Family Medicine Obstetrics Fitness Heart health Pregnancy Wellness Women's health

Pregnant? Good health now leads to a happy & healthy future

Pregnant women sitting with exercise ball
Written by Dr. Karen Fleming

As a family doctor, I have the privilege of caring for women and their families through many life stages.  Time and time again, I’m struck by the profound link between a woman’s health pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, and her future heart health.  Quite simply: pregnancy can provide a window into your future heart health.

Here are my tips for pregnant women:

  1. Stay active: Physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women.  Of course, your body is changing with a little one on board, so you may need to modify your exercise routine.  I recommend my pregnant patients with uncomplicated pregnancies do aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.  The impact of exercise on reducing your risk of gestational diabetes, and on maintaining a healthy weight, have positive implications for both you and your baby. Exercising for two helps both of you to be heart healthy for life!
  2. Keep an eye on the scale: There are guidelines for recommended weight gain during pregnancy, and for good reason: women who gain more than the recommended weight are at risk of complications for both themselves and their unborn children even if their pre-pregnancy weight is in the normal range. When eating for two you are not eating as if you are two! Pop culture, including TV and movies, can play into the idea that pregnant women can or should eat whatever they like (tub of Ben and Jerry’s anyone)! The reality is that currently almost half of Canadian women of childbearing age are overweight or obese, which is associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, thromboembolic disease (blood clots formed in blood vessels) and operative deliveries.  A healthy diet and staying within the guidelines of recommended weight gain goes a long way in setting you and your baby up for good health both now and in the future!
  3. Share your pregnancy history with your family doctor: After your baby is born, be sure to fill in your family doctor about your pregnancy.  You may have seen an obstetrician, midwife, or family physician for your pregnancy but your family doctor may not be aware of your pregnancy history or complications. What happens in pregnancy is important for your future health as well as for planning for next time. If you developed gestational diabetes, you have a 10 to 20 per cent risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next 10 years.  Knowing this can help you and your primary care doctor develop a plan together to reduce that risk. Women with a hypertensive disorder in pregnancy are at higher risk of developing earlier high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke but knowing this history helps you and your family physician make the changes together to change that future. Take advantage of the opportunity provided by pregnancy to change the future.

Pregnancy is a wonderful opportunity to embrace lifestyle changes with support that benefit both you and your family, “when it matters most”

About the author

Dr. Karen Fleming

Dr. Karen Fleming is a family physician with a special interest and expertise in pregnancy and birth.

She is the Division Lead for Family Medicine Obstetrics at Sunnybrook. She is also the Chief of Sunnybrook's Department of Family and Community Medicine.

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