History and old wives’ tales have always implied that women should be treated with care when pregnant.

Is it time society changed its views on how women should behave during pregnancy when the lifestyle is clearly a healthy one?- Kathryn Borg

In fact, hundreds of years ago, they were confined to bed in a darkened room in the later stages of pregnancy, the main aim being to rest and literally do nothing. In later years the belief was to ‘eat for two’, and also for rest. But what happens to your lifestyle if you have been a regular exerciser, pre pregnancy? Do you suddenly stop all training, running, trips to the gym?

Government advice recently was for pregnant women to exercise, however this has remained a social taboo – for one woman in the UK it was to the extent of her being on the receiving end of verbal abuse in a public place. In the UK, half of all mothers-to-be are thought to be dangerously overweight or obese, a statistic reflected around the western world.

In January 2010, experts at the National Obese Forum in the UK called on the government to introduce regular weigh-ins for all women throughout pregnancy in attempt to tackle the crisis.

Obesity in pregnancy can lead to serious health problems, such as foetal abnormalities, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and even death of the mother or baby through stillbirth.

An overweight woman is more likely to require a Caesarean section because either she or the baby is too big. There are guidelines to offer advice to pregnant women on a diet and exercise and this is where ‘eating for two’ is highlighted as a myth.

No extra calories are required until the third trimester, and even then only a further 200 per day are recommended.

In an average healthy pregnancy, only between 5lb (2.27kg) and 8lb (3.64kg) of weight gained should be body fat, the rest is baby, placenta, amniotic fluids and water retention. This leads to guidelines on exercise.

At least 30 minutes a day should be dedicated to moderately intensive activity such as swimming, brisk walking or strength conditioning. This is recommended as safe and beneficial, but it will depend on the woman’s previous lifestyle. If she had been used to a more rigorous exercise regime, then she should continue accordingly.

The mother-to- be under discussion had played hockey, taken five-mile (8km) runs and used weights for strength training on a regular basis. So at around six months of pregnancy she was taking a run through a public park in the north of England.

It was here that she was subject to abuse from other women who called her selfish and other more unprintable words, adding that she “…should be ashamed of herself by putting her own vanity before the health of her unborn baby”.

The woman looked around, at first finding it difficult to believe she was the target of this verbal abuse. However there was no one else around and it soon became clear she was the target.

Unfortunately this was not the first time this had occurred and it wouldn’t be the last; she was hit with comments such as “How could you be so reckless with your baby’s life?”

The ironic thing was that the woman in the park who shouted at the healthy mother-to-be was pushing a toddler in a pram and smoking at the same time.

The mother-to-be felt that had she been sitting in the café in the park partaking in a cream tea with buns and cakes, she would have been encouraged to eat as much as she could as she was ‘eating for two now’. That was her opinion, but I don’t think we would be surprised if it had happened.

She eventually stopped jogging at 39 weeks when it became uncomfortable to run. Her doctor had previously reassured her that as long as she had no complications, and felt well, she should continue her favoured exercises other than hockey, mainly because hockey is a contact sport.

The doctor explained that exercise helps strengthen the baby’s heart as it increases the blood flow.

It also helps prepare the body for labour and if you are fit while you are pregnant, you are less likely to have complications at birth.

At seven months of pregnancy, she was still exercising in the gym. That was until, one day an instructor in the gym approached her to advise her that some members were feeling uncomfortable watching her lift weights while she was pregnant.

She was sharp and to the point in her reply to the instructor, and pointed out that she had a two-year-old toddler who she lifted and carried on a regular basis and who must weigh at least two stones – a fact nobody had questioned at any time.

It became clear that she wasn’t the only mum-to-be who was on the receiving end of verbal abuse for exercising in public while being pregnant. However, she felt the health benefits have been huge.

She didn’t suffer back problems or any other ache. She had not experienced loss of balance, nor swollen legs or ankles and no stretch marks.

Is it time society changed its views on how women should behave during pregnancy when the lifestyle is clearly a healthy one? Those who do take care of themselves should be applauded, not berated.

Perhaps it is a case of lack of understanding and education regarding lifestyle benefits.


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