NB: This post was originally authored and published on: https://m.guardian.ng, Nigeria’s Daily Newspaper.
I have heard it said that pregnancy, labour and delivery are athletic events. You should train for them. I couldn’t agree more.
Prenatal workouts, in low-risk pregnancies, are not only advisable, but are also highly beneficial for both mother and baby.
Matter of fact, it is now considered backward thinking that a woman enjoying an uneventful pregnancy should not workout.
Prenatal exercises are safe, fun, healthy and most importantly, help the labour and delivery process move along a little more nicely.
However, while working out is encouraged, the pregnant woman must ensure that she takes into account the necessary precautions.
They are a lot, and above all you hear and read, you must listen to your body.
If it doesn’t feel right, then maybe you need to stop. Here are two of the many precautions.
Ensure your Calcium levels are at optimum
If you workout in pregnancy, you must make sure that your calcium levels are optimal. This is because Calcium is necessary for building and maintaining strong and healthy bones, both for the mother and the baby.
In pregnancy, a hormone called Relaxin is released by the body, which, true to its name, relaxes several body parts including the joints and ligaments, making it a little more mobile to aid labour and delivery (the last thing a pregnant woman needs would be stiff joints and bones).
While mother nature gets an applause for this, it also means that a pregnant woman would have to deal with more flexibility (read clumsiness sometimes) and exercising without an extra supply of Calcium to further strengthen the bones and joints may be extra clumsy and even border line dangerous.
There are two main channels through which Calcium can be taken into the body – from Diet and Supplements (Drugs).
Some of the richer diet sources readily available in Nigeria are diary including milk, healthy yogurt, and low-calorie cheese.
A 250ml cup of milk or yoghurt with every meal, maximum of three times a day is enough.
Soya bean powder is another amazing Calcium source, however be careful to steer clear of the over processed ones, usually made into liquid form.
Stick to the natural powder form and ingest as milk powder added to cereals or smoothies, or make a solution yourself with clean water, an optional sweetener, and drink.\
Some cereals are also fortified with Calcium, usually boldly written on the packaging, so such cereals can be incorporated into breakfast.
Another rich dietary Calcium source would be bones from any animal protein, especially fish and brisket bone (which some call ‘biscuit bone’ in local parlance).
Instead of throwing away your fish bone for example, you can carefully chew it to extract all the juice from it before discarding it.
Alternatively, you may also dry the bone, blend into a fine powder, and use as spice for cooking. This really increases Calcium from Dietary sources.
If you work out regularly and consistently though, you are safer incorporating the more standardized Calcium supplements to your dietary sources as prescribed by your doctor, because not only does the mother’s body demand for Calcium increase, the baby also takes a lot of Calcium from the mother.
The Talk Test
As a result of varying fitness and endurance levels of pregnant women, especially before pregnancy, the jury is still out on a standardized heart rate limit a pregnant woman should not exceed.
However, it is agreed that every pregnant woman working up a sweat must ensure that she passes the ‘Talk test’.
What this means is that at every point during your workout, you must be able to hold a conversation coherent enough to the Listener.
If you are gasping for breath and cannot conveniently carry out a conversation, that is your cue to slow down.
In the course of your workout, it is advised that you take very frequent idle breaks for your heart rate to enable your heart rate return to normal.
The converse is usually the case for non-pregnant exercisers, whom I would normally advise to take very few infrequent breaks, no longer than 10 to 15secs of active rest per break, because we do not want the heart rate dropping.
The secret to an effective workout, especially where weight loss is the goal, is a high heart rate, but in pregnancy, the goal is not weight loss, the goal is fitness.
So, take rests, take bathroom breaks, take selfies, take short naps if you must, but aim for a cumulative minimum of 30 – 45mins workout 4 to 5 times a week to enjoy the amazing benefits of a solid prenatal workout.
As always, because every pregnancy is unique, always weigh any counsel with your doctor before applying it to your specific situation.