Having a baby is a physically strenuous activity and there is no better time to keep fit, eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle than when preparing for a child.
If you have not been exercising previously, fret not, as it is never too late to start.
Even for self-confessed couch potatoes, there is a gamut of activities that can be tailored for women at different fitness levels.
Always remember it is best to double-check your fitness regime with your gynecologist before embarking on it.
BENEFITS OF KEEPING FIT
Getting fit can boost your overall health and increase your chances of conceiving.
Senior Physician Zhong Xi Ming at Eu Yan Sang TCM Centre for Reproductive Health explains: “Exercise has many benefits like improving overall blood circulation, helping you maintain a healthy weight by shedding some extra pounds, helping you relax and sleep more soundly. All these would help improve your chances of conceiving.”
Marlen Paasch, a pregnancy fitness instructor from Birth & Beyond, explains: “Endorphins, the happy hormones, increase during sports, so you feel happy and relaxed.”
For some women, that elusive pregnancy glow does not come automatically.
Looking good during pregnancy is often a by-product of regular exercise as it increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
According to Dr Peter Chew, an obstetrician gynecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, “regular exercise during pregnancy can relieve backaches, prevent constipation and help in reducing the severity of varicose veins in the legs and strengthen the abdominal muscles for delivery.”
Exercise also helps to develop strength and stamina, which can greatly ease labour and delivery.
“Exercise strengthens the muscles and heart, which will increase the oxygen level in the body. It is statistically proven that women who exercise regularly need less pain medication and have an easier birth,” says Paasch.
Exercise helps to speed up the post-partum recovery.
Consistent exercise throughout the pregnancy reduces the amount of fat weight gained during pregnancy and it is much easier for a new mother to get back in shape.
Pelvic-floor exercises before and after birth are also very helpful as they strengthen the muscles of the vaginal walls and help episiotomy incisions to heal faster.
EXERCISES FOR EVERY MUM-TO-BE
What exercise is right for you? It really depends on the individual’s preferences and pre-pregnancy fitness levels.
Some safe activities are walking, swimming, aqua aerobics, dancing, stretching, and versions of yoga and Pilates specially crafted for pregnant mums.
As the pregnancy progresses, it may be necessary to scale down the routine to accommodate your growing baby and belly.
Zhong recommends walking as a fuss-free activity that can fit easily into a mum’s daily routine.
“Walking is a good start. You can brisk-walk for half an hour or more each day to get your heart pumping and improve overall blood circulation.”
A simple leg stretch can be done anywhere and any time, says Paasch. “Sit comfortably on a chair. Lift one leg and turn your ankle five times clockwise and five times anti-clockwise.
“Flex and point your foot five times. Spread the toes and relax for five times. Then repeat with the other leg.”
WORKOUTS TO AVOID
Dr Chew advises pregnant women to go for “exercises that carry little risk of injury and avoid those which requires too much balance or coordination.”
Avoid activities that involve bouncing, jarring movements, leaping, a sudden change of direction or any risk of abdominal injury.
Typically, contact sports, downhill skiing, in-line skating, scuba diving, gymnastics and horseback riding should be avoided due to the risk of injury they pose.
Start slow and gradually increase the frequency and intensity of your workout.
Starting off with 10 minutes a day, five times a week, is better than 30 minutes thrice a week.
Take a break for a few days if you feel unwell. Be creative.
On hot days, opt for a walk in the mall rather than a hike up Bukit Timah Hill.
Dress comfortably and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and overheating
Above all, listen to your body and know when to stop.
WHEN IT’S TOO MUCH
Be easy on your body as it’s not the same as before.
As Baby grows, Mummy’s centre of gravity shifts, resulting in a loss of balance.
Also, as Baby expands and pushes up against your lungs, you’ll notice a decreased ability to breathe deeply.
“Do not exercise till the point of exhaustion where breathlessness and giddiness sets in,” says Dr Chew.
Overheating is another main concern when exercising because temperatures greater than 39°C can cause problems to the developing foetus.
This can potentially lead to birth defects, especially in the first trimester. For the same reason, avoid saunas and Jacuzzis throughout pregnancy.
Stop exercising immediately if you encounter any of these symptoms: vaginal bleeding; nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness; unusual shortness of breath; heart palpitations, racing heartbeat or chest pains; uterine contractions; fatigue; pain in back or pelvis and blurred vision.
THINGS TO AVOID
• Be careful with aromatherapy massages and foot reflexology
Some essential oils, such as lemongrass, rosemary, basil, cinnamon and peppermint should be avoided during pregnancy.
