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Staying Fit During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is such a crazy time! First trimester, you feel sick and tired. Second trimester can be a lot better, but then the third trimester comes along, and you feel tired again. Unfortunately, tiredness is a downward spiral. You feel tired, so you don’t exercise, which actually makes you feel more tired. So, how to break out of the cycle? Have a goal!
Some people just love to exercise. If you’re one of those people, chances are you don’t really even need this encouragement. I am not one of those people. But, I love being active. I love things that involved exercise, like rock climbing and hiking and skiing, but I don’t love to exercise just to exercise. Cue up: the goal. If I have some kind of event to work towards, I can more easily motivate myself to train for that event, knowing that my routine exercise is what will allow me the excitement of participating in the event.
Before going any further, let me give you a bit of my personal history. My son turned 2 in September, which means I got pregnant in January of 2011. My husband and I had season ski passes to Breckenridge and had been a couple of times already. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I decided to go the home birth route and began looking for a midwife. I found one I liked pretty quickly, and I asked her about skiing. Let’s just say she wasn’t enthusiastic. Now, she wasn’t the type to outright tell me I couldn’t do it, but she definitely didn’t recommend skiing. I did it anyway. Now, I stayed on very easy hills, and I went to a different part of the mountain where it wasn’t as crowded to minimize my risk of colliding with another skier. I skied very slowly and cautiously, and nothing happened. Then as we were driving home, we stopped to use the restroom, and I had a bright red gush of blood. I was crushed, convinced I was losing the baby. I was 10 weeks along at that point, and my first official prenatal appointment was just a couple days away (my initial meeting with my midwife was an interview). I called her in a panic from the car, and she said it could be a miscarriage or it could be nothing, and the truth would be in whether or not I continued bleeding. I stopped bleeding, and an ultrasound at my appointment confirmed that everything was fine. Needless to say, I didn’t go skiing again, even though I’m 100% convinced that it had nothing to do with the bleeding incident.
Unfortunately, I continued to have spotting on and off for 16 weeks, and I was too scared to exercise at all. By the time I was no longer spotting, I was completely out of the routine of exercising. At every appointment my midwife would ask if I had been exercising, and I would feel ashamed to have to say no. And then my husband would kind of give me a hard time about it in the car on the way home. Finally, after one appointment (don’t remember exactly when, but probably near the end of my second trimester or beginning of the third) he kind of put his foot down and said that I needed to be exercising, and even went so far as to buy me a couple of pregnancy workout DVDs. Now, part of my was a little offended by this, but I also knew he was looking out for my best interest.
I started doing my workout videos a couple times a week. One was yoga, which I found just wasn’t my thing. The other was a dance video, and that one was fun! And it made me thankful that the TV was in the basement where no one could see my pathetic dance moves.
Something is better than nothing, but all that lethargy during the first half of my pregnancy took its toll. I had an absolutely fantastic birth experience at home, but I was completely wiped out for quite a while afterward! Now, I firmly believe that we should take time to rest, rest, rest, after having a baby – it’s a major ordeal! In fact, my midwife forbade me from leaving the second floor of my house for 3 solid days, and my current midwife has the same philosophy. But I remember shuffling down the hallway, barely able to pick my feet off the floor, and thinking, man, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck! In fact, 5 days after the birth, I took a short stroll to the mailbox halfway around the block, and that was about all I could handle for the day.
After so many months of wearing maternity clothes, they kind of lose their appeal after the baby is born, and I found myself very eager to get back to me pre-pregnancy shape. Breastfeeding did wonderful things for me, but I also decided I needed to have a goal. My husband helped with that – he said we were going to repeat the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon (half marathon for me) in Phoenix that we had done the previous January, just 4 months after having my son. (I was actually pregnant when I ran it the year before, but only by a few days and I didn’t know it yet.) I thought it would be fitting to do the same race again a year later. PLEASE NOTE: I did not set a goal of setting any kind of personal record; I simply wanted to finish. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, pregnancy is a big deal to your body, and pushing too hard too fast can cause permanent damage to your body. The key is to listen to your body and stop when you need to stop, and let the weight fall off at YOUR body’s pace, not your best friend’s who had her skinny jeans on the day after giving birth (I HATE those people, don’t you?! 🙂 ). So I trained at a pretty slow pace, but gradually upped my distance until I felt ready to do the half marathon. The week of the race, I was at my pre-pregnancy weight, and I felt prouder completing that race in 2:29 than I had finishing in 1:58 the year before. And, the weight continued to fall off as I stayed active and continued breastfeeding, until I bottomed out at 8 pounds lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight.
