Exercise during Pregnancy: then + now
If I could peg one huge difference between this pregnancy and my last, nearly five years ago, it would be my activity level. Staying fit during the first half of this pregnancy has made HUGE differences in how I feel, and how my body is responding to pregnancy. So I thought I would share the big differences between my first pregnancy, and my current; as well as some of the benefits I've experienced- as do many other women, staying active during pregnancy.
Pregnancy Exercise: the first time around
Before I became pregnant with Sage, I lived a fairly active life. I worked on my feet most days of the week, as a personal chef, teaching cooking classes and working for a vegetarian soup company. I walked around the city often on days off and weekends, but I wasn't what you would consider fit. I hadn't picked up a weight in, umm, years? I hadn't even been doing the bodyweight workouts that I enjoyed so much in preparation for my wedding two years prior. I did yoga on occasion and I'd go for a 20 minute run when the mood struck, but that was about it. As much as I enjoyed being active, I was definitely a "work out for an occasion" kind of girl. With a past history of obsessive exercise, I had enough of structured routines, which unfortunately resulted in a lack of fitness, overall- especially compared to the distance runner I had been in years prior. When I became pregnant, I knew being active was important, so around 8 weeks, I decided to head out for a run. Well, I made it about 10 minutes before feeling so out of breath and exhausted I scared myself into walking the rest of the way (no one told me about the increase in blood volume affecting exercise during pregnancy, that's for sure!). I tried again a couple times, making it up to a couple miles before quitting completely at 12 weeks. I decided to stick to walking for the rest of my pregnancy, and I faithfully walked 30-60 minutes a day for the remainder of my second and most of my third trimesters. I'd put my headphones on and got going. I never went very fast, but I was MOVING- which was awesome. I also worked on my feet, sometimes upwards of 12 hours a day, and did prenatal yoga once a week- so I was certainly active. But I wasn't fit. I felt entirely unprepared for labor, an entirely athletic activity, my hips were tight and difficult to open during delivery. Feeling exhausted before active labor even begins isn't something you want to experience during labor! I was very fortunate that despite threats of having to deliver surgically, I was able to have a vaginal birth- but it certainly wasn't what I had planned, and recovery was no cake walk either. Of course, as any new mother, I felt exhausted those first few weeks, but I didn't realize how weak I would feel, trying to lift a carseat multiple times a day, getting up and down off the ground often, and just the general movement required with a newborn. My abs were weak and my back and feet ached, both during the end of my pregnancy and postpartum. I wished all too late that I had prioritized strength and stretching in my pregnancy, despite being 'active', I felt weak and defeated after birth.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are vast and proven- improved symptoms, better sleep, increased circulation, reduced risk of complications. So this time around, I vowed to approach pregnancy exercise differently. I was much more fit before getting pregnant this time around, so that certainly helped, but even if you haven't been as active pre-pregnancy doesn't mean you can't focus on fitness while pregnant (just listen to your body, and your doctor or midwife, of course!).
How how has staying fit made a difference in my pregnancy, this time around?
The first trimester, as it is for many women, was tiring. I required more sleep and I was exhausted by the end of the day. I spent most days nauseous, and on the days I wasn't nauseated, I had heartburn that made lying down or standing uncomfortable (I know) and I won't lie- working out was the last thing I wanted to do most days. Fortunately, managing my nausea in the morning was something I tackled early on, so I had a good window in the earlier part of the day where I could get in a workout while still feeling good, and relax when I needed to in the latter part of the day.
Knowing I wanted more balance in my exercise routine this time around, I made up a simple- but flexible- workout schedule that I have loosely followed from the beginning. It looks something like this: Cardio 3-4x a week for endurance (as I was training for a 10-mile run in the beginning, this was mostly running, or walking on tired days, during this time) Strength 2-3x a week (weights or bodyweight- bodyweight felt best most days, I've added more weights as time has gone on) Core Strengthening 3x a week (after a workout or combined with workouts) This has looked something like this: Full body Bodyweight/HIIT workouts or strength workouts: 2-3x a week Running 2-3x a week Yoga/Pilates 1-2x a week Example: Monday: Full body strength workout + core
Tuesday: Run Wednesday: Yoga/Pilates + core Thursday: Run
Friday: Full body strength workout + core
Saturday: Run or Yoga/Pilates Please note- This is what works for ME, and as everyone is different, is not meant to be a prescriptive plan for exercise during pregnancy. Though as a certified personal trainer I do work with clients to develop an exercise routine that works for them, it is incredibly individualized and this is meant to be an example only.
This ends up looking like generally a 5-6 day a week workout routine, that is flexible, depending on how I am feeling that day, because listening to my body and my baby ALWAYS comes first. I'll take a walk some afternoons, or walk to the park or after dinner with the little one if I'm feeling good-- but again, it's all about how I feel, and no matter what- I strive for balance and feeling good throughout the day and an easier labor, delivery and recovery come November.
Some ways I've felt the difference this time around:
-normal blood pressure- my blood pressure was erratic, and eventually high, last pregnancy. this time it's been fairly normal (for me!) throughout.
-better blood glucose control. passing my early glucose test was HUGE and is no doubt a testament to better balance in my diet and exercise this time around
-less aches and pains already. I can feel my core is stronger and no back pain to report as of yet, aside from a little sciatica pain in my right leg after pushing too hard on a run.
-stronger! though I modify to avoid laying flat on my back, crunches to avoid diastasis recti and modify moves like plank, I am still able to do so many moves (like tricep pushups) that I never imagined I would at 20+ weeks pregnant. -more energy. though I'm still tired by 5 (typical) I generally feel good and energetic throughout the day, most days of the week.
Staying fit and active during pregnancy can make SUCH a huge difference in pregnancy, for both the health and energy of mom and baby. Don't be afraid to get moving (with your doctor or midwife's ok, of course!). I'm so happy I've maintained my fitness thus far in my pregnancy, and I only intend on continuing-- of course, with modifications as needed!
Have you felt a difference between two (or more) of your pregnancies, staying more fit and active? I'd love to hear!