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pregnancy research

  • Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

    We all know exercise is important for our health, mind, body and soul. Some of us enter pregnancy in tip top shape and in no mood to slow down while others have had more of a sedentary life, perhaps due to the type of they work do and simply being busy. We all know we should take time to exercise regularly, but if you haven’t been an exercise buff before you were pregnant, chances are you are not super inspired to start exercising once morning sickness and/or pregnancy weight gain and fatigue set in.

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    The good news is that you don’t need to embark on exercise full throttle and begin extreme sports or sign up for marathons once you are expecting, but you can begin a gentle exercise regime that could do wonders for your health and energy. Pregnancy is a great time to try low impact sports such as swimming or water aerobics. Staying cool in the pool becomes a more attractive option as the weather heats up and with your basal body temperature naturally higher you are probably feeling even hotter than normal. The weightlessness of swimming and pool exercise can relieve achy joints and the back strains of a growing tummy. Even just a few easy laps in the pool if you are not a regular swimmer is a great way to start off. (BTW it’s a good idea to buy a maternity swimsuit if you plan to do any lap swimming. Don’t even try to squeeze into your pre-pregnancy swimsuit because it will not fit well and it’s not healthy for your body to be minimized or restricted while you are pregnant).

    Other low impact exercises include yoga and stretching. If you are doing yoga for the first time, then go slow and do not try a hot yoga class as they can crank the temperature up to as high as 106 degrees for 90 minutes which is not safe for pregnancy – your baby is cooking enough at your regular temperature as it is! Some gyms do offer a prenatal yoga class, so ask around for any local pregnancy exercise classes. Sometimes these specialty classes are advertised at your OBGYN office and of course you can google it for your zip code. Classes like these are fun as you get to meet other expecting women and you have the same body changes to work around and feel less self-conscious about exercising in a group class. You can laugh together while you stretch out the kinks and adjust yoga poses to your ever evolving pregnancy physique. These same women may end up being your stroller buddies and mom friends down the way after you have your baby.  (Do be careful to not do anything awkward or unusual that you are not comfortable with and take into consideration that your balance is altered with your shifting center of gravity).

    A new study showed that even light cardio (such as power walking) and hand weights in short bursts of up to five minutes about five times a day was even more beneficial than one long intensive daily routine and allowed for better recovery. Apparently this is a long held celebrity training secret that we just got in on! Simple five minute intervals up to five times a day can do wonders for lowering and regulating blood sugar which can climb during pregnancy and cause gestational diabetes. Regular light exercise can also lower blood pressure and resting heart rate which is also subject to rise during pregnancy.  Many women experience preeclampsia for the first time when pregnant due to the extra weight and physical stresses on their body as they progress in their pregnancy. Studies show that exercise can reduce the risk of developing complications such as preeclampsia and improve your overall circulation as well as reducing leg cramps, varicose veins and swollen ankles. Additionally, exercise helps strengthen back muscles that support your belly and helps alleviate aches and pains overall which is a huge benefit to your overall wellbeing and comfort.

    Although exercise can make you feel less energetic initially, if you stay consistent with it your body will adjust and you will eventually have more energy. Equally important, exercise will allow you to sleep better at night as your muscles will be more fatigued and that legitimate physical tired feeling will allow you to get to sleep faster. As a result of better rest you will feel sharper and more alert in the morning and less stressed so you can enjoy your day. It’s a complete 24 hour healthy loop cycle!

    Usually the first association many of us have to exercise is a means to sweat off extra pounds and rev up our metabolism so we can effectively lose weight without starving ourselves. While this is true and often a good goal for non-pregnant women, it is not the goal for pregnant women (although a slightly faster metabolism to help burn extra calories we are craving beyond the recommended weight gain is not a bad thing help keep weight gain in check). Pregnant women are supposed to gain weight and usually do so naturally without consciously trying to eat more. You definitely should not obsess over the scales while pregnant unless their doctor puts you on alert.  Weight gain during pregnancy is not always linear – you might lose weight in the first three months with morning sickness and food aversion and then find your belly has suddenly “popped” as well as your chest and appetite over the next four weeks in the second trimester. BTW expect a second “pop” in the last month of pregnancy, about the time you don’t think you can get any bigger, you do!

    One of the major ways exercise can provide an immediate benefit to everyone, but especially expecting women, is by increasing serotonin levels and balancing out mood swings. As we know hormones are in full swing when you are pregnant and often affecting everything from your diet and feelings of morning sickness to your self-image, mental outlook and emotions. By engaging in regular exercise you gain a sense of control over your body, emotions and positive emotional and mental outlook that may otherwise feel completely out of control. This sense of stability gives us a sense calm and balance which is priceless when you are experiencing daily physical and overall life changes at a breakneck speed.

    Achieving and maintaining a level of fitness during pregnancy also really aids in our postpartum recovery. The ability to stay within our healthy weight range during pregnancy and toning our muscles in the process with supervised light resistance training allows us to regain our energy much quicker postpartum and feel more like our pre-pregnancy selves. If you are tipping the scales with your pregnancy weight do not fear! Unless your doctor has prescribed bed rest or you have a high risk pregnancy then it’s not too late to start a low impact moderate exercise program from which you can continue to reap huge health benefits both during and after pregnancy.

