Staying Active While Pregnant
Before I became pregnant I had some pre-conceived notions about what this would mean for my fitness regimine. Although I have seen a few close friends go through pregnancy in a much different manner, the movie version of a pregnant woman ensued in my mind; the one where the woman is too uncomfortable to get off the couch and do anything besides raise a spoon from the pint of ice cream to her mouth. Common birthing books, website, apps and even my peers just perpetuated this perception. The message I kept receiving was that I would be uncomfortable, swollen, have difficulty breathing and suffer from backaches and joint pain. Even my education as a personal trainer taught me that pregnant women should take it easy for the most part. Movement was encouraged but a vagueness about what was safe and what was risky existed in the two pages about pregnancy that were in my personal training textbook. I entered into pregnancy believing that I would have to slow down and that I would have to be very careful to not hurt the baby.
Daily movement is something I am very passionate about. Of course, proper nutrition is equally important but that is a whole different topic all in itself. Not only are the physical benefits of exercise numerous, the mental and emotional clarity I gain from moving my body is so powerful. I feel blessed and privileged that my body is capable of movement and my lifestyle allows me to build it into my day. Going into pregnancy thinking this might be taken away from me was frightening.
During the first trimester I learned that exercise did feel harder. I was short of breath easier and a high intensity workout might leave me drained rather than energized. I also learned that this didn’t mean I shouldn’t exercise, it just meant that I should modify my exercise or in some cases just push on through it (I typically chose the latter). Hiking mountains, high intensity cross-tranining, kettlebell workouts and athletic forms of yoga were all still on the table. Even though it felt harder (especially when I was nauseous), I didn’t feel that this was a valid reason for not doing it. After all, labor wasn’t supposed to be easy, right?
In a recent birthing class I took, we spent a full two hours discussing pain. My midwife was very blunt and wanted to give us a realistic picture of what we were about to ensue during natural childbirth. She warned us that we were about to experience a level of pain that was so extreme, we couldn’t even begin to imagine it. We also discussed the conotations of the word “pain” and how they are mostly negative. Pain is something to be feared, so why were we chosing this natural childbirth method that was going to cause us more pain that anything we had ever/ever will experience?
We were asked to share a time we were in pain and what that experience meant to us. The first thing that came to mind to me was the first time I hiked a mountain. I was terribly out of shape and had never done an activity of this sort before. My legs were burning, I felt like I couldn’t breath and I definitely wanted to give up more than once. But I was partially up the mountain and what were my alternatives? Sure, I could go back down but that was still going to be difficult. I had to keep going and the reward at the end was not only completely worth it, but it made me forget all of the physical pain (days of soreness would follow but in the moment all that mattered was the view and my accomplishment). The increase in confidence and the possibilites that opened up after pushing through this physical pain were life-changing. Before this hike I was not an active person or an outdoorsy person. Now, if you asked me to describe myself and my values both of those things would be at the top of my list. My hobbies, my interests and my passions involve nature, movement and good health and I believe I never would have known this had I not pushed through that hike.
I have not actually given birth yet so I know it might be naive of me to even try and compare hiking to childbirth. I am very aware that the types of pain will be extremely different but the way I will view the pain and approach the situation will not be one of fear but one of opportunity. My reason for chosing natural childbirth is similar to my reason for chosing exercise. It may not feel comfortable in the moment but the reward at the end makes it all worth it.
Moving into my second trimester, I regained my energy and felt that I could do exactly what I was doing pre-pregnancy, without feeling drained from it. I still had some confusion around specific exercises and whether or not they were safe. From doing more reserach and learning from other trainers, I discovered that nothing was really going to lead to a risk of hurting the baby. I knew that an extended amount of time on my back was not recommended but did not worry about being in that position briefly. Certain yoga positions on my belly or in contorted shapes weren’t appropriate but I learned how to modify in ways that allowed me to recieve the same benefits. I stopped doing box jumps since they just felt like too high of an impact, but that was one of the only things I completely said no to.
I was lucky enough to learn from my friends and trainers at POINT gym that there were certain modifications that I should do to decrease my chance of diastasis recti (separating of the abdominal muscles) but not to worry about hurting the baby. Specifically these exercises were crunches or any variations and planking as my belly got larger. They have also made me aware that I should take a break from certain weight lifting exercies, again not because of hurting the baby, but because my form couldn’t be correct with a large belly in the way of a barbell. I have really appreciated the education I have received from the ladies at POINT. They know their stuff and they also have a passion for movement and high intensity type workouts. As I learned more from experts as well as my own body, my fear around exercise diminished.
I am now 33 weeks pregnant and literally couldn’t feel better. Besides a giant belly and occasional heartburn, I feel pretty close to how I felt before I was pregnant. I am moving every day, which includes high intensity cardio and weights 4 days/week, yoga 1-2 days per week and walking on the remaining days or in addition to my workout days. I get weekly updates from my birthing app about symptoms I should be experiencing and I feel so relieved that I am not. I am told I should be exhausted, overheated, swollen and achy. I feel none of these things and 100% attribute that to my fitness regimine. I am also not fearful of approaching the challenge of birth.
My motivation for writing this blog post is to try and change the perception that exercise in pregnancy is something that should be feared or avoided. The message that I keep receiving is to rest and take it easy and I believe this is some of the worst advice I have heard. There is no time more important than pregnancy to learn how strong you are and what you are capable of.
This is my story and my experience. I understand that every body and every pregnancy is totally different and there are many circumstances where rest and/or other modifications for exercises are needed. I encourage you to seek out a trainer who is specifically trained in fitness for pregnancy in addition to consulting your doctor.