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A Tale of Two Moms

Running the last two miles of her six-mile route, Tarah Bjorem noticed her joints ached a little more. She felt awkward and off-center. She couldn’t even see her feet when she looked down.

“But I was still out there -- very pregnant and running,” says the 33-year-old from Fargo. Running had been her passion for years, but if she had to, she’d give it up. She loved her baby more.

“At every prenatal appointment, I’d ask the same question: Can I keep running?” recalls Tarah. “My doctor always said yes, as long as I felt okay and wasn’t having any problems. He also said it would make my labor quicker. I’m living proof.”

Tarah ran through every month of pregnancy, right up to the day before childbirth. On Sept. 19, 2009, after a 3½ hour labor and a 20-minute delivery, she and her husband Josh welcomed Rhonin, a health baby boy.

“I attribute my short labor to running,” says Tarah.

An expert view

Sanford Women’s obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Rebekah Tompkins listened to a recap of Tarah’s experience and agreed.

“There’s variation from person to person, but certainly it’s well known that women who are physically fit and exercise regularly during pregnancy have easier, quicker labors,” she says. “One reason is a better blood supply to the uterus and the placenta. Another is the muscle strength that enables efficient, effective pushing.”

In addition to preparing the body for labor and delivery, regular exercise during pregnancy can open the door to several other benefits -- even if you’re at the opposite end of the fitness spectrum from Tarah. Dr. Tompkins recalls the story of a non-exerciser…

Worth a try

Already several months along, the young woman in Dr. Tompkins’ exam room was thrilled to be pregnant, but not so thrilled with some associated health issues: increased blood pressure, poor sleep, tiredness, feelings of blah and moodiness.

“Do you think exercise could help?” the patient asked. “I’ve never been much of an exerciser, but I’d be willing to give it a try.”

After a careful assessment of her patient’s health, Dr. Tompkins advised her on how to go about adding a safe level of exercise to pregnancy.

“It was the middle of winter and you couldn’t even exercise outdoors, but this patient took it upon herself to get a gym membership and start exercising at a low, safe level. I was very impressed!” says Dr. Tompkins.

The results were impressive, too -- decreased blood pressure, reasonable rather than excessive weight gain and better sleep. And the benefit most appreciated by the patient?

Improved mood.

“Pregnancy adds more stressors, so an activity that calms you is definitely beneficial,” says Dr. Tompkins.

Additional benefits include reduced backaches, less constipation, decreased swelling in lower extremities and better regulated blood sugars in women with gestational diabetes.

Tips for safe exercise

If you’re pregnant and considering exercise, first talk with your doctor. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology typically recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day most days of the week. Also:

    * Exercise at a pace that allows you to maintain a conversation.
    * If you’re new to exercise, start gradually -- walking on a treadmill for example.
    * No contact sports or strenuous lifting.
    * Beginning the fourth month, avoid lying flat on your back.
    * Be extra cautious -- your growing belly affects your balance.
    * Always listen to your body.

“Appropriate exercise during pregnancy is excellent, but don’t let it stop there,” says Dr. Tompkins. “Keep exercising after your delivery. It’ll make weight loss easier. And a walk outside on a gorgeous summer day is a really nice way to spend time with your baby.”

And the Bjorems? They’ve discovered the joy of family exercise. On summer evenings you’ll find them together on the winding paths of Fargo -- Tarah rollerblading, Josh biking, Rhonin laughing in delight from the safety of his bike trailer. Happy trails!

Posted Date: June 2011