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Move That Body, and That Baby Bump too!

I was so relieved when I learned that I could continue working out through my pregnancy. Prior to becoming pregnant I was an avid weight lifter. Working out was my sanity. I always had a new goal in mind, squat over 200lbs, do a chin up (or two!) and always grow that booty!

The first thing I asked my doctor was how I needed to modify my workouts. She advised me to listen to my body, and continue doing what I was already doing. I also did some research online and learned about Relaxin, the hormone that loosens ligaments to allow a woman’s pelvis to expand for the growth and passage of her little babe. This means that you have to be careful with weights and stretches, but like my doctor said, listen to your body! Some women have issues with their pelvis and symphysis pubis dysfunction from the start, and some have no issues at all. I personally started having some sacral-iliac pain at around 9 weeks. I don’t think this is any coincidence that it occurred around the same time I traveled across the country to announce my pregnancy to my family and as a result had to spend a lot of time sitting on airplanes.

When I returned home, I eased back into my workouts and my pain went away. I found the pain would return every time I slacked off, which was motivation for me to keep going. I didn’t have any trouble continuing to squat, deadlift and do other weight training until the week before I delivered. Of course by the end my weights had significantly decreased, but squatting an extra 35lbs of bodyweight made up for it! In fact the night before my water broke I did a full body workout and went for a 45 minute walk! I like to think this contributed to me going into labour, but no one will ever really know for sure. I think this also helped me maintain my stamina through labour, as I did 50+ flights of stairs that day in hopes of getting things going!

I strongly believe that my avid workout regimen and maintaining good posture and alignment helped Nugget be head down from 20 weeks and present occiput anterior (read:perfectly!) in labour. I credit a lot of my knowledge about working out in when I was pregnant to Lorraine Scapens of pregnancyexercise.co.nz. At 12 weeks pregnant I purchased her Fit2Birth and Birth2Fit Mum programs and learned so much from her videos about Diastasis Recti, pelvic floor health and dysfunction and how to best prepare my body for labour.

Later on in this blog I will share the workouts I followed in addition to the Fit2Birth program and strategies I used to prepare myself for labour. I will also share my labour story and how I now know that being able to move in labour is absolutely essential to a intervention free birth.

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Pregnancy – death sentence to my body

I’m going to be honest with you, when I found out I was pregnant with Nugget, I was terrified. And not for the ‘usual’ reasons, for vain, superficial reasons. I was terrified of ‘losing my body’ of ‘letting myself go’ because, let’s face it, those messages are everywhere. Once you have a baby your body is no longer your own, it doesn’t matter that it becomes flabby and stretched and saggy, because look at it what it made! Which, to some degree is true.

But what if we could have the best of both worlds?

What if I could have a beautiful baby AND a beautiful body that makes me feel sexy and strong?

What if I could give birth and then still feel like myself?

…Is that even possible?

Or am I just kidding myself?

These are all thoughts that passed through my head. So I set out on a mission. I googled and Pinterested (is that even a word?) and Instagrammed ‘Fit Mom’, ‘Fit Pregnancy’, and guess what? I came across SO much inspiration! I felt so lucky that one of my fitness idols, Jess Hilgenberg, happened to be pregnant just before I was, and she shared the same fears as I did. I followed her journey and it made me realize that I didn’t have to give up on being fit and sexy in order to be a Mom. The two things were NOT mutually exclusive.

So now what? I know that it’s possible to have a baby and ‘get your body back’, so to speak. But how? What do I need to do? There are so many messages out there suggesting that pregnant women are inept. That once that little zygote forms, that little embryo embeds itself in your womb, you must ‘take it easy’ and ‘slow down’. So what does that mean? Do I have to stop lifting weights? Do I stop training? Before getting pregnant I was regularly squatting and deadlifting my body weight, do I have to stop? What is unsafe? If I continue am I putting my pregnancy at risk?

So I did my research. The truth is the answer to most of those questions is ‘No’. Most recent research suggests that women who were active prior to becoming pregnant can maintain the same level of activity. As my doctor put it, ‘keep doing what you’re doing, but if you weren’t training for a marathon before, now’s not the time to start’. That made sense, it was logical, common sense even. The key in all of it is, listen to your body. If it hurts, don’t do it. Plain and simple.

Exercise: check!

But we all know exercise is only half the battle. Nutrition is also key to ensuring weight gain stays in the healthy range. Another source of mixed messages. ‘You’re eating for two!’ ‘don’t eat sushi, or steak, or tuna, or cookie dough – you’ll poison your baby’ ‘not a sip of alcohol from the time that line turns pink’ ‘a glass of wine here and there is okay’ ‘you can only eat soda crackers and ginger ale with the morning sickness’ ‘eat whatever you can keep down’

So who do you listen to?

