Exercise + Pregnancy
Yoga isn’t the only option for moving your body during pregnancy, but it sure is one that’s a great one to incorporate!
Before I was pregnant, I’d wonder what the landscape would look like if, one day, I were to become pregnant later.
While I’d had plenty of friends whom I’d met through triathlon who’d had babies both before and after (and in between!) their racing careers, the most I could gather was that there would clearly be a time period where training would be… different.
But just how different?
This was the question that begged to be addressed, and quite honestly one that factored in to our decision to have children now, ‘later in life’ as opposed to 10 years or more ago.
Research included trying to find any reliably sourced information online, looking for books relating to pregnancy and exercise and simply speaking to other women who race competitively as an age group athlete as I do, as well as those who race professionally.
With the exception of the last option, direct communication with a handful of other women, I came up empty handed, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until a month or two passed that I realized how valid the theory of continuing to do what the body is already used to doing, albeit with some modification, of course, is the recipe for success for each individual woman.
As with any new endeavor which I’ve chosen to embark upon and teach myself how to, in the beginning, I sought a leader or someone to impart some pearls of wisdom.
Accordingly, I did indeed follow the advice given by the doctor initially, but only for less than a week.
The advice was that I could exercise: I could do light walking.
For that brief moment in time, I obeyed the rule which resulted in me feeling like I was walking on eggshells.
Exactly what I was worried about happening, I can’t even remember but suffice it to say wherever it was it was completely fear based. Which is not remotely how I live any other part of my life!
I had to review the facts.
- It’s a fact that extreme heat is a no-go. Studies have shown that some babies exposed to high temperatures (like those of a hot tub or sauna) during the first trimester experience serious complications to the brain and/or spinal cord (1). Effective immediately, I stopped my 3x /week 30 minute sauna.
- It’s also a fact that my resting heart rate, normally 39 bpm, as well as heart rate throughout the day and during exercise would be elevated. Starting in the first trimester, resting heart rate will elevate by 15 to 20 beats per minute. As is the case with all of the major organ systems, cardiovascular changes that take place during pregnancy are believed to be triggered by hormonal signals, primarily increases in progesterone and estrogen, which alert the body to the presence of a fetus (2). So, heart rate would have to be modified. No problem. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be long before the little guy would start pressing on my lungs anyway, so even if, for some reason, I had felt an urge to do a redline workout, I would not have been able to, simply because I would not have been able to breathe!
- Another fact: as my body changed, specifically as the baby grows and the belly begins to protrude, the center of gravity shifts (and later, so does ability to forward bend). Solution? Modify bike position into what appears a quite silly, upright pose so I can still spin inside on my trainer in our gym. I didn’t start showing until about 6 months, but I still felt the changes quite early on, particularly with regard to what felt like limited lung capacity.
- Lastly, as body shape changes, certain poses in yoga begin to feel uncomfortable and / or are not recommended. Some are obvious, like Salabhasana, in which one lies on their stomach and lifts legs and arms off the ground; others, not so much, such as the recommendation not to twist. After the embryo implants itself in the uterus at around week 4 of pregnancy, the placenta begins to form and eventually attaches to the uterine wall (3).
As each day progressed, and I continued to feel well overall despite nausea, which never manifested into actually getting sick, so it was quite easy to not give it any life, I remembered more and more that all the answers would be within and that just like during a race or training session (pardon the analogy but given the topic, seems appropriate), tuning into what my body’s signals were would prove to be all the guidance I’d need.
And another development unfolded, which took me by the most pleasant surprise: I noticed I felt completely fine, even ecstatic about the way my body was telling me to move at a slower pace and I experience not one iota of concern of detraining, not being able to compete again post baby or anything of the like.
For me, this was huge. I’ve always been such a type A person, that missing a workout was never an option, running in a circle to make sure the mile marker on my Garmin ended evenly was the norm and taking a day off was unquestionable.
Despite all this, an automatic switch must have flipped in my brain in the most beautiful way.
I’m going on long hikes with the dogs instead of running (which just feels clunky at the moment), doing more yoga and swimming and riding my bike inside as described above.
Not worried if I take a day off and completely, honestly just feeling radiant.
Because my food story remains intact, having stuck with tried and true methodology I’ve followed for years which turns out to be exactly what baby needs, too, the body changes are all within the growing belly.
I never bought into the idea of eating for two inasmuch as the second person for quite a few months is about the size of a pea, per my doctor, so continuing to eat as I normally due has kept me feeling fab!
Doing what the body is already used to doing pregnancy but making modifications accordingly has been the theme that’s working best for me.
I won’t be taking up MMA or football any time soon, but I saw no good reason to remain comfortable with light walking as my only means of moving my body.
I’ve been an endurance athlete for over 20 years; arguably, stopping abruptly would be far more disruptive than modifying as the baby grows.
Benefits to the baby as well as mom of keeping active and fit during pregnancy are tremendous, including but not limited to (4):
- Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- May help prevent, or treat, gestational diabetes
- Increases your energy
- Improves your mood
- Improves your posture
- Promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance
- Helps you sleep better
- Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after your baby is born.
Combine that with some common sense and this may well be the recipe for each of us to sort out our own preggie routines.
Not quite comfortable with this approach?
Two things: double check with your functional medicine partitioner and consider working with a fitness professional.
Seek someone with a degree in exercise physiology from an accredited university plus a legitimate training certification such as ACSM or NASM.
As a former fitness trainer holding both credentials, I can share first hand that it is far too easy to find unqualified trainers and now, as your baby’s developing inside you, is not the time to cut corners on cost for a less expensive trainer.
Your health and your baby’s may depend on it.