Mothers in Motion
By Lisa Unger
When a woman becomes pregnant many things change about her and so her running or exercise program must also change to accommodate her new priorities. Competition and weight control temporarily become very low priorities. Instead of focusing on her level of achievement, a mom-to-be now looks at her overall health and fitness and how it correlates to her developing child. According to an article in Runner’s World by Dagny Scott-Barrios, “The women who have a hard time are those who retain the idea that they must be as fit as possible. During pregnancy, you want to be as strong as necessary, but not as strong as possible. It can be hard for an athletic woman to change her goals suddenly, because she won’t feel like she is doing enough. But it’s a very important distinction.”
The intensity of exercise must be carefully evaluated during pregnancy to provide optimal results without overstressing the developing fetus and mom’s changing body. Researcher James M. Pivarnik and his colleagues conducted a study of 52 women during their 5th and 8th months of pregnancy and about 3 months after giving birth. Measurements were taken of the women’s heart rates and were compared to the scientific standard of energy conversion measurements in aerobic exercise. Levels of carbon dioxide, a by-product of metabolism, were also examined and compared to levels of oxygen in the exerciser’s exhaled breath while the subject was at rest and then at increasing intensities of treadmill exercise (intensities individualized according to the exerciser’s ability that allowed better exercisers to work harder). The findings revealed that the metabolic workload of these pregnant women was higher than it would be for normal (non-pregnant) heart rates. Specifically, in the 5th month women who exercised at their pre-pregnancy heart rates were working about 5% harder than their pulse rates indicated and in the 8th month it averaged about 17% greater. This is important information because it indicates that while a pregnant runner needs to monitor heart rate, she must remember that it is not the only indicator of exertion.
Moms-to-be can stay fit without overstressing their changing bodies throughout pregnancy, but during this time it is important for them to pamper themselves and relax while concentrating on overall health and general wellbeing. The nine months of pregnancy, and even beyond, can be used to develop good eating habits and getting enough sleep. Nadia Prasad of Boulder, CO, 1995 French national 10k champion, who ran through three pregnancies, says, ” When you are pregnant, you take such good care of yourself. Your runs then become such times of celebration and joy.” Connie Clark of GWTC remembers that exercising during her pregnancy was awkward at times and she realized she had to slow down but she felt more in control of her body and maintained better tone even after delivery. It made getting back into shape easier for her. She used the alone time to focus on her baby and to pray for their future. This was a great way to maintain physical fitness as well as emotional balance. Bonnie Wright found that one of the best things about running through her pregnancy was not having to put pressure on herself. Jane Johnson found that she cherished the opportunities she found to run and exercise between her back to back pregnancies. They became priceless commodities to her as a very busy mom with little free time.
According to Judy Mahle Lutter, president of the Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research in St. Paul, MN, “For some women, the experience can be frustrating because they can no longer run at the level they desire. But it’s a time to listen to your body and be wise.” Her own daughter was disappointed because discomforts kept her from exercising to the extent she wished during pregnancy. “As with so many women, she found that she needed to stay active because that’s who she is. Working out was a stress reliever. It’s easier to continue when you understand that the usual rules don’t apply. Understand that things will happen–you’ll get a backache or something else that a run might ordinarily help–and now the run is making worse. If things don’t feel good, that’s probably reason to stop for the time. But that doesn’t mean that you have to give up exercise entirely.” Finding the balance is the key and it can be done, so just get out there and enjoy your time while embracing the changes you experience.