Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a nine-month pass to sit on the couch and eat.
Labor nurse Shauna Cheshire says pregnancy is more like training for a marathon.
“Labor is an athletic event and we should treat it as such,” she said. “You are committed to doing that event. You know the pregnancy will end. It’s a question of whether you will drag yourself across the finish line or someone will carry you.”
Cheshire is a true believer in maternal health. In addition to the nursing degree she earned in 1995, she graduated from Weber State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in human performance management. She is certified as a personal and group fitness trainer and took a certificate course in how to be effective and safe while training mothers in pre- and postnatal fitness. (There are no official certifications at this time in pregnancy fitness).
Like anyone else, moms will join a gym, but have no idea what to do when they get there, Cheshire said. With no workout companions and no clue what equipment to use, women lose motivation.
“A lot of people in the fitness world aren’t comfortable training pregnant women,” she said.
Cheshire now teaches free seminars about pregnancy and exercise, and this summer organized free weekly Tone & Stroll walking and stretching classes for moms, both pregnant and postpartum. In addition to those free events, she founded Mia Mama, a fitness business for women who are pregnant or are trying to get back in shape after giving birth.
Cheshire said she tailors workouts for pregnant and postpartum women, depending on where they hurt and what they need. The company Facebook page is facebook.com/miamamafitness.
The pregnancy fitness business is something Cheshire said she wanted to do for a long time.
“When I crunched the numbers to see if this was a feasible business idea — 2010 was a census year —and it showed there were almost 10,000 pregnant women in Weber and Davis counties combined, I was like ‘Holy cow!’ I couldn’t even manage 1 percent of these women by myself,” she said.
The next pregnancy and postpartum fitness seminar is set for Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Competitive Edge Fitness, 2909 Washington Blvd., Ogden. The event will include door prizes, prize drawings and refreshments.
Starting Nov. 4, the free weekly Tone & Stroll walking class for Ogden will meet Monday mornings at 10:30 a.m. just inside the Newgate Mall food court entrance. The free Layton Tone & Stroll class will meet Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. just inside the Dick’s Sporting Goods entrance of the Layton Hills Mall.
This summer, walking classes met at Layton Commons Park and Big Dee Sports Park along the Ogden River Parkway, but the mothers with babies felt the fall weather was getting too harsh for the little ones.
Those moms had no fears about any discomfort for themselves — the postpartum women kept a brisk pace that left more casual strollers behind: These women had survived pregnancy and labor. They worked out regularly. They did not fear pain.
Good for the baby
First-time mother Meghan Mann was there at the Ogden Parkway recently with her 5-month-old, Brogan, a hefty boy she says may be so healthy partly because of her prenatal exercise program. She pushed bright-eyed Brogan down the asphalt sidewalk in his jogging stroller while he watched and waved his fists at everything he saw.
“I felt better about my health, I ate better,” Mann said about her pregnancy. “I think a lot of it was because I didn’t just let myself sit.”
Another part of her and Brogan’s good health is because mothers and children in the womb are connected, Mann said. When the expectant mother improves her cardiovascular health, the baby is right there exercising with her.
Research shows the babies whose mothers work out during the pregnancy have stronger hearts and can pump more blood with each beat, Cheshire said. This means labor is less stressful for the child as well as the mother, and the Caesarean section rates go down.
“Moms ask, ‘Is it really that big of a deal if you don’t exercise?’ ” she said. “Yes. We can’t discount the good mom can do.”
Exercise helps minimize weight gain, improves strength and endurance, decreases complications and aids birth and recovery, Cheshire said.
Obstetricians used to recommend pregnant women not let their heart rate go over 140 beats per minute, but research now shows exercise does not cause premature birth and it does not decrease a child’s birth weight, she said.
It’s OK to start
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now say a woman who has never exercised can begin to do so while she is pregnant by starting with as little as five minutes a day and adding another five minutes each week. The goal is to stay active for 30 minutes each day.
“Women in general aren’t meeting that recommendation,” Cheshire said. “That’s something I’m hoping I can address. If you’re healthy enough to exercise, you should because you can make a measurable difference. You might not want to scuba dive or horseback ride or water ski, but you can walk or do water aerobics.”
Pregnancy can be exhausting. Sarah Godman, of North Ogden, credits her energy during her two pregnancies with her exercise program. While friends and relatives complained about being tired all the time, Godman said she “felt like jogging around the block.”
Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some women are too nauseous to work out, and others should not exercise because of medical reasons. But other pregnant women have a lot to gain, Cheshire said, and she does not mean weight.
“I saw a young woman who weighed 105 pounds and then gained 90 pounds (while she was pregnant), and I thought, ‘Honey, who didn’t talk to you?’ ” she said. “If you’re overweight to begin with, you don’t need to gain 25 to 30 pounds. If you weigh 110 pounds at 5 foot 6 (inches), you will need to put on 30 to 40 pounds. People in the obese category, they don’t need to gain weight. They have charts for these things.”
Not that Cheshire always knew a better way to manage pregnancy.
“I think for me, personally, I was young and dumb,” she said about her first pregnancy, when she struggled with gestational diabetes. “Even though I was a nurse, I didn’t know about exercise and pregnancy.”
Cheshire said it wasn’t until her fourth pregnancy that she felt she knew what she was doing.
“Every pregnancy, I got smarter,” she said.
It helps to start a pregnancy in good health. Cheshire couldn’t get specific with her war stories because of confidentiality, but — generally speaking — she said she’d seen some maternal and baby outcomes that were complicated because of obesity, including women who were too heavy for the ultrasound to determine anything about the health of the fetus.
Obesity creep is something happening throughout the nation, Cheshire said.
“We’re seeing more and more 300- to 400-pound (pregnant) ladies,” she said. “I can’t even recall having someone that large come through (the maternity ward) when I first started. It’s not that uncommon anymore.”
Because of the metabolic changes that take place, some women who were not overweight before the pregnancy will be set up to be overweight for the rest of their lives, Cheshire said.
“A pregnant woman needs about 300 to 400 extra calories per day,” she said. “That’s a couple yogurts and a granola.”