For some obstetricians, the jury’s still out on the safety of exercise during pregnancy. I don’t mean the relaxing and rejuvenating sort of exercise one typically experiences in a prenatal yoga class; I mean the hard-core, heart-pumping, adrenaline-producing sort of exercise.
Amber Miller is testament to the pregnant woman’s ability to continue even hard-core athletic training throughout pregnancy, right up until the final moments, in fact. The 27-year-old from Weschester, Illinois was 39 weeks pregnant when she finished the Chicago Marathon last Sunday in just under six and a half hours. Amber started to feel contractions just minutes after crossing the finish line. Her healthy 7 lb. 13 oz. daughter, June, was born less than seven hours later, not surprisingly without complication.
While it is not the norm to see a very pregnant runner complete a marathon, it is not extraordinary that a pregnant woman continue training in her sport of choice. There is much research to support the safety and the benefit of moderate to high-intensity aerobic conditioning and strengthening, both for mother and for baby. One doctor in particular, James F. Clapp, M.D. has spent most of his career researching the physiological effects of prenatal exercise on the pregnant woman and the fetus. His findings suggest that not only is it safe for women who were athletic before pregnancy to continue to train until the last days of a healthy pregnancy, it is also beneficial to mother and baby. Active women who stay active until the last day of pregnancy experience shorter labor with fewer complications and require less medical intervention. They gain less weight during pregnancy and return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster. The babies of those mothers also experience fewer complications and require less medical intervention during labor, and are born at healthy birth weights but with less body fat than babies born to sedentary mothers.
Women who were not active before pregnancy can safely begin to exercise while pregnant, but it’s recommended that they stick to lower-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, the elliptical machine, and low-impact aerobics classes for cardiovascular conditioning, until a few months postpartum. So, while pregnancy may not be the time to start to train for a marathon, a woman can continue to do so if she was training before pregnancy. Active women can safely continue their normal activities as long as their bodies allow, with exception of activities with a high risk of falling and abdominal trauma such as downhill skiing and horseback riding. Nearly every woman can safely perform a core-strengthening routine to gain and maintain muscle tone in the muscles weakened most by pregnancy and childbirth. As always, she should consult her doctor or midwife before beginning a new exercise program.
In a press conference Monday, Amber Miller stated, “For me it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.” Here’s to you, Mrs. Miller, for being amazing while ordinary. I hope your story helps others believe in the normality of hard-core exercise during pregnancy, and motivates mothers to get moving!