Carrying excess body fat can have serious consequences for baby, mom

Question: I’m an overweight and pregnant 31-year-old who has always despised exercise. My ob-gyn has encouraged me to exercise by walking daily, which I do a couple days per week. I’ve read that being overweight can cause problems with pregnancy, but magazines and online articles say exercising too hard during pregnancy isn’t good either. What can I do? — Yvonne

Obesity has a considerable impact on pregnant women.

Consistent with common sense, carrying excessive body fat before getting pregnant can have serious consequences. For example, it can adversely change estrogen concentrations that increase the risk of menstrual dysfunction, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, poor outcomes with assisted pregnancy and risk of miscarriage.

If you’re obese during pregnancy, there’s a greater risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive conditions (including preeclampsia), pre-term birth, perinatal death, birth injuries and macrosomia (i.e., abnormally large child birth).

Exercising regularly is essential to function at your best physically and mentally, but it’s critical during pregnancy for many reasons. Studies consistently show that exercise directly counters many of the risks associated with carrying excessive body fat, as it can reduce risk of gestational diabetes, infant prematurity, preeclampsia and operative birth while improving cardiovascular function, overall fitness, psychological well-being and fetal growth.

So the question isn’t if you should work out during pregnancy; it’s how because research suggests moderate exercise is optimal as opposed to high-intensity, although it also depends on what you’re used to. In other words, if you’re not doing anything before getting pregnant, it’s a good idea to start slowly. If you’re already exercising before pregnancy, continue and don’t push your limit.

Regardless of where your experience lands, plan on including strengthening, stretching and endurance exercise to simultaneously address the importance of fitness for your baby and body fat reduction. Studies show that a woman’s motivation to workout during pregnancy is commonly blunted by fear of injury, not knowing what to do and lack of resources.

Getting professional medical guidance in these cases may be a smart move to help you get on the right track from a safety and cost perspective, as your health insurance will likely cover an exercise therapy program when implemented by a licensed physical therapist.

It may become more difficult to move when you’re pregnant, but once you get going you may be surprised how hard it is to stop.

Colin Hoobler is a licensed physical therapist, hosts a live health segment on KGW Channel 8 and has written two books on exercise as treatment for disease and injury

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