when you're lifting weights.

During pregnancy and postpartum, make sure you have the support you need with your bra. It's very likely you will have changed your size, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable if you're still trying to squeeze into your previous sports bra. It's something people might not even realize–they notice they're hurting, but they don't know why. Sometimes you also need belly support during the pregnancy ... there's a huge variety of different types of pregnancy support belts.

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