Buns (in the Oven) of Steel: Why I Exercise While Pregnant
Here it comes again — that insidious tickle in the back of my nose, alerting me. And here I am in the grocery store, where any sneeze attracts enough unwanted attention during a global pandemic. A sneeze is undesirable for most any expectant mother due to the lack of bladder control, but add that to my regular sneezes, and it is beyond ugly. My sneezes are loud and vicious. My husband gets startled, the kids jump and the dog tucks its tail and runs. Here we go again — I dive behind a display of canned baked beans just in time so that I can hold myself while I sneeze to avoid the incontinence and strange looks cast my way by other shoppers.
Incontinence would be a great excuse to avoid exercise during pregnancy. Severe nausea or raging hormones would also suffice as justifications for avoiding workouts. Or maybe the extreme lethargy or the sciatic nerve pain that bolts down my right leg every time I move. So many excuses to choose from! Yet social media posts by expectant mothers regularly state how they cannot wait until after the baby comes to get their “beach bod” back. So why wait until after the baby? Our need for routine exercise should not stop upon conception. No excuses.
I kicked off my own health and fitness journey four years ago and was astonished at how much it helped in the way of my mental health. I began lifting and jogging during an extremely stressful time in my life, when my anxiety and depression were unbearable. We are quick to seek help and feel better through prescription medications, but I am not a fan of taking pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary. Thus, I was willing to do anything else to feel better.
The first week, I cried as I jogged around the track. I had no energy, and my body ached from depression. But after one week, my depression was completely gone, and my anxiety was about 50% better. It did not take long to turn me into a believer as far as exercising for mental health. That said, we all know pregnancy can take a serious toll on our emotions — just ask my poor husband. The first trimester, I was in the bed and only climbed out to drag my sluggish body to the kitchen or restroom. I did not work out at all, and I felt miserable. After the passing of that hellacious first trimester, my energy returned, and I immediately picked the weights back up. Once again, I beat the funk.
The health benefits of working out while pregnant are more than worth pushing through discomfort during exercise. The misery not only gets better with each workout session, everyday life becomes easier. Benefits other than improvement to mental health include increased energy, improvement in posture, deeper sleep and, yes, easier “bouncing back” after the birth. Working out while expecting can also reduce bloating, swelling, backaches and constipation. And exercising and making healthier food choices can even lower chances of gestational diabetes.
The type of exercise you choose while pregnant depends on you and your health care provider. My physician told me I could keep going with the workout routine I was already doing. Expert advice across the board seems to agree that an expectant mother can maintain her current exercise level as long as it does not consist of overly heavy weightlifting, and as long as her body does not warn her she’s going too hard. Exercise should be ceased and a physician contacted if there is shortness of breath, overheating, dizziness and/or pain.
I have recently learned it is perfectly fine to burn fat while pregnant. This was great news for me because I gained way too much weight during that first trimester. Whether you were overweight prior to pregnancy or you gained too much during the first trimester, as long as your body is not being starved of nutrients, losing fat is OK and even encouraged. Fat is burned by exercising and making responsible food choices. Another erroneous statement many expectant mothers make is that she is “eating for two.” I truthfully cringe when I hear this. Our bodies need just 300 more calories per day while pregnant, and many of us are overeating by at least that much prior to conception.
The human body must have exercise, period. Whether you are expecting or not, exercise is vital to both physical and mental health. We need water; we need food; we need sunlight; and we need exercise. But exercise and a healthy diet take serious commitment and dedication. So you have a choice to make: instant gratification — skipping the workout and drinking that fat-filled, sugary shake — or the long-term benefits of being healthy and confident.
Trust me, the most difficult part of a healthier routine is the beginning. Simply start a routine, and stick to it. In a mere matter of days, you will begin to see and feel the changes. This will encourage you to continue and begin to ignite the fire that will carry you through pregnancy and beyond. Sadly, many humans go through their entire lives never experiencing just how amazing their bodies are. They never experience what the human body is capable of, nor just how good anyone can feel when making the right choices. I invite you to make the decision to feel better and fight for it. It is worth it. And don’t let embarrassing moments in grocery stores deter you from this afternoon’s workout!
Disclaimer: I’m not a dietician, fitness trainer or medical professional. Do not change your diet or attempt exercise before first consulting with your physician. Prior to weight-lifting, seek expert advice to keep you and baby safe. The prior article is my experience and should not be taken as medical advice.
Written by: Michelle Wilkerson