WORKING OUT WHILE PREGNANT: A STORY OF GOOD INTENTIONS
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
I've been exercising with some regularity since I was in high school. I think it probably started with the only time I ever played a team sport - field hockey my freshman year. I was not an athlete and wasn't very good at sports, so I only played one season. But I did enjoy the exercise and even after I quit the team, I continued to tag along with my dad to the gym.
When I look back on the 17 (gasp) years since high school, I’m slightly shocked to realize that I’ve continued my work-out habits. That's not to say I haven't fallen off the wagon, going weeks or even months without doing much exercise. I've also never reached that 'super-in-shape' status that I've always wanted. But I think it's fair to say that I've kept myself moderately healthy and have even learned to enjoy the process.
When I was pregnant with Avi, I wanted to continue exercising. At the time, running was my activity of choice and I had completed several small races. I had read that if I was already a runner it would be safe to continue while pregnant, and so I made sure to train for and participate in my first half-marathon first. But when I had my first appointment with my OB, he told me to not only stop running, but that my heart rate couldn’t go above 140 beats per minute! At first, I was pretty upset. His reasons went against everything that I had read, including the official ACOG guidelines (The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology). I knew that he was holding on to old-school beliefs, but he was my doctor and I was a nervous first-time mom. So I stopped running and started using the elliptical.
For the first trimester and a half, I used the elliptical at half pace. I even got a personal trainer to help me with strength training. Things seemed to be going well, until I went in for my 20 week ultrasound. Pregnancy is full of surprises and I learned that I had a low lying placenta. Not an emergency, but there was some risk and I was told to be careful and not over due any physical activity. I got scared and promptly quit working out. I didn't do anything physical (besides a walk around the block and the occasional prenatal yoga class).
I’m proud to say that I did get back on the work-out wagon after Avi was born. And when I got pregnant with baby number two, I promised myself the experience would be different. First of all, I'm different. I'm more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more confident in my ability to listen to my body. I also stopped seeing the old-school doctor and instead joined a midwife practice that I love. I committed to working out, in some form or another, for my entire pregnancy. But I'll be honest, it's been easier said than done.
Working out while pregnant can be really hard. Let's just put that out there.
In the first trimester, I felt so incredibly crappy. I was fatigued, I was nauseated, and I had heartburn. My heart rate was high due to the increased blood in my body (a normal pregnancy side effect) and I had a hard time running at half my typical speed. I couldn’t work out as often as I had hoped, but I kept pushing. Even if that meant a slow jog when my prenatal program was telling me to run.
As the second trimester started, I began to feel better. I was able to work out more regularly, and enjoyed that ‘second trimester honeymoon period.’
I’m now 26 weeks and as I get closer to my third trimester my body is sending me messages to slow down. Logically and intellectually, I knew that this would happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. I’m not getting stronger or building new muscle. With each week, I can do less, not more. I'm gaining weight instead of losing. Obviously, this is supposed to happen, but it's a total mind eff for someone who's used to working towards results.
I worked out this morning and instead of feeling invigorated, my back hurts. So do my hips and my round ligament. I even had a few braxton hicks contractions while on the elliptical. None of this is dangerous (I checked with my midwife) but they are signs that I need to pay attention to. And while I find myself desperately wanting to push harder, I know that this isn’t what my body needs right now.
Today, I’m working on redefining my exercise goals. I workout because it keeps me calm. It gives me energy. Makes me feel healthy. So for those reasons, I'm committed to keeping it up the best I can, in the safest way possible. Today and for the next few months, it’s not about gaining muscle, getting stronger, raising my heart rate, or losing weight.
And, as always, I'm trying to give myself a little grace along the way.
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