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Expecting Air Force moms: stay 'fit to fight'

Airman 1st Class Raquel Lewis, 161st Operations Group aviation resource manager, poses for a photo in the base fitness center at the Phoenix Air National Guard Base, May 3, 2015. Lewis is 31 weeks pregnant with her fourth son. “It is important to me to be healthy and active during my pregnancy because I want to have a smooth labor and delivery, and be able to bounce back quickly for my other three kids,” said Lewis. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Courtney Enos)

Airman 1st Class Raquel Lewis, 161st Operations Group aviation resource manager, poses for a photo in the base fitness center at the Phoenix Air National Guard Base, May 3, 2015. Lewis is 31 weeks pregnant with her fourth son. “It is important to me to be healthy and active during my pregnancy because I want to have a smooth labor and delivery, and be able to bounce back quickly for my other three kids,” said Lewis. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Courtney Enos)

4/18/2015 - PHOENIX -- As an Airman, I take pride in being "fit to fight," but since I learned I was pregnant last year, my priority now is to be "fit to deliver a baby" so I can return to the fight with little delay.

Obstetricians agree, women should not stop working out just because they are pregnant and may fear the many myths surrounding maternity and exercise. Staying physically active during pregnancy has great benefits for you and your baby. It's important to be able to bounce back into shape afterward and remain fit to fight. Service members need to be able to support missions and maintaining your fitness and health is a critical piece to fulfilling that.

Ever since I joined the military, fitness has been one of my priorities. Although I am not an expert by any means, I tend to take quite an interest in fitness. Getting back into regular physical training after having a baby can be challenging, but women who exercise throughout their pregnancy have a head start on the road to recovery.

I have done extensive research on how to exercise during pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, if you have been following a regular exercise program prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to maintain that program to some degree. Exercise does not increase your risk for miscarriage.

Here are some helpful tips from the APA:

· Listen to your body. Your body will naturally give you signals that it is time to reduce the level of exercise you are performing.

· Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids all day.

· Avoid exercise in extremely hot weather.

· Avoid rocky terrain or unstable ground when running or cycling. Your joints are more lax during pregnancy, and ankle sprains and other injuries may occur.

· Contact sports and high risk activities where you can fall should be avoided during pregnancy.

There are many benefits of exercise during pregnancy. I have definitely experienced an increase in stamina and I am preventing excess weight gain. Some prenatal cardiovascular exercises I enjoy are running, swimming, walking, biking, and elliptical. Prenatal yoga helps tone your muscles, maintain flexibility, and relax. I know my husband is happy when I am in a good mood and exercising helps me cope with physical changes to my body.

In the long run, exercising and eating the right foods during pregnancy not only helps to keep you healthy, but it may benefit your military career as well.

As a service member, I understand that I need to be back to military standards within a few months of delivery. Air Force Instruction 36-2905 states that Airmen are exempt from fitness assessments during pregnancy and pregnancies lasting 20 weeks or more are also exempt for 180 days after completion of pregnancy. I personally believe because I've kept up with my fitness during pregnancy, bouncing back will be easier.

My husband and I cannot wait for our baby boy to enter this world. Holding him will remind me why I serve - to keep him and future generations safe. My physical fitness is an important element to fulfilling that purpose.