Army helps moms maintain fitness before, after childbirth

By Chanel S. Weaver,U.S. Army Public Health CommandOctober 2, 2014

Army helps moms maintain fitness before, after childbirth
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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 1, 2014) -- It is widely known that U.S. Service members must meet stringent physical standards to serve, but maintaining a high level of fitness can be a challenge for pregnant and postpartum Soldiers.

That's why the Army provides Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training, or P3T, developed several years ago to assist these moms with staying healthy and fit. The intent is to provide safe, standardized physical training and education led by personnel trained in pregnancy and postpartum fitness.

"The program is designed to promote readiness through health by maintaining fitness levels of pregnant Soldiers, and successfully integrating postpartum Soldiers back into unit physical readiness training," said Lisa Young, a health educator at the U.S. Army Public Health Command and program coordinator for P3T.

Army policy mandates enrollment for all pregnant and postpartum Soldiers. Upon confirmation of pregnancy, the Soldier is exempt from regular unit physical readiness training. After the Soldier receives medical clearance from her healthcare provider, commanders are instructed to ensure that all eligible pregnant or postpartum Soldiers enroll.

Here are some answers to basic questions about P3T:

Why was P3T created? Based on several Army studies and current literature it was shown that after 15 months of pregnancy and postpartum, Soldiers who return to unit physical training without intervention demonstrate reduced fitness levels, increased body fat, and increases in injuries and illness rates. P3T offers specifically designed PT for these Soldiers to help them maintain overall health and well-being.

Where is P3T available across the Army? There are currently P3T programs at 26 installations in the United States; 17 programs in Germany, Japan, Korea, and Italy; and remote P3T programs overseen at numerous small installations, Reserve and Army National Guard units.

What are some benefits to enrolling in the P3T? Health experts say participation in P3T provides a Soldier with an exercise and health education program that meets the unique needs of pregnant and postpartum Soldiers. P3T provides a safe setting and trained leaders to assist Soldiers in making adjustments to their exercise regimen as the pregnancy progresses, and to teach special skills that will help with delivery and recovery. It also provides emotional support and encouragement through group activities with others who are in similar circumstances.

"Getting to know other Soldiers that are also moms can help give the reassurance, positive reinforcement and motivation that are needed to meet the challenges of motherhood and return to required fitness levels," said Young.

How has it helped women? What have been the outcomes? In a recent evaluation, postpartum participants reported that P3T was helpful to them in passing their diagnostic APFT, returning to their unit before, or at 180 days post-delivery, and meeting body composition standards. They also perceived P3T participation as a positive influence in boosting their morale, and as helpful in being able to continue to perform their duties on the job.

How often should a pregnant woman exercise? According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, pregnant women can accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-level physical activity most, if not all, days of the week to maintain health and well-being. A recent article in the Army Times states that such exercise improves mood, sleep and energy; prevents pregnancy-related diabetes; and promotes an easier birth and faster recovery.

What are some tips for a healthy postpartum training regimen? After the baby is born, fetal safety is no longer an issue, but potential injuries for Soldiers continue due to persistent musculoskeletal and cardiovascular changes. Postpartum exercises are designed to regain pre-pregnancy fitness levels, meet mission requirements, pass the APFT and meet Army body composition standards. Exercise sessions should be conducted a minimum of five times a week.

This is a basic postpartum fitness session, according to Young:

• A 10-15 minute warm up segment, which includes slow movements, dynamic stretching and slow-cadence calisthenics.

• A 10-20 minute muscular conditioning segment that may incorporate calisthenic drills, strength endurance exercises with free weights or resistance bands, situps, and pushups. The focus now is to prepare the Soldier to pass the situp and pushup portions of the APFT.

• A 30-45 minute cardio-respiratory segment that may include low-impact aerobics, speed and agility drills, cardio machines, circuit training, and ability group walk/jog/runs. The postpartum Soldier is encouraged to gradually begin running, increasing the frequency so that after the first two weeks of returning to P3T, the Soldier is jogging/running three times a week.

• A 10-minute cool-down segment, which may include a slowing down of the aerobic activity followed by gentle stationary stretching. All Soldiers' heart rates must be at or below 100 beats per minute before leaving the area.

Related Links:

U.S. Army Public Health Command: Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training

New PT program makes pregnant Soldiers fit

More Army News Ready and Resilient Women in the U.S. Army

Army Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training (CAC required)