First, your doctor. Most obstetrics or midwifery practices have nutritional information for pregnant women. Second, common sense. You are growing a human. What are humans made of? Protein, cholesterol, fat. This was great news to me! I already enjoyed a relatively high fat, animal protein rich diet. But I craved carbs. I craved carbs harrrrd. Bland, boring, flavorless carbs. So what did I do? I ate carbs! But I did it smart. Whole grains, high fiber, lots of fruit, and tried my best to eat veggies although I couldn’t be bothered. There were definitely days when I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything besides bread with butter. But I didn’t let those days become my every day.

In the end I gained 35 lbs (exactly!). Although my goal was to stay at 25 lbs, it just didn’t happen, and that’s okay, because I stayed within the healthy range, there’s nothing done that can’t be undone.

And so began my post-partum journey.

Birth, fitness, pelvic health, Pregnancy, Self Care

Pregnancy Fitness – How I did it

In previous posts I mentioned that I maintained working out throughout my pregnancy. Now let me preface this by saying I am not a doctor, midwife, physiotherapist or personal trainer (working on this one!) and I am simply explaining what I did, what worked for me and how I felt doing it. Before I got pregnancy  I was working out regularly, lifting (relatively) heavy weights and doing some high intensity workouts.

Most women experience a dip in stamina in the first trimester, and I was no exception. Even though I only had minor morning sickness I definitely had the fatigue, all I wanted to do was sleep. And I did. Because why not? I was smart enough to realize that come 8 or so months from then I wouldn’t be able to sleep all day, so I did! In addition to magnificent, glorious, magical sleep (can you tell I am writing this post-baby, with a 2 month old who still enjoys multiple night wakings?) I continued on my merry way working out the way I normally do. I lifted weights 1-3x per week, depending on my work schedule, and walked 25-60 minutes with the Big Brown Dog 4-6 days a week. I did not do traditional “cardio”, mostly because I fucking hate running. Hate. Despise. Loathe. I tried it once last year in preparation for the Tough Mudder. I managed to scrounge out a few 8km runs and deluded myself into believing I found the ‘runners high’ but nothing stuck.

I digress.

The moral of the story is until about 14 weeks, nothing changed. I worked out normally, lifting ‘heavy’, walking. Living life. Somewhere around the beginning of the 2nd trimester I decided to purchase the Fit2Birth Mum program from pregnancyexcercise.co.nz. I cannot say enough good things about this program. It felt exactly as hard as it should, I ended my work outs sweaty, but I never felt overworked or out of breath. The best part of her program is the owner, Lorraine Scapens, also hosts a Facebook group for each program and answers questions from users about their specific needs in a timely and friendly fashion.

In addition to the Fit2Birth program I continued my weight lifting, progressively lowering my weights as the weeks went by. For some perspective I started deadlifting and squatting approximately 150lbs, and my final weight lifting session was somewhere around 34 weeks and I was lifting about 65lbs, read: less than half my normal, but probably way too heavy for some other women. I also focussed on maximizing the strength and flexibility of my pelvic floor. I did many stationary squats (think peeing in the forest) as this has many benefits for pregnant ladies, which I will get into in it’s very own post later on down the road.

Now for the benefits, at least from my perspective.

As mentioned previously, around 9 weeks or so, I made a lengthy journey across the country to share the good news with my family in person. This included many hours sitting awkwardly in an airplane. I think it’s no coincidence that this is also when I started experiencing sacral-iliac joint pain. I thought this was the end of the world as I knew it. Working out keeps me sane. I knew a lot of women start having SI joint pain, and they are hooped. No more workout. No more walking. No more functioning. Done. So I snuck down to my nice little basement gym and did the easiest workout I could muster, and prayed and went to bed. The next morning before I got up, I was so paranoid that the soreness from my workout would be the death of my in addition to my newfound SI pain. I got up. I was sore. But no SI pain? Magic!

Well if you think about it, SI joint pain is usually born from a poor interaction of the sacrum and the ilium, two bones on the back half of your pelvis. Relaxin allows the ligaments holding the two bones together to loosen, allowing the bones rub painfully. One would think, strengthening the muscles around these bones would help hold them in place properly, decreasing the amount of pain. This was certainly true for me. This carried on throughout my pregnancy, every time I got lazy and didn’t work out for a while, my hips would get sore, I would work out, the pain would go away.

I also believe working out helped Nugget be in the perfect position for birth from early on. At my 20 week ultrasound his head was so low in my pelvis the tech had to all by smash my bladder in order to see it well enough to take measurements. This was true again for my follow up ultrasounds at 24 and 34 weeks. As soon as I knew that he was head down, I squatted until I could squat no more! Squatting is a functional movement. Back in the day (re:100+ years ago) humans used to squat regularly. Think hunting/gathering/child rearing/harvesting fields etc. Our bodies were designed to squat! It makes so much more sense physiologically than bending at the hips. We are so much stronger in a squat! Also, squatting helps open up the pelvic bones and lengthen the pelvic floor to allow the baby’s head to descent into the pelvis and make it less likely to flip. I’ll explore and share my love for the squat in it own post later on, as I could go on forever!

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!