OUR GAME: The Pregnant Player

OUR GAME: The Pregnant Player

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(See more “Our Game” entries here.)

Special goalWA.net feature by Claire Bennett 

At the end of January Seattle Reign’s Amy Rodriguez announced that she would miss the 2013 domestic season because she was expecting her first child with her husband, Adam. (A son, Ryan John Schilling, was born August 6, 2013 weighing 8 pounds, 14 ounces.) Soon after it was announced she would also miss the next international season (replaced by Zakiya Bywaters of the Chicago Red Stars), leading some pundits to speculate on just how much ground she might lose during 2013. This has brought up a whole world of questions about women’s soccer and pregnancy. Staying active during pregnancy makes it much easier to return to former fitness levels once its over and provides many other benefits as well, but just how much exercise can someone do while pregnant?

Alex Rodriguez on the sidelines at a Seattle Reign FC match this summer. Lauren Cheney greets her with a tummy hold. © Mike Russell | www.mikerussellfoto.com
Alex Rodriguez (left) on the sidelines at a Seattle Reign FC match this summer. Lauren Cheney greets her with a tummy touch. © Mike Russell | www.mikerussellfoto.com

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy

Keeping your fitness levels as high as possible while pregnant means it’ll be easier to return to your pre-pregnancy level of activity afterwards. People who maintain a good level of physical fitness during pregnancy tend to have fewer blood pressure problems, less back pain, less fatigue, less swelling of feet and legs, and a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes. As well as this, physical fitness makes it easier to deliver a baby. Giving birth is an intensely physical experience, and the more physically fit you are, the less likely you are to experience complications during delivery; in addition physical fitness is associated with shorter delivery times. Another important benefit of exercising at this time is the psychological and emotional lift that exercise can provide. The rapid hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can trigger mild depression in some women, and regular exercise is an excellent way to help you cope with mood changes. Exercise also helps you sleep better, which helps you stay physically healthy as well as improving mood stability.

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Exercise and Soccer during Pregnancy

Non-contact physical exercise of mild to moderate intensity, like walking, jogging, and swimming is absolutely safe for most women during pregnancy, and these exercises are safe to continue with for as long as you feel capable. There are some exceptions, depending on your current health status, so in all cases it’s a good idea to check with your doctor about what’s safe for you.

No matter how physically fit you are, there are some sports and exercise activities that it’s best to avoid. Obvious examples include contact sports like boxing and judo, since there’s the risk of taking abdominal hits. You might also wish to avoid activities where there’s a risk of falling, such as skiing, horse riding, and gymnastics. Scuba diving is out too, because a developing fetus is highly vulnerable to decompression sickness. This is a risk at almost any stage of pregnancy, even with shallow dives.

An Amy Rodriguez fan uploaded this song to Youtube.

What about soccer? It depends mostly on the stage your pregnancy is at. In the first trimester, your pelvic bones provide a developing baby with protection from hard blows, which means collision sports like soccer are typically considered safe at this time. In the second and third trimesters, however, the baby grows to the point where it is no longer protected by the pelvic bones, and it’s therefore considered unsafe to continue playing collision sports.

No matter what exercise you pursue during pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of the way your body changes: weight gain affects your center of gravity, and this can affect your balance. Your resting heart rate will increase and blood pressure decrease, which means it’ll be more difficult for your body to adjust to sudden changes in movement intensity. As your pregnancy progresses, your ligaments and joints loosen to make delivery easier on your body; however, this also increases the risk of injuries such as dislocation.

Getting Back to your Pre-Pregnancy Fitness Level

Most women find that it takes at least a few weeks to recover from pregnancy, but every woman is different, and it can take more or less time depending on factors such as your age, height, and fitness level, and whether or not you gave birth via cesarean. Kristine Lilley, who played for multiple teams in her career, and scored 130 goals for the US team in her 24 years of international play, played a fundraising game just twelve weeks after giving birth in 2008! Most doctors agree that it’s safe to resume exercise within a week of giving birth, and sports and training within four weeks. Within your doctor’s guidelines, however, whether or not you are ready to resume your pre-pregnancy level of training is entirely up to you—there’s no right or wrong answer to how comfortable you feel with resuming your former activity levels.

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