In her 13 years as an exercise instructor, Allyson Gangone has had numerous pregnant women in her classes, many of whom worked out right up to their deliveries. Now that she is pregnant, Gangone thinks about those women and even calls on them for support and advice.
"They've served as an inspiration to me," says Gangone, who is due in October and continues to teach and take step aerobics and strength training at Odyssey Athletic Center in Waldwick.
When Gangone spoke to her ob/gyn about exercising, she was told to watch her heart rate. Her doctor told her he was citing old guidelines and there was some flexibility, but, she says, "He said try to keep it below 140 [beats per minute]."
Gangone unknowingly has brought up one of the great points of confusion — and contention — for pregnant women desperate for a definitive word on exercise.
The truth is that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists hasn't used that 140 guideline for nearly a decade, but many doctors learned it in medical school and their residencies, and it has stuck. Another problem is that the lack of studies on exercising while pregnant can lead doctors to err on the side of caution. "Advice is going to be physician-dependent, because it's never been well-established what's safe and what's not," says Yaakov Abdelhak, a perinatologist in the maternal-fetal medicine department at Hackensack University Medical Center.
Abdelhak tells his patients not to worry about their heart rate, but not to "take it to the max" when exercising.
Amy Magos, a physical therapist at JAG Physical Therapy, which has offices in Hackensack, Cedar Knolls and West Orange, says there is no good, one-size-fits-all guideline.
"It really depends on the endurance level of the person and what type of fitness level the person was at before she got pregnant," says Magos, who agrees with Abdelhak that pregnant women should avoid certain activities.
"I am very adamant that patients not do impact workouts during pregnancy, meaning swimming is great, cycling is great, walking is fine but jogging, dancersizing, tennis, anything that requires sudden stopping or jumping and landing is clearly putting a lot of jarring effort on the baby," says Abdelhak.
Not all doctors agree. Christie Rampone, the captain of the U.S. women's soccer team, had her doctor's OK to play during the first trimester of her second pregnancy.
In 2009, Rampone led Sky Blue FC, which plays in Somerset, to the inaugural Women's Professional Soccer championship. She played in the title game only a few days before her second trimester began.
"I was pretty comfortable playing," says the veteran defender from Point Pleasant, who trained but didn't play during her first pregnancy in 2005. "I had the communication with my gynecologist. I just had to stay hydrated and listen to my body."
Rampone stopped playing after the championship, but ran (then jogged, then walked) for the rest of her pregnancy. She succeeded in keeping her baby safe and continuing with her pre-pregnant life as much as she could. Many women want to do the same.
The YWCA Bergen County used to have specific prenatal exercise classes, but so many women wanted to remain in their regular classes that the prenatal offerings were discontinued.
Fawn Schoenberg of Park Ridge was one of those women. She asked her doctor if she could continue her fitness routine and was given the green light.
"She said, 'Good for you for being active; start out slow, but go for it,' " says Schoenberg, who gave birth to her daughter on May 17.
The YWCA instructor modified the class for Schoenberg, who continued taking it through her healthy pregnancy.
For women who want a prenatal-specific fitness class that isn't the omnipresent prenatal yoga, Stroller Strides Bergen County owner Danielle Phillips hopes to start one in October. Fit4Baby is designed to give women "the strength for motherhood."
"The strength for motherhood is the strength to do all of the tasks that she is going to be called upon to do throughout her pregnancy and her delivery, and then all the way up through raising her child," says Phillips, a prenatal certified trainer.
"Simple things like being able to lift the baby correctly, the car seat correctly, in and out of the car, strollers in and out of the car, reaching up to grab things."
The class is also meant to alleviate pregnancy symptoms like sciatica, fatigue and morning sickness.
Phillips says the most important thing expectant mothers can do is listen to their bodies and educate themselves.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists no longer recommends that pregnant women keep their heart rate below 140 beats per minute when exercising. Here are some things they do recommend:
* Talk to your doctor first to make sure there is no reason to limit activity; ask about specific sports or exercises, if applicable.
* Pay attention so you don’t overdo it. If you are able to talk normally while exercising, your heart rate is at an acceptable level.
* After the first trimester, do not exercise while lying on your back.
* Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
* Learn warning signs — including dizziness or faintness, vaginal bleeding or contractions. If you experience any of the signs, stop exercising and call your doctor.
Benefits of exercising while pregnant:
* Helps reduce backaches, bloating and swelling
* May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
* Increases your energy
* Improves your mood
* Improves your posture
* Promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance
* Helps you sleep better
Source: The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists