During her pregnancy, Rachel Annunziata was asked the normal question, “When are you due?”
But the 27-year-old Arlington Heights resident also fielded some not-so-normal questions, such as “Should you be doing that?” and “Are you okay?"
A middle school teacher who coaches track and started a weightlifting club for students, Rachel is an avid fitness enthusiast who loves bodybuilding. She and her husband Jake have been regulars at the NCH Wellness Center for several years. Right up to her due date, she worked out, often stunning fellow members by performing barbell squats. She wasn’t doing anything that would harm her baby. In fact, she had the stamp of approval from her OB/GYN, Randy McCool, M.D.
“For Rachel, she was very enthusiastic about her pregnancy and about her exercise and fitness before and during pregnancy,” Dr. McCool says. “She was very interested in maintaining and keeping up with her fitness. I think she did remarkably well.”
Dr. McCool told Rachel it was perfectly healthy to continue her exercise regime – a combination of cardio and weightlifting six days a week – to stay healthy. As she graduated to her third trimester, she modified some of her exercises – eliminating lunges, for example – because her belly got in the way.
“Nothing was hurting and nothing was uncomfortable,” says Rachel. “I kept doing things safely knowing that it was only going to benefit me physically.”
The American Pregnancy Association (APA) says exercise and pregnancy usually work well together and offers tips to pregnant women such as wearing good shoes, breathing deeply and drinking plenty of water. The benefits of exercise include an improved mood, posture, sleep, muscle tone, strength and endurance. (The APA recommends pregnant women stop exercising if they experience vaginal bleeding, chest pain, faintness, shortness of breath, contractions, nausea, leaking fluid or decreased fetal movement.)
“Exercise is encouraged in pregnancy,” Dr. McCool says. “It helps treat the effects of gestational diabetes and improves stamina and recovery during and after labor.”
“I honestly could not have asked for better staff here helping me through it,” Rachel says. “They were so awesome!”
As a personal trainer at the NCH Wellness Center, Kimberly Haman, 25, helps pregnant women and postpartum members with their fitness goals. Kimberly is 27 weeks pregnant and works out regularly. In the past, she participated in competitive soccer. Now she’s an avid runner who enjoys cardio and weightlifting. She understands the looks that Rachel received while pregnant and working out with weights because she gets similar looks from concerned passersby.
“When I’m doing heavier weights or using the sled (a large tank-like structure that uses resistance) I get people looking over at me. They might ask, “Are you sure you should be doing that?” But I say, “I’m okay.”
There was a time when pregnant women were told to rest, but now, Kimberly says, “we know more about the benefits of fitness.”
“You’re definitely not helping yourself to be sedentary when pregnant,” Kimberly says. “There’s research that shows how exercise reduces stress, helps reduce insomnia – which can occur during pregnancy – and gives you a boost of energy. It’s because of the endorphins that are released.”
Kimberly recommends the following safety parameters:
You shouldn’t do bench presses when pregnant because you don’t want to be lying on your stomach or back.
- You should feel comfortable with what you’re doing, without pain or pressure.
- Since ligaments are looser during pregnancy, be careful to not stretch too far.
- Lower the weight on the barbell when performing squats.
- Wear a heart monitor.
“You can challenge yourself without hurting yourself,” says Kimberly, adding that her physician says to work out at a comfortable level and follow the same principles you would if you weren’t pregnant. That means you shouldn’t work out so hard that you become dizzy or nauseated.
She plans to continue her exercise regime right up to her due date in September.
“As long as I can still talk while working out without being breathless, I know that I’m at a good exercise intensity.”
Learn more about the NCH Wellness Center’s programs and classes to help you reach your fitness goals.
Call 847-618-3500 to become a member.