"I looked around and thought, ‘What am I doing here? Am I starting these classes too early?’ "
Now, with baby Hayden in tow, Doyle is a regular at the Lakeshore Athletic Club’s pre/post Pilates class.
"It’s like preparing for a marathon," Doyle says. "When you’re in shape before, you are in shape for labor."
Aside from the physical benefits, prenatal exercise can help a woman deal with pregnancy stress, says Megan Graziano, who has taught prenatal exercise for nine years.
Dr. Micah Garb, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, agrees exercise is important—but there are some precautions.
During pregnancy, Garb says, hormones circulate to relax bones and ligaments to help during labor. That increases the chance of injury. So Garb suggests lower-impact exercises, such as swimming or Pilates.
He also says to be careful about intensity. Pregnancy demands increased blood flow, so women will more easily become short of breath. A woman’s heart rate should always stay under 140 beats per minute.
Hydration is also essential, Graziano says. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends six to eight glasses of water daily.
In addition to exercise, moms-to-be must pay attention to nutrition.
"Eating for two is a myth," Garb says. "Five hundred extra calories should be enough."
The FDA recommends about 300 extra daily calories.
Only a few months after Hayden’s birth, Doyle’s tummy is flat again. "All I have left is this little pouch," she says. "I was so careful throughout it all and it really paid off."
Rachel A. Sobel, Medill News Service