[Enjoy this guest post by the awesome Charlotte Anderson of The Great Fitness Experiment and author of The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything. She is a joy to read, so please check out her great blog!]
“You can’t do squats or lunges, it’ll make you go into preterm labor” “I’ve never seen a pregnant woman lift weights before – are you in the military?” and my personal favorite “If you keep jumping around like that (I was kickboxing) the baby’s umbilical cord is going to get all twisted up.” All of these things were said to me at some point during my pregnancies and having given birth to 5 babies, that left a lot of time for people to say strange things to me.
People do not know what to do with a pregnant woman who exercises. While it’s understandable – just 10 years ago the American College of Gynecology and Obstetrics recommended that women keep their heart rates under 140, and 30 years ago doctors (!) were telling women that running could make your uterus collapse – it can also be really disheartening and confusing to a newly pregnant mom to get all kinds of good, bad and just plain weird advice. Heck, my heart rate would hit 140 just carrying laundry up my 3 flights of stairs!
So what, exactly, can pregnant women do to exercise? Olympic marathoners Kara Goucher and Paula Radcliffe clocked in 60-80 miles per week running during their pregnancies. Olympic curler Kristie Moore competed in the Olympics 5 months pregnant. And Connie Neal made headlines by playing Division 1 basketball up through her 8th month. I don’t give you these examples to make you feel bad that you’re not perfecting your double-axle whilst growing adorable little earlobes but rather to show you that us women and our attendant lady bits are a lot more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
Exercise during pregnancy provides tons of great benefits for both the mom (shorter labor and faster weight loss!) and the baby (less colic and greater physical resiliency!). Not to mention that for a lot of moms exercising makes them happier, less anxious and feel more in touch with their growing body. So it makes sense to help gestating moms stay as active as they can.
The short answer to the question of how much exercise and what type is safe is simply to listen to your doctor and do what feels good to you. Listen to your body and if something hurts, then quit. However, if you’re anything like me you’ve spent years pretty much not listening to your body (“I said, you are NOT hungry for those cookies goshdarnnit!”) and you’d like a bit more instruction than that. While I’m not a doctor (repeat: I don’t even play one on TV), here are some tips that have gotten me through 5 pregnancies during which I’ve rock climbed, ran races, lifted weights, did headstands in yoga and had a marvelous time.
Known as the undercover trimester, you can hold to your usual workout routine as long as you feel up to it. Your baby is only the size of a lipstick tube by the end of this tri so laying on your back, lifting weights and cardio are all kosher. There’s no physical reason yet to skip that half marathon or those yoga inversions. Just because you can do it though doesn’t mean you’ll want to. I remember running laps and stopping to throw up in the gym bathroom. Not fun. You may also have sore boobs, a super sensitive nose and be insanely tired. Those are your body’s signals to take it easy. Sometimes exercise can help – a brisk walk in the cool air can help with the nausea and give you more energy – but if you’re not feeling good then skip it and don’t beat yourself up over it.
You’re finally starting to show and while that makes you adorable in your maternity clothes it also means that your uterus is large enough to start putting pressure on your vena cava when you lie on your back. This doesn’t happen for everyone but if it does happen for you, you’ll know it. As soon as you start feeling dizzy, light-headed and/or nauseated, sit up! And you should skip back work for the remainder of your pregnancy. Another fun thing to look out for is “round ligament pain” that happens usually when you twist to the side but can strike even when you’re standing still. It feels like you’re being zapped with an electric cattle prod.
The upside to this tri is that the morning sickness is usually gone and you have some more energy. You can keep weight lifting and cardio, again as long as it is feeling good. Just take extra care to maintain good form as the hormone relaxin is pumping through your body now and it will loosen up all your joints making it easier to injure yourself. Keep hitting the iron but this is not the time to go for that back squat record is all I’m saying.
Things are starting to get serious – you have little feet jammed into your lungs, massive heart burn, swollen feet and the tiredness is back – and while you may feel like clocking out until the baby’s born staying active will help you both mentally and physically, especially as delivery time approaches. This is the time to really watch your step, however. Your balance is shot, you probably can’t see your feet anymore and it’s easy to misjudge how far out your belly really does extend so take it easy doing things like advanced yoga poses, step classes and other sports where you have a risk of falling. Also, while those Olympic ladies I listed up above managed to run through their whole pregnancies I’ve never been able to do that through mine. Sometime during this tri my hip flexors (the part where your leg attaches to your hip) give out and jogging becomes excruciatingly painful so I don’t. Plus they say walking helps get labor going!
Wait, what? Don’t worry, you will only be pregnant for 40(ish) weeks. I promise. Yes, the baby has to come out eventually. But those first three months after the baby is born ought to be considered their own trimester as your body is still going through massive hormonal, physical and mental changes. If there was ever a time to be gentle with yourself this is it, ladies.
Between sleepless nights, sore nipples (and by “sore” I mean “eaten by aardvarks”) and the post-partum blues, workouts are going to be really hard to fit in. And you know what? The research supports rest! Studies have shown that women who exercise intensely right after having a baby not only don’t lose the weight faster but also up their risk of getting sick. So take it easy and use this time to get to know your new little one! Another great post-partum tip is to use a belly wrap, it will help your ab muscles knit back together and will also help support you and hold you in.
The trick with pregnancy – okay, with all things really – is moderation. I’m very bad at moderation. But being responsible for the very life of another person has a way of even making me be (sort-of) reasonable. So do exercise! But not too much. Or too little. Most of all just enjoy this time – as much as you can puking your guts out by the seafood counter in the grocery store – because it really is only 9 months out of your whole life.
What’s been your experience with exercise during pregnancy? Anyone said anything crazy to you about your pregnant self?
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!