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Pregnancy and physical activity: The dos and don’ts

Children and Youth Sports Organization that encourages the youth to embrace sports as a culture has organised special mass sports for pregnant women, scheduled to take place this in October. The organisation will partner with the Ministry of Sports and Culture and Early Childhood Development Programme to educate the public on the importance of embracing sports while pregnant. The initiative dubbed “Mass Sports for Pregnant Women” will be inaugurated with a walk starting from Gisementi, Remera to Amahoro National Stadium. The first of its kind in Rwanda will bring together pregnant women and their spouses. The director of Children and Youth Sports Organization, Nelson Mukasa, says the aim is to mobilise pregnant women to embrace a sports culture considering that many of them don’t engage in any kind of sports whatsoever. “We want to enlighten people; pregnant women should do sports for their own good and that of their unborn babies. They should know that being idle while pregnant is not healthy,” he says. The initiative is expected to be taken across the country. The organisation’s role is to sensitise the youth on embracing activities that build their health, as well as boosting young children’s talents through games. The initiative is also combined with fighting HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. WHY SPORTS? Mukasa, who is also an expert in mass sports and the main sports instructor for the bi-monthly Kigali Car Free Day, says sports is an important part of everyone’s life, and keeping active is extremely important to overall health. He says there is a perception that when one is pregnant, they have to take time to rest and avoid any kind of sports, but this is not true, and just like any other person, pregnant women need sports too. Dr Anita Asiimwe, Director of National Early Childhood Development Program (NECDP), says everyone should be involved in physical activity, including pregnant women. She says if the mother is in good health, this is also good for the baby she is carrying. “This initiative is a gesture to show people that physical activity is important and can be done even when pregnant,” she says. However, she notes that it should be clear that a pregnant woman can’t do intensive physical activity, but there are some that they can do. Dr Emmanuel Semwaga, a gynaecologist/obstetrician at Mediheal Diagnostic and Fertility Centre in Kigali, says engaging in sports while pregnant is important because the more one moves, and the more active they are during this period, the easier it will be to give birth. “It’s important to know this in order to make the pregnancy healthier, easier and better both for the mother and the child, So women need physical activity while pregnant,” he says. WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW Semwaga says it’s important for any pregnant woman to consult their healthcare provider before beginning any exercise programme. He says the specialist can also provide personal exercise guidelines, based on one’s medical history. If one has a medical problem, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, Semwaga says exercise may not be suitable. Also, he adds that exercise may be harmful if one has a pregnancy-related condition such as bleeding or spotting, low placenta, threatened or recurrent miscarriage, previous premature births or history of early labour, and weak cervix, among others. Semwaga says during the last period of pregnancy, one should also slow the activity down; this is because they will not be able to do sports as actively as before. He says it should be noted that being active during the whole pregnancy helps when it comes to toning muscles and that when one gives birth, they will easily get back into shape. “After giving birth, it’s always a struggle for every mother, especially when it comes to getting their shape back,” he notes. This, he says, is really difficult to do for those who were not physically active during pregnancy. Therefore, this, among other reasons, is why pregnant women should engage in sports. OTHER BENEFITS Iba Mayale, a gynaecologist at Galien clinic in Gasabo District, says doing sports while pregnant, the woman is less inclined to gain weight. However, he says, one may gain lots of weight during pregnancy, which is normal, but being active and doing sports will help keep weight under control. Mayale notes that apart from that, the delivery of the child can be much easier if one exercises when pregnant. He also says that during pregnancy, high blood sugar puts a woman at significant risk of getting diabetes. He says that if a woman has high blood sugar, this may also cause the baby to be overweight. To avoid this, he says, being active in sports while pregnant will decrease the need for insulin in the body. Statistics have shown that active pregnant women tend to have a better mood than those who are not active. Mayale further adds that women who are involved in sports are more energetic, full of ‘positive energy’ and are more likely to be happy than those who do not do any kind of sport. EXERCISES TO TRY Semwaga says most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as one exercises with caution and doesn’t overdo it — and seeking advice from an obstetrician beforehand is important. John Muganda, a gynaecologist at Harmony Clinic in Kigali, says that in most cases, the safest and most productive activities for pregnant women are swimming, brisk walking, cycling and low-impact aerobics. Here, he notes that the aerobics should be taught by an expert/instructor. These activities, he says, are good because they carry little risk of injury, benefit the entire body, and also can be continued until birth. Other activities such as jogging can be done in moderation, especially if one was doing them before pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, Muganda says choosing exercises or activities that do not require great balance or coordination is important. WHAT TO AVOID Semwaga says there are certain exercises and activities that can be harmful if performed during pregnancy. He says these include holding breath during any activity, activities where falling is likely to happen, any exercise that may cause even mild abdominal trauma — such as activities that include rapid changes in direction. Also, he notes that activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, bouncing, or running should be avoided at all costs. Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches, waist twisting movements while standing, among others, should also be avoided. He further explains that during pregnancy, the woman’s body undergoes many changes, of which some will affect one’s ability to exercise or require them to modify their exercise routine. These, he says, include relaxing loose ligaments, which could increase one’s risk of joint injuries. As pregnancy progresses, he says the weight will increase and one will experience changes in weight distribution and body shape. “This results in the body’s centre of gravity moving forward, which can alter one’s balance and coordination,” he says. Besides, Mayale says pregnancy increases one’s resting heart rate, therefore, he advises that a woman shouldn’t use her target heart rate to work out the intensity of her exercise. In the second trimester, he says, one’s blood pressure drops, so it is important for pregnant women to avoid rapid changes of position — from lying to standing and vice versa. editorial@newtimesrwanda.com