10 Fitness Insights for Expectant Moms
Expecting? Congrats, mama! Pregnancy is quite the journey, but it pays off to welcome your precious little one into the world.
As a personal trainer and a new mom, my journey through pregnancy and postpartum recovery has had its challenges – some expected, and some surprising. Each trimester comes with new changes to your fitness routine and lifestyle. Read on as I share my own perspective and experience with pregnancy, and what I learned…
The First Trimester…
1. Continue to exercise. Generally, you can safely continue your current exercise routine throughout the first trimester without modifications. However, listen to your instincts and your body, and adjust anything that doesn’t feel right to you. Everyone’s experience is different. You may have days where you are tired and exercise doesn’t seem feasible (or appealing). Rest until you feel better. Also, be wary of adding new high-impact exercises, classes, or workouts at this time. It’s best to stick with what you know and what your body is already accustomed to. Be sure to get clearance from your doctor before exercising.
2. Stay hydrated. Up your water intake and drink to thirst. Carry a water bottle everywhere and keep one by your bedside. I know it’s hard because you might be constantly running to the bathroom (especially in the coming months)! But your body demands more water to accommodate your growing baby and to keep you healthy at the same time. And if you are experiencing morning sickness, you will need to drink more to make up for water loss.
3. Nutrition is extremely important. Now is the time to begin adjusting your diet. For me, I was constantly hungry, so nutritious and filling meals and snacks were a must. (They also helped curb my nausea, though your experience may vary.) Protein-rich foods like nuts, eggs, low-mercury fish (such as salmon) and lean meat kept me feeling full and also provide much-needed iron. Pregnant women tend to go at least slightly anemic, so be sure to get an appropriate amount of iron each day. (Prenatal vitamins are great and should be taken each day, but they often lack the amount of iron one really needs.) Whole grains, legumes, and green leafy veggies contain folic acid, which is key in proper fetal development. Discuss vitamin and mineral needs with your doctor.
(And try not to skip meals. I had an episode of vasovagal syncope in week 11 of my pregnancy. In the middle of the night, I passed out on the bathroom floor. I didn’t have dinner the night before because I thought I felt full and thought I didn’t need it. I also got out of bed too quickly and should have moved more slowly. I think these two things contributed to my fainting episode. Luckily, baby and I were fine!)
The Second Trimester…
4. You may find you get a lot of your energy back. This is a common experience I hear from expectant moms, and something I experienced myself. Whereas the first trimester often comes with fatigue, the body tends to bounce back in the second trimester. Take advantage of this time to continue to exercise as your doctor advises. Low-impact activities such as walking, prenatal yoga, and water exercise are great for those beginning to exercise during their pregnancy. With proper instruction, resistance training is beneficial to Mom in that it conditions her body for pregnancy and childbirth, as well as strengthens her body for motherhood. (Trust me, you’ll want to have the strength to lift baby and all of baby’s gear!)
Classes and groups are also a great time to meet other expectant moms. We had a great time in my prenatal Small Group Training getting strong while bonding over our pregnancies. The training focused on functional movements that become important as a new mom, as well as targeting areas of the body that need extra TLC during pregnancy. (Contact me if you are interested in prenatal training.)
5. Now is the time to modify exercises. After the first trimester, it’s time to modify any movements that have you lying supine (on your back) or prone (on your stomach). Avoid any exercise involving a high risk of falling, impact to the body, and rapid twisting movements. As your bump gets bigger, move planks and push-ups from your toes to your knees to take pressure off your lower back.
6. Increase your caloric intake, but don’t go crazy. Weight gain is healthy and expected, but should be monitored. “Eating for two” in the sense of doubling your caloric intake is not advised. Generally, pregnant women need to increase their daily intake by only about 300-500 calories.
The Third Trimester…
7. Health (yours and baby’s) always trumps exercise. Most women will be able to safely continue exercise well into, and perhaps throughout, the third trimester. However, depending on your situation, your doctor may advise against it, and there are warning signs to watch out for.
In week 34 of my pregnancy, I experienced what I thought was amniotic fluid leakage. Instead of training clients and teaching group exercise that day, I went to the doctor to get the issue checked out. The doctor couldn’t find evidence of amniotic fluid leaking, and the leaking stopped, so I continued to work. Still, I felt like something might be off.
Then, after an ultrasound at 37 weeks (to take a look at our breech baby), I had to check into the hospital for monitoring due to low amniotic fluid. I was advised not to exercise or go to work for the rest of my pregnancy. We just narrowly missed having to have a C-section that day, and I was relieved to hear the baby was okay. But I felt disappointed, too…I had planned to work throughout my entire pregnancy, even if it meant that my water broke in front of my Zumba class! :)
However, resting at home was the best thing to do for my baby and myself. And in the end, our healthy baby boy was born just four days before my due date.
(I share my story not to scare any expectant moms, but to show that sometimes the unexpected happens, even in some of the healthiest women. Be prepared for plans to change.)
Generally, exercising during pregnancy is beneficial. However, be on the lookout for red flags such as dizziness, dehydration, fluid leakage, pain, and bleeding. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising immediately and seek medical attention. And if you ever feel like something isn’t right, follow your instincts.
8. Get your doctor’s clearance before resuming or beginning exercise, and go slowly. I knew it would be tough, but I was still surprised by just how much my body needed to rest and heal after childbirth. Walking, though it may sound very easy to those who are used to more high-impact workouts, is plenty challenging in those first months postpartum.
How much exercise postpartum is too much? If your workout is triggering an increase in lochia (postnatal bleeding and discharge), you’re doing too much. Reduce the intensity and/or length of your walk or workout, and wait a few days before increasing these things again.
9. Don’t be afraid to seek help and take time for yourself. The “baby blues” and postpartum depression are very real, and they are more common than you may realize. They are also nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends and take up their offers to help with baby and around the house. There are many free groups in the community that exist to support new mothers in a safe, friendly setting. Your health care provider or hospital should provide you with info on these groups. For some mothers, professional counseling is helpful.
In those early weeks of motherhood, I found myself physically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelmed with taking care of my baby, as well as recovering from childbirth. There were times where I felt hopeless. Talking openly to my husband and to fellow moms about all the feelings I was having, without being judged, was key to my recovery. So was getting outdoors – though at first it wasn’t exercise (which I missed very badly), simply sitting outside or going for a short stroll around the yard each day was refreshing and helped me kick “cabin fever” to the curb.
10. Your body will change. And it’s okay! After giving birth, your body will look and feel differently than before you were pregnant. For example, you may find you have wider hips, a broader rib cage, and a softer tummy. One of the biggest challenges women experience is a weakening of the core muscles and pelvic floor. (Kegels are strongly recommended to do every day during your pregnancy and in the postpartum period, too.) Try not to feel discouraged. You are perfectly capable of gaining your strength back – it’s just a matter of time. Consider seeking professionals like physical therapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers as needed to help relieve pain and restrengthen the muscles that have stretched and atrophied during pregnancy. Focus less on losing the “baby weight” and more on your strength, your energy level, and how you feel in general. Take things one day at a time and be happy with the small bits of progress you make along the way. And always remember: you’re one awesome mama!
Interested in optimizing your prenatal/postnatal workouts? Contact me about individual training as well as small group training possibilities. And beginning in June 2017, check out my Prenatal Water group exercise class at Albemarle Square Thursdays at 12:15!