You don’t need the latest $100 pair of yoga pants or to have a supermodel’s body to attract attention at the gym. If you really want to turn heads in your yoga class and surprise the teacher you just have to do what I’ve been doing for the past nine months – show up to work out pregnant. It’s best if you start this habit before the actual pregnancy begins so that people really start to wonder about you as you change shape. They might think you’ve started to let yourself go and wonder how this can be possible since they see you around almost daily. Then one day your bump will pop and people will realize they have misjudged you, and suddenly everyone’s eyes are on you in spin class. Now you are their motivation – keep up with the pregnant lady or they will feel bad about themselves for the rest of the day.
Giving birth is