Prenatal massages can help in relieving backaches, but avoid massaging the lower back and abdomen as that can trigger uterine contractions.
Similarly, foot reflexology can have adverse effects on the pregnancy, so it may be wiser to avoid this.
• Avoid carrying heavy items
Carrying heavy items puts extra strain on a mother’s body, and can cause in falls or injuries.
• Avoid X-Rays
There is a chance the radiation from X-Rays can pose a threat to the fetus, so it is advised to put off any X-Rays scans till after delivery.
EAT WELL DURING PREGNANCY
Tips for a healthy diet during pregnancy
• Avoid alcohol
Alcohol enters the fetal bloodstream in approximately the same concentrations present in the mother’s blood, but it takes the foetus much longer to eliminate the alcohol from its system.
Regular drinking can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, pre-matured birth, delivery complications, stillbirth, and abnormal growth and developmental problems in baby.
• Keep caffeine to a minimum
Although light coffee drinking is not likely to affect the baby, drinking four or five cups a day may result in an overdose of caffeine in the baby’s bloodstream.
Besides coffee, caffeine can be found in tea, caffeinated soft drinks, chocolate, coffee-flavoured desserts.
• Maintain a balanced diet
A balanced diet, with a moderate intake of carbohydrates will help in avoiding too much weight gain.
Too much sugar or carbohydrates may cause fungal/ thrush infections of the vagina and trigger gestational diabetes.
• Double up on nutrition, not calories
Select foods that have quality, nutrient-rich calories rather than empty ones.
For example, 200 calories in a whole-grain raisin-bran muffin is better than 200 calories in a packet of potato chips. Choose your calorie intake wisely.
• Avoid raw foods
Don’t take risks with raw foods like sashimi and uncooked eggs.
These may contain a variety of harmful bacteria such as salmonella that may harm mother and baby.
• Drink plenty of water
Besides just eating for two, pregnant women are drinking for two as the baby also requires sufficient fluids.
Extra fluids combat constipation, reduce swelling and rid the body of toxins.
• Take salty foods in moderation
It can cause water retention and bloating, and even high blood pressure.
• Take supplements
Folate is crucial during the first trimester for your baby’s formation.
Most doctors will also prescribe supplements like iron, calcium and DHA
• Avoid smoking
Smoking during pregnancy is hazardous as the baby is confined in a smoke-filled womb and it can result in serious pregnancy complications.
Passive smoking can also potentially hurt the foetus, so steer clear of places which have a high concentration of cigarette smoke.
• Avoid substance abuse
Marijuana, cocaine, glue sniffing and other substance abuse are highly detrimental both to mother and baby, not to mention, illegal.
• Arrange for vaccinations prior to conception
Most immunisations using live viruses like rubella and hepatitis are not recommended during pregnancy.
• Avoid use of medication unless necessary
Attend to all chronic conditions like allergies, asthma and back problems before conception.
If medication is required throughout the pregnancy, seek your doctor’s advice as some medications are not safe for pregnant women.
FERTILE FATHER: A QUICK GUIDE
Dr Peter Chew provides tips that will help increase a man’s fertility.
1. Start Early
Start early. Studies show that fertility decreases significantly in men after 35 as the quality and quantity of sperm tends to decline with age.
Low sexual drive and erectile dysfunction are also more common in older men.
In addition, risks of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities in babies including autism increase with paternal age.
2. Quit Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs all have an adverse effect on sperm production and a man’s health. These should be cut off completely.
Nicotine in cigarettes can cause a reduction in sperm count and motility and drugs such as steroids and marijuana are associated with decreased sperm count and abnormal sperm.
Alcohol also interferes with sperm development and production. If you must drink, avoid alcohol for four days before trying for a baby.
3. Get Fit, but Don’t Overdo It
It is important for men to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle when trying for a baby. Overweight and underweight individuals may be less fertile.
However, too much vigorous daily exercise may have an adverse effect on sperm and affect fertility.
So when trying for a child, avoid extreme sports such as marathons and long-distance cycling.
4. Keep Cool
Exposure to high heat kills healthy sperm and results in decreased sperm production, so avoid wearing tight underwear and trousers.
For men with low sperm count, boxer short are recommended.
Avoid steam rooms, hot tubs and saunas.
If you are driving long distances, make it a point to take frequent breaks.
"Extracted from Maybe Baby guidebook (Body Talk)"