What I’ve learned about working out during pregnancy and where I found motivation

My whole life, I’ve had a few preconceived notions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth*. On one side, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fear of giving birth. I blame all the screaming in Hollywood movies that I watched as a kid (Look Who’s Talking 1 and 2 in particular!). On the other side, I’ve always looked forward to the indulgent ‘pregnancy diet’ where you get to eat whatever you want…in excess! I grew up believing this would be necessary to support a growing baby (“Eat up! You’re eating for two!”). After finding out we were expecting, however, two interesting things happened. First, my anxiety towards childbirth subsided. I’ve become so excited to meet this little human that any discomfort that comes with the process seems trivial compared to the joy of meeting him or her. Second, besides a need for all things vinegar-y, the crazy cravings never really came. As my pregnancy progressed, the last thing I’ve wanted to do is overindulge in junk food, which has always left me feeling lethargic (physically and mentally).

The two things I always anticipated would go hand-in-hand with pregnancy were off-the-table. This leads me to my single greatest takeaway from this journey thus far: go into pregnancy with an optimistic, open mind…because you can’t predict how you’ll feel until you’re living it and what you’ve seen or heard via old wives’ tales and hollywood movies are often misleading.

This brings me to another myth that needs to be buried—that pregnant women shouldn’t work-out, pick things up, walk that extra block or do anything strenuous. We aren’t out of commission! Before I go any further, let me first say that this post may not apply to everyone — specifically, those who have pregnancy-related medical issues or those who weren’t in a workout routine before getting pregnant. These thoughts are for those of you who were active in some way before conceiving. We are all different. This is my personal story and if you can relate, I hope this gives you confidence to stick to your guns during your nine months.

Flash back nine months…

I’ll admit, I used to have a bit of a hard time watching videos of pregnant women working out. I pictured hernias and tissues tearing when I watched them jump, weight lift and run. This fear contributed to the three weeks that I skipped workouts at the end of my first trimester. Fatigue also played a role here — I just couldn’t fit all my to-dos into the day. The lack of exercise had me in a rut. Physically and mentally, I felt horrible. I couldn’t imagine spending the next six months in this state. Turns out, all I needed was a little inspiration (and maybe the end of the first trimester!). That motivation came in the form of an old friend named Emily Breeze Ross Watson.

Emily Breeze and I at her wedding in North Carolina, October 2014

I call her Breeze. This high-energy Crossfit athlete, young mom and fitness trainer is one of my dearest friends from the university days in South Carolina. We weren’t on the same sports teams (I played volleyball, she played basketball and cross country) but we gravitated towards each other over a mutual love for fitness, food and fun.

Breeze is a new mom to Bly, an adorable, healthy, four-month-old baby boy. During her pregnancy, she stuck to her usual six-day-a-week workout routine (with some modifications, of course) until past the nine month mark. On a near-daily basis, she would post work-out videos, like this one, showcasing her and her bump kicking some serious A in the gym.

Breeze’s inspirational posts reached hundreds of thousands of viewers thanks to features on The Today Show, international news programs, US Weekly, PeopleCosmo and many more outlets.

Even though my midwife and doctor told me it was okay to work-out during pregnancy, seeing these videos with my own eyes proved to me that it really was okay, despite constant encouragement to ‘put your feet up, take it easy and eat for two’. Again, keep in mind, Breeze and I both had a regular work-out routines leading up to our pregnancies. Due to pelvic floor pain, I had to stop running pretty early on, but fortunately found workout alternatives that I loved at Tight Club and Driftwood Athletics. Seeing my friend’s workout videos inspired me to get back out there.

Here are five tips Breeze shares with clients and friends who are newly pregnant and working out:

  1. Find a doctor who you trust and who knows/understands your lifestyle.
  2. There is no prescription for pregnancy. So, whatever you see your friends, your mom or anyone else doing — does not mean that you can do it. Every single woman is different and every single pregnancy is different. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
  3. Always, always, always listen to your body. If you wake up one morning and something hurts, doesn’t feel normal, or you are tired — pay attention to that and act accordingly.
  4. Whatever you were doing prior to pregnancy (as far as workouts go) can still be done during your pregnancy with doctors appproval and with your best judgement.
  5. The woman’s body is capable of so many amazing things, take this opportunity to create a healthy environment for you and your little — and enjoy it along the way.

Every week, Breeze posts inspiring workout videos on her Instagram page that you can (most often) do anywhere — you can follow her here for constant motivation. 

The advice I was given by healthcare professionals reinforced that it was okay to stick with my workout routine. My GP put it simply, “If you can still talk during your workout, you’re fine”. Here are more tips that she and others have shared:

  • Don’t try anything crazy and new. Stick to the workouts your body knows (with modifications)
  • Avoid ab exercises, especially those done on your back
  • Listen to your body — if anything hurts or feels funny, don’t push it
  • Avoid raising heart-rate too high for an extended period of time
  • Stay hydrated

My midwife added that fit women often experience shorter labours, bounce back quicker after childbirth and the babies often experience ‘lower stress’ during birth since they’re used to a little commotion. I also asked about weight gain during pregnancy; specifically, what was considered a healthy range. Since our bodies are all so different this answer will vary, but I was told as little as 15 pounds could be perfectly healthy. This made me question the numerous articles, apps and comments I’d been privy to that encourage pregnant women to pack on the pounds…

Once I got back into my active routine, fatigue dissipated (I’m sure this had something to do with the end of the first trimester, too). I also felt more motivated than ever to stick to my workouts and eat healthier food. Up until this point in the pregnancy, I hadn’t been binging on junk food, but the frequency of vegan pizza and burritos in my diet definitely increased. Like everyone, I enjoyed the occasional indulgences, but I was used to a greener, veggie-rich diet, so the increased food splurges had me feeling off. It felt so good to crave healthier food again and this seemed to come hand in hand with the workouts. I felt even more sure of the connection between eating healthfully and feeling great.

Now that we’re almost at the nine month mark, work-outs have greatly decreased. I’m spending more time stretching, walking and allowing my body to loosen up, as opposed to tightening up. It seems counterintuitive to tighten up my muscles when the body naturally loosens for birth. However, energy levels are great, I don’t feel heavy or sluggish, my pre-pregnancy clothes fit…sort of (doing the zippers up on my jeans is a different story), I haven’t experienced any swelling and anxiety levels are in check. I credit the workouts for many of these positive pregnancy attributes. Thanks to my fit mom friends for inspiring me with their stories (Deirdre, Genieve) and, of course, to Breeze for being instrumental in removing my mental block towards pregnancy workouts — it truly was the only thing standing in my way

You might also be interested in reading:

What I’ve Learned From Doctors and Nutritionists About Being Vegan and Pregnant
A Breakdown of the Plant-based Nutrients Needed To Grow A Healthy Baby

*My fear of childbirth and preconceived notions about pregnancy had nothing to do with anything my mom said because she is one person who would do it all again in a heartbeat if she could. She LOVED pregnancy and childbirth and, always focused on the miracle of the experience. She assured me I would, one day, get over my fear…and she was right!

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