A new study conducted by researchers in Norway has discovered yet another benefit to exercise for pregnant women: In addition to keeping moms-to-be healthy, exercising while pregnant also helps keeps down the birth weight of the newborn.
The study, published in the October issue of "Obstetrics & Gynecology," tracked the outcomes of over 35,000 singleton births in Norway and found that regular exercise — at least three times a week — reduces the chances of giving birth to an excessively big baby by 23-28 percent.
Too-big babies (the scientific name for this is "fetal macrosomia") have been linked to increases in birth complications, including post-partum hemorrhages, C-sections, and low Apgar scores.
Although the authors of the study report that fetal macrosomia seems to be on the rise and that the numbers of pregnant women who exercise regularly are on the decline, that does not seem to be the case in Ashland. where it is common to see pregnant women bicycling, walking, swimming, and doing yoga.
"Women who get plenty of exercise during pregnancy benefit in innumerable ways," said Sheryl Grunde, owner of www.honoringthemother.com, who teaches prenatal and postnatal yoga classes in Ashland. Grunde, 33, also offers pay-what-you-can massage for pregnant women and works as a doula (a trained birth assistant) at Ashland Community Hospital.
"Healthy, regular metabolism, a strong heart and low blood pressure, and the ability to breathe deeply are some benefits to exercise that come to mind," Grunde said.
"A woman who swims, walks, bikes or practices yoga during pregnancy is more likely to sleep well, have less back pain, less swelling and stay in a better mood."
Abigail Kraft, 38, agrees. When Kraft, who had her first baby last May, found that her feet and hands swelled a little in the second trimester, she walked to make it go away.
"Walking everywhere I think really helped, even if it was just to run errands or take the stairs to the bathroom instead of going down the hall," Kraft said.
Kraft, who lives in Medford and works in Ashland, found that when she stayed more active she had fewer negative pregnancy symptoms. She rode her bicycle and started following a prenatal yoga course on a home DVD.
"That was good to maintain flexibility and to relax," she said.
Though Grunde recommends pregnant women do any form of exercise, as long as it feels good, including swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling and dancing (even belly dancing), she thinks yoga is particularly beneficial.
"It's gentle exercise, but can help to strengthen core muscles, which provide necessary support for posture as it changes rapidly through pregnancy," Grunde said. "In a prenatal yoga class, women build awareness of how to support softening joints, how to find their pelvic floor muscles and how to relax and breathe, which is, in my opinion, the best way to step back and let your body give birth. Also, the stretching feels good and relieves tension from emotional and physical stress."
Resources and classes for pregnant women in Ashland:
- Prenatal yoga classes cost $12 (less for a punch card) and take place on at the Ashland Yoga Center (at Fourth and A streets) Wednesdays from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Contact instructor Sheryl Grunde at 541-951-7474 or email@example.com for more information. Grunde also teaches postpartum mom and baby yoga classes at The Studio at Fourth and B streets on Mondays at 10:45 a.m. Participants must pre-register for this six-week class. Focus is on core strength, stretching, and baby play.
- Prenatal swim classes at the Ashland YMCA, free for members or $10 (for a guest pass to the Y), are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m. Contact the YMCA at 482-9622 for more information.
- Ashland Community Hospital offers an early pregnancy class ($10), a prenatal yoga class ($10), a four-week basic childbirth education series ($50, which includes a book), waterbirth and doulas class, breastfeeding, and a four-week monthly infant massage class, as well as a free one-day class for siblings-to-be and a free new parents group that meets Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information call the birth center at 201-4210.