While I was enjoying a body I hadn’t had since high school, a good high school friend of mine was going through her second pregnancy. She had worked really hard to get in shape after her first baby, and she participated in CrossFit through her entire second pregnancy. She is also passionate about home birth, so of course I wanted to get the entire story after she had her second baby. She had a great birth experience both times, but the second time she told me she didn’t even feel like she’d had a baby. Some of that may have to do with the fact that typically second births tend to be a bit easier, but I give tons of credit to the fact that she stayed very active the second time around. I decided then and there that my next pregnancy would be very different.
That brings us to my current pregnancy. I got pregnant in March, and I’m 32 weeks along now. My husband has competed in triathlons of various distances, including the full Iron Man distance. I find that I tend to get sucked into his hobbies, and last year I decided to do a couple of sprint-distance triathlons myself.
I had done one several years ago that I didn’t really train for, so last summer (2012) was the first one I really put a lot of effort into. I came in 7th in my age group for the run portion of the triathlon, and that motivated me to work even hard to see if I could do better! Unfortunately, that was towards the end of the triathlon season, and I got food poisoning and had to quit in the middle of my next race. That was October, and I got pregnant in March, so it looked like this season wasn’t going to be an option for me. Then I thought, why not continue doing something I really enjoy? So I decided to participate in the same sprint triathlon that I did last year.
One caution I’ve read about exercising during pregnancy is that you shouldn’t start something you weren’t doing before. But, I was still in pretty good shape from my previous races, so that wasn’t a problem for me. Now, I will throw out this caveat: if you weren’t exercising at all before getting pregnant, that does NOT mean you shouldn’t exercise while you’re pregnant! It just means you’re going to have to start slow and listen carefully to your body. But someone who was a triathlete or a marathoner before conceiving can definitely exercise during pregnancy at a different level of intensity than a beginner.
A 12-week training plan was included with the triathlon I signed up for, so I decided to follow that for the most part. The plan included at what heart rate intensity the racer should train, but pregnant women need to be careful about not getting their heart rate too high, as that can decrease oxygen going to the baby. So I disregarded the heart rate portion of the plan and just stuck to the distances and/or times recommended. At first I didn’t want to tell my midwife what I was doing b/c I remembered her disapproval of skiing. Unfortunately, I wrecked my bike a few weeks into training, and my family convinced me that I should probably get her blessing on what I was doing.
So, I came clean with my midwife, had her look over the training plan, and she gave me the ok. She did caution me about riding my bike. Bike riding, in general, can be a great low-impact activity early in pregnancy, but you need to be aware that your growing belly can throw off your balance. My wreck happened simply because I did not follow the age-old cycling advice: “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” I saw the street sloping down into a drain, I looked at it, and that’s exactly where my bike went. After that I stuck to riding loops in my neighborhood, since it was familiar and not high-traffic. If you don’t have experience riding on the road, don’t start while you’re pregnant. It’s just not worth it. But if bike riding interests you, you can get a bike trainer to turn your bike into a stationary bike and ride indoors, which is what I did a lot of the time. Having a toddler can make finding time for exercise a challenge, so I often rode outside after dinner when my husband could take over parenting duties, and if that didn’t work out, I would ride in the basement on my trainer after his bedtime.
I was able to take advantage of child care at the gym in order to train for the swimming portion of the event, and I trained for the run portion often running in my neighborhood after dark, or running on the treadmill at the gym or in my basement. Now, I didn’t actually “run.” I found that it was just too difficult for me to keep my heart rate/breathing under control when I ran, so I decided to walk that part of the race.
About halfway through the training plan, I had a hard time sticking to it. The training plan is meant for beginners, but it’s meant for beginners who want to put in a decent showing in the race. I wasn’t interested in performing competitively; I simply wanted to finish, and the whole motivation behind the race was to give me motivation to stay in shape during my pregnancy. So I modified the training plan and just did what I could do.
As a side note, I don’t recall being overly tired during my first trimester. As a stay-at-home mom, I did get to take naps from time to time, but I really think that exercising helped keep my energy level up.
Race day came at the end of August, and I had a blast! I swam slowly and biked slowly. The most challenging part of the race for me was the run. Everyone around me was running, and I wanted to run too! I’m not a great swimmer or cyclist, but I’m an ok runner, so it was hard for me to just walk. I decided to speed-walk instead, since I could do that without getting out of breath. Unfortunately, I hadn’t trained for speed walking. What I didn’t realize at the time is that speed walking actually uses a different set of muscles than regular walking, and I hadn’t trained that set of muscles. My legs hurt BADLY for 2 days after the race. If I had just walked normally, I don’t think I would have even been sore. Thankfully sore legs are not a danger to the baby.
