Everything I needed to know about staying fit during pregnancy…

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting | 0 comments

I’m no fitness goddess by any means, but I love a good workout. There is nothing that makes me feel more powerful than the feeling of sweat dripping down my back, knowing that I pushed my body to its limit and that I was strong enough to do it. It’s at once my release and a source of energy. It helps me face life and all of its stressors and obstacles head on. So of course, while I was pregnant I had no intention of giving any of that up! However, in the early months of my pregnancy I read a lot of different guidance about fitness and exercise.

There is one thing that everyone agrees: exercise during pregnancy is great and most expectant mums should exercise, frequently. Beyond that I read lots of different information about the intensity and type of exercises pregnant women should be doing.  

For example, an early book I read on fitness during pregnancy warned not to exceed a heart rate of 150 bpm due to fears that it may lead to overheating. A body temperature over 102 degrees fahrenheit or 39 degrees celsius is a serious concern: early in pregnancy it can lead to neural tube defects, the development of cleft lips and palates, or slow down fetal growth. However, unless we are exercising in very hot and humid conditions (without air conditioning!) or strenuously for very long periods of time, the likelihood that our body temperatures would increase enough to cause harm is slim. And when I tried scaling back, it just didn’t satisfy me. 

As I researched more, I saw a consensus emerge in more recent research that pregnant women should continue the exercise that they were doing before pregnancy. And for women who weren’t exercising before pregnancy, it was a good time to start. That doesn’t mean training for a marathon or trying to achieve new fitness feats. But most pregnant women should go for a good, brisk walk for thirty minutes at least three times a week and do some strength training to help keep muscles strong, toned and prepared for labor.  

Of course, pregnant women do need to take some precautions and make some modifications, like avoiding contact sports. The pregnancy hormone relaxin also loosens our joints, which increases pregnant women’s flexibility, but can also lead to over extension injuries. And of course, you should consult your ob/gyn or midwife, especially if you have any physical conditions! 

So throughout my pregnancy I tried to exercise just as much as I did before hand and almost as intensely. For me, that meant spinning, a body pump class or two, and yoga in some combination at least five days a week.

It wasn’t always easy: during my first trimester I was tired all the time. I couldn’t get enough sleep! And with my long commute to and from work, I found that getting to the gym was hard. So I treated myself to a Peloton spinning bike that let me work out whenever I had the time and energy during the week. And on the weekends I took a yoga class and a body pump class. 

Of course I did have to modify to accommodate my changing body and extra weight and to prevent injury.  On my spinning bike, that meant raising the handle bars incrementally throughout my pregnancy as my ability to bend at the waist decreased. For strength training, that meant doing exercises that I’d normally do flat on my back on an incline, like chest presses or abdominal crunches, to prevent compressing my vena cava and diminishing blood flow to the uterus. It also meant decreasing my weights for some exercises and doing squats with a wider base to my changing center of gravity. And for yoga, it meant avoiding exercises that required me to lie on my stomach and deep twists starting in the second trimester.  My body pump and yoga instructors helped me modify as I needed to and provided great guidance throughout my pregnancy. And if I had any doubts about whether I should be doing a specific exercise, I erred on the side of caution and did something else. I also listened carefully to my body: if I felt like something was too much, I did scale it back. There was no way that I was putting myself or my little boy at risk just for the sake of doing one more push up!  

I took my last spinning class two days before I delivered and the evening my water broke I had taken a long walk on the treadmill. 

Many women I spoke with said that exercising during pregnancy contributed to easier and faster labors and deliveries. I ended up having an emergency cesarean, so didn’t get to test that out for myself. But in my case, it definitely helped to speed up my post-cesarean recovery. 

Taking time to recover after pregnancy for all women is essential and if you’ve had a cesarean then it really does take additional time. I did start walking as soon as I could though and as much as it hurt in those early days, it was worth it.  When I first hopped on the treadmill I was only able to walk at the lowest possible speed for ten minutes or so. Within a couple of weeks I was able to take good, fulfilling hour-long walks. And once I got the clearance from my obstetrician at my six-week postnatal visit, I got back on the saddle and eased back into spinning and started some light strength training.

There is increasing evidence that the children of women who exercise during pregnancy have better physical and mental health into adulthood and are more resilient. So if nothing else, hopefully I have helped to establish some of the conditions that will help my healthy, thriving baby boy become a healthy, thriving adult! 

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