    Do be sure to get your doctors sign off on any out of the ordinary exercise you plan to do during pregnancy (remember no horse riding, downhill skiing, bungee jumping, etc) and it’s recommended to run your exercise plans by your doctor in your prenatal visits, particularly if you have any elevated health risks. But, if you have the green light from your doctor, then get your blood pumping a bit and remember to hydrate!

  • Attention Expectant Moms – Drive Carefully!

    Drive Safely! Drive Safely!

    A new study by the Canadian Association Journal cautions that pregnant women, particularly those in their second trimester, have a significantly higher risk of getting into car accidents than women who are not pregnant. Although the cause is still uncertain, it did find the risk of getting into a serious accident rose 42% during the middle trimester of pregnancy.

    Although I usually attribute such news or assertions to stereotypical data skewing, this research does seem to have some valid data behind it to warrant a cause for concern. The study leader, Dr. Donald Redelmeier, told NPR that he suspects the normal symptoms that accompany pregnancy and which may be more pronounced during the second trimester such as fatigue, insomnia and stress, are likely the reason for this uptick in driving accidents.

    This would make sense as numerous studies have shown that fatigue is as big or sometimes bigger culprit than alcohol in many motor vehicle accidents. Also, pregnant women oftentimes have to deal with nausea, morning sickness and even under eating and unusual diets during this time. Physiologically expectant woman have increased hormones associated with pregnancy, namely progesterone and estrogen, which can lead to looser tendons and ligaments, thus further lack of coordination and reaction time when driving a car.

    Now hopefully this study does not give us one more thing to be paranoid about during pregnancy as we already have such a laundry list of “don’ts” but increased awareness and vigilance is not a bad thing. Dr. Redelmeier tells NPR, that telling pregnant women to be careful drivers “seems like incredibly banal advice to give. I realize that. But every one of our crashes in the study could have been avoided by a small change in driver behaviors.” Those small changes included minimizing speed and distractions (not texting or reading email while driving or talking on cell phones while driving) and simply taking care to follow traffic rules could have avoided an accident.

    Maybe skipping that morning coffee has increased the risk as well (they didn’t check out that variable)! In any case, go ahead and grab your keys and drive where you need to go, but just be a little extra careful to pay attention as you do have a baby onboard.

  • Diet matters for a Healthy Pregnancy

    A recent study led by Englund-Ögge with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Institute of Clinical Sciences at the Sahlgrenska Hospital in Gottenburg, Sweden showed the diet was very important for a healthy pregnancy and for lowering the risk of a preterm birth. Dr. Linda Englund-Ögge told Reuters Health in an email.

    "Diet really matters when it comes to preterm delivery and it is very important for pregnant women to choose or to increase the intake of an overall healthy diet consisting of fresh and raw vegetables, fruit, whole-grain products, certain fish and to drink water."

    In recent years there has been more interest and more research done concerning maternal diet how it affects the risk of preterm delivery. In this study 66,000 Norwegian women participated between 2002-2008 to study the effects of diet and maternal health. Those who had a “Prudent Diet” consisting of cooked vegetables, salad, onion/leek/garlic, fruit and berries, nuts, vegetables oils, water as a beverage, whole grain cereals, poultry and fiber-rich bread had the lowest instance of preterm birth. Those with a “Western Diet” which included more salty snacks, sweets and chocolates, French fries, white bread, ketchup, sugar-sweetened drinks, pasta and processed meat products had a much higher instance of preterm birth.

    There were a total of 3,505 preterm deliveries. The researchers found that women who adhered most closely to the Prudent Diet were 11 percent less likely to have preterm deliveries compared to women who didn't follow the diet as closely.

    "We would like for doctors, midwives and all others who work with pregnant women to reinforce the important message that pregnant women should be encouraged to eat a balanced and healthy diet," Englund-Ögge said.

    "There are modifiable risk factors that people can address to enhance their pregnancy outcomes," Dr. Louis Muglia told Reuters Health.

    Based on this study, he said, a balanced diet with more foods rich in vitamins and other micronutrients probably facilitates a full-term pregnancy. Additionally women that followed the prudent diet were also more likely to have other beneficial lifestyle habits which would contribute to good pregnancy outcomes. These women were more likely to maintain a healthier weight, smoked less and avoided alcohol.

    "So I think there are a lot of things that go along with that prudent lifestyle that increases the likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy and reduces the likelihood of a preterm birth as well," Muglia said.

    This research is helpful in relying the message that we assumed for years, that as expecting moms we can positively affect our developing baby’s health by eating healthy foods during pregnancy and following a healthy lifestyle. The research noted that even the women in the “Prudent Diet” category did indulge in Western eatting from time to time and did indulge in sweets sometimes as well, but it’s the overall diet pattern that mattered the most. This is good news for all of us as it’s impossible to be perfect in pregnancy or anytime!

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