I came in fourth-to-last place in my age group – ha! I found it a little amusing. But I had finished, and I had stayed in shape for the first half of my pregnancy. Even if I hadn’t finished (when you’re pregnant, you simply CANNOT have a “finish at all costs” mentality!), I had still met my original goal of exercising regularly during pregnancy.
Now comes the time to admit my failures. My momentum from the race was hijacked by the fact that we moved a week after my race. It was definitely crummy timing, and my sore legs made it hard to pack. And, with all the packing, I didn’t have time or energy left over for exercising. I mean, come on! Packing is kind of like exercising in itself, isn’t it? And once we moved out of our old house, we had to move in to our new house. I made the mistake of walking around barefoot for several days in a row, and I developed plantar fasciitis. It was very painful, and one of the ways to get rid of it is rest. And man, once I get in the habit of rest, it’s so hard to break out of it!
I took a few weeks off to recover from the race, recover from packing, and figure out our new life. I didn’t exercise beyond very, very slow walks with my 2 yr old. It’s just so hard to get in a decent walk with a little person who wants to stop and examine every dead worm. We live in Longmont, which is in Boulder County. If you heard anything about the floods in and around Boulder, you can imagine that we had a lot of dead worms!
Finally got settled in and found a new midwife, and one of her questions, of course, was about my exercising! As well as I had done until my race, I was ashamed that I had fallen off the wagon. Though I didn’t fully realize it, I had extremely low energy. I thought it was because laziness breeds laziness. Have you ever noticed that if you sleep in really late, you actually feel more tired the rest of the day? The same is true if you don’t regularly exercise. You feel like you don’t have the energy to exercise so you don’t, when if fact if you did, it would energize you.
I am SO thankful she decided to do a simple finger prick blood test to check my blood sugar and iron. Blood sugar was fine, but I had very, very low iron. She recommended that I start taking the iron supplement Floradix (it’s a liquid available at health food stores). I finally got around to buying it several days later, and…WOW! It changed my life. While my lack of exercise may have played into my low energy, I actually had legitimately low energy because I had low iron. Even after taking it for a day I noticed a difference. I recommitted to exercising regularly, and I actually have the energy to do so. Take from that what you will. It’s normal to feel a bit more tired than normal during pregnancy, but if it’s hard to motivate yourself to get off the couch, it’s possible that there’s more lacking than just motivation – you could be low on iron or something else, and it’s worth getting checked out. If I had known about my iron levels before moving, I could have been so much better at packing! But I was so wiped out by the end of the day, that it was hard to do anything else after my little guy was in bed.
And that brings us up to today! I still have a harder time exercising now that I don’t have a “goal,” but I try to remind myself that the goal is to be in good shape going into labor so I have an easier recovery, and so I can devote time and energy to my newborn AND my toddler. I have a DVD called The Perfect Pregnancy Workout, and it’s HARD! It’s hosted by a former Cirque du Soleil performer, and I find it very challenging, while still being perfectly safe for pregnancy. I also do the dance video I did last pregnancy, I swim at the gym, and sometimes I just walk laps around the walking track at the gym. And I have to say, I honestly don’t think I feel any more tired now than I did before I was pregnant.
Despite my work, I have gained more weight so far in this pregnancy than I had at this point in my last pregnancy. Am I worried? No. I’m staying active, I’m eating well, and my body is storing away what it needs to for the baby. At my last check, I had gained 30 pounds, and I still had 10 weeks to go at that point. That probably sounds like a lot. But it’s important to fuel the baby building process! That doesn’t mean let yourself go, pig out, eat whatever you want. But it does mean eat when you’re hungry, eat good, whole foods, don’t try to diet, stay active, and don’t worry about the rest (unless you have high blood pressure, in which case I’d recommend looking into the Brewer diet, http://www.drbrewerpregnancydiet.com/, which essentially consists of eating massive amounts of protein). With my last pregnancy, I started at 106, got up to 142, back to 106 within 4 months, and ultimately got down to 98. I was 98 when I got pregnant this time, I have no idea what I’ll get up to, but I’m confident that with proper eating and exercising, I’ll lose it again after this baby. For me, it comes down to setting a goal and then working towards it.
What ways do you or have you tried to stay active while pregnant?
Disclaimer: All information presented during this event is purely personal opinion and shared for educational purposes only. The information contained herein is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise, weight-loss, or nutrition program. Please note, My Life: A Work in Progress does not necessarily endorse any opinions presented by guest writers during this event. Not all exercise or nutrition programs are suitable for everyone.