I celebrated Mother’s Day weekend with running my first pregnant 10k, through one of the best courses I have run yet!
Pregnancy opens women up to an insurmountable amount of judgement regarding individual choices on activities, food, clothes, work, etc etc etc. The stigma against prenatal exercise is thankfully dying among younger generations however is often still perpetuated by our older generations. At 8 mo pregnant with my son, an elderly patient stopped me mid assessment to tell me I was bothering him by standing “in that condition.” Older nurses would push chairs in my direction any time I was reviewing a chart while standing.
Every soon-to-be-mom wants nothing more than to keep her growing baby safe and thriving. Often comments/comparisons/judgement/raised eyebrows in response to a chosen exercise activity can leave a new mom second guessing herself, her doctor, and feeling as though she is doing something wrong or dangerous.
Pregnancy is, in itself, an absolutely a well-condition. Barring any adverse health symptoms/complications during pregnancy, physical activity is safe and beneficial to mom and growing baby! A simple google search (filtering reputable sources, of course) or conversation with your obstetrician can show you the multiple benefits physical activity during pregnancy can have. Activities you have engaged in pre-pregnancy are safe to continue on in. If you desire to take part in a new exercise routine in hopes of reaping the multiple benefits exercise can have on mom, baby, and labor; be sure to discuss this with your doctor, start slow, check in with how you are feeling regularly, and stop if you experience symptoms of pain, bleeding, or abnormal cramping.
Keep in mind, physical changes may need to be accommodated for. Once becoming pregnant, a hormone called relaxin begins circulating through the body for the purpose of mediating the hemodynamic changes that occur in cardiac output, renal blood flow, & increased arterial compliance. It also functions in relaxing the ligaments in the pelvis and softening and widening the cervix in preparation for childbirth. This hormone remains in circulation for up to four months after labor or discontinuation of breast-feeding. Exercises of high impact to the pelvis may cause discomfort, pain, or even injury; therefore be cautious to check in with yourself physically during exercise and modify speed, intensity, and impact as needed.
Personal experience: I have been a recreational distance runner for almost ten years. I love everything about running (outside) and have participated in many races and half-marathons. Once becoming pregnant with my son, I was told I could continue running. At about five months pregnant, I would experience pain/discomfort in my pelvis any time I ran longer than a half-mile. Hi, relaxin! I stopped running and started using an elliptical regularly for a lower impact alternative. After delivery (natural vaginal birth), I felt amazing. I was eager (too eager, honestly), to get back outside to run. I had my jogging stroller, a sweet baby who loved the ride, and it was summer time. Once my stitches were nearly healed, I began walking and using my elliptical. I started lightly jogging and felt great. Doctor cleared me with no further recommendations and I continued jogging. After a few months of sporadic jogging and regular elliptical use I felt like I had my endurance back up and began attempting longer distances. I was always a little sore in my hips and “down there” afterwards but assumed it was just part of being post-partum. I began having severe pain in my pubic symphysis – it was so painful I could barely walk. I got a referral from my doctor to a women’s health physical therapist. I began treatment and found my left hip was rotated out of alignment causing my pubic symphysis (a cartilaginous joint) to separate from its cartilage, causing bone to rub on bone when walking/running. The cause of this was likely resuming a high impact exercise routine with a weakened pelvic floor paired with the continued circulation of relaxin in my body as a nursing mother. Therapy helped re-align my hips and the pain subsided. A number of pelvic floor strengthening exercises as well as hip exercises to prevent further rotation were given to me.
One year later and 20 weeks into my second pregnancy, after continued use of the aforementioned strengthening exercises, I have been running, as able during first trimester sickness + exhaustion, and more regularly during second trimester. I was able to surpass my individual goals and expectations during my most recent 10k race and felt amazing afterwards!
- Engage in desired physical activity, as able, during pregnancy! Keep pre-pregnancy activity levels, intensities, and types of exercise in mind before engaging, talk to your doctor, and listen to your body. The body is AMAZING and can often do more than we give it credit for! Care for it with adequate nutrition and rest, and it will serve you well; pregnant or not.
- Perform pelvic floor strengthening exercises before, during, and after pregnancy to help prevent/alleviate issues such as what I experienced. A strong pelvic floor assists during labor and delivery and also helps prevent/alleviate urinary incontinence prenatal and postpartum.
- Exercise for YOU and your baby. Do what feels RIGHT for you. Do what makes YOU happy. It may not look the same as someone else and it shouldn’t! Every individual is different, which is especially true for every pregnancy and every baby.
- In the same respect, I encourage you to push yourself past the pregnancy exhaustion and words of discouragement from naysayers. Exercising thru the exhaustion and nausea can actually help improve energy levels and appetite. The hardest part is convincing yourself to start.
- Keep your motivations for exercise during pregnancy in check. If you have struggled with an eating disorder or over-exercising in the past, pregnancy can often bring these feelings back to the surface. If you feel old behaviors taking root, take a step back, re-evaluate your motivations, and proceed as needed to keep yourself living a freely nourished life; free from exercise, food, & body image rules.
- Be honest with your doctors about any signs/symptoms of discomfort. Do not be afraid to press your doctor for further evaluation or request a second opinion. They cannot help recommend the best course of prevention/ treatment if they are not aware of what is going on – but they can also fail to ask detailed questions regarding the type/intensity/duration of activity you may be engaging in.
- Nourish yourself well with adequate food and fluid intakes. Take your prenatal vitamins. (Check out my current favorite here).
- Have FUN! Discover new, safe ways to move your body that maybe you did not consider pre-pregnancy like yoga, swimming, or zumba. Join a mom’s group or recruit a friend for socialization and motivation to stay active.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments or requests for future related posts! Best wishes!