One of my biggest pre-pregnancy fears was watching my body change. Some questions that ran through my head were “Is it going to be safe to work out to the extent I am now?”, “Am I going to feel well enough to exercise?”, “Will I want to exercise?”, and “Will I actually be able to get my body back with a little one around?” These thoughts can be very overwhelming, and I decided I’d need to take it day by day. Despite my drive and motivation, I had lots of doubts and knew I would need support to reach my goals.
So I started at square one. Can I exercise and if so how much? Through the grape vine I’d heard things like I’d be limited to walking, I shouldn’t lift anything over 50 lbs, and I definitely shouldn’t do any abdominal exercises… Well I quickly learned that 1) rumors spread faster than concrete facts 2) recommendations frequently change over time. In 2016, the American College of Sports Medicine conducted a metanalysis that showed exercise during pregnancy can prevent gestational diabetes, decrease the risk for preeclampsia, increase the likelihood of having a baby of normal birth weight, and prevent excess maternal weight gain (Wing & Stannard, 2016). To be more specific they laid out guidelines as follows: previously sedentary women can start being physically active and gradually increase over time; previously active women can stay active or continue their regular exercise regimen; and women who were used to training intensely may continue to do so and there is no longer any heart rate restriction according to the American College of Obstetricians guidelines (Wing & Stannard, 2016). As all these articles recommended I do, I discussed with my OB my individual circumstances and I was encouraged to continue my regimen as long as I wasn’t breaking any personal records.
The reason I chose to remain on an exercise and nutrition plan during pregnancy was because I needed someone to hold me accountable and manage my nutrition that was not emotionally involved. Between hormone swings, exhaustion, and watching my body change, my thought process was not in a place that would have benefited me managing my own plan. My nutrition was not perfect my whole pregnancy; however, following a plan even 80% of the time prevented excessive weight gain and the emotional stress that comes with that. Things definitely changed in terms of I ate more of what I wanted/craved rather than “what I should eat” all the time. That’s the beauty of a macronutrient plan. If it fits it fits and you still get to say at the end of the day “I met my goal.” A trick I used was taking it day by day. If I thought about a whole pregnancy plan in one day then I would feel extremely overwhelmed. There are days in pregnancy you feel pretty good, some ok, and some awful. I accepted that and did what I could. I meal prepped so that there was something I could easily eat and I wasn’t as tempted by take out. I continued to weigh in, sounds daunting right? It actually helped me a lot. My coach would say great you’re gaining weight appropriately or pull back a little bit or increase calories. Either way it was out of my hands and I had someone looking at me from a recommended pregnancy weight gain perspective. There was no judgement, just small adjustments and holding me accountable.
In addition to my own health, I wanted to do this for my baby. Only about 40% of women exercise during pregnancy in the United States. Obesity during pregnancy not only carries risks for the moms, but also for the child. According to Cooper & Yang, obese mothers are more likely to have spontaneous abortions, preterm births, stillbirths, and neural tube defects such as cleft palate, spina bifida, and hydrocephalus (2017). For these risks alone, obstetricians are doing their best to encourage women to exercise throughout their pregnancy.
After having my daughter, my recovery was slow. I put coaching on hold for the first two months postpartum. I ended up with a c-section because my daughter remained breached throughout my pregnancy. The first week I couldn’t walk to the end of our street without feeling a little woozy. By the end of week two, I was able to get off the Tylenol and ibuprofen and actually do a slow walking lap around the block. The first month I mostly walked with some light upper body weights. At four weeks, postpartum I started pulling up my past exercise regimens and modifying them. At two months I was back on an exercise plan. I had moments that I worried it was too soon, but I promised to make this happen for myself. The actual coordination of fitting in a work out was challenging and often interrupted with diaper changes or a feeding, but it was doable. My coach knew I was breast feeding so my intake was large enough so that I continued to produce milk and very gradually started losing weight. I didn’t feel starving and my coach always checked to make sure I was feeling well and felt the plan was doable. In addition to wanting my pre-pregnancy body back, I also knew exercise would help me mentally. I never expected to be an anxious mom. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty logical; however, between the hormones and caring for a tiny human that you would do anything for I was definitely not in my normal mind set. I’ve watched friends suffer from postpartum depression, which is out of our control in so many ways. I found a metanalysis that gathered information from 12 studies from 1990 to 2016 that concluded exercise during pregnancy and in the postpartum period can improve mental health and reduce postpartum depression (Poyatos-Leon et al., 2017). This may not work in all cases; however, it may help in mild and moderate cases.
I started adding my supplements back in after I stopped breastfeeding with the exception of whey protein and casein protein powder. This was a personal preference. Unfortunately, there aren’t studies on pregnancy and supplements simply because it’s considered unethical. I used protein powders throughout pregnancy as long as they didn’t have other supplements added. I felt safe with protein powder as it has been around for years and derived from foods we eat. I chose to forego other supplements as I wouldn’t feel safe giving them to a baby so I figured I probably shouldn’t be giving them to a developing fetus either. While postpartum I attempted a couple different intra and pre-workouts and quickly stopped because I saw a direct correlation to it upsetting my daughters stomach when I breastfed. She was clearly uncomfortable with gas pains and would cry until she passed that milk. Several friends also told me their kids had the same reaction. I restarted other supplements when I stopped breast feeding at 6 months postpartum. I was still able to progress without them and was back at my pre-pregnancy weight at 4 months postpartum.
I’m very happy I continued on a plan throughout pregnancy and postpartum as I feel like it’s benefitted me physically and mentally. Although it was challenging at times, accomplishing my goals has made me happier and likely benefitted my daughter in terms of having a happy mom and setting a positive example. It’s reassuring to me that my choices were supported by research and other health professionals like myself. I’ll definitely follow a similar path when we’re ready for baby number two!
Read more from Emily at her blog – https://bedellifefitness.wordpress.com/
Cooper, D., & Yang, L. (2017, June 14). Pregnancy and Exercise. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://europepmc.org/article/NBK/nbk430821
Poyatos‐León, R., García‐Hermoso, A., Sanabria‐Martínez, G., Álvarez‐Bueno, C., Cavero‐Redondo, I., & Martínez‐Vizcaíno, V. (2017, June 06). Effects of exercise‐based interventions on postpartum depression: A meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/birt.12294
Wing, C., & Stannard, A. (2016, April). Pregnancy and Exercise Guidelines: Fifty Years Makes a… : ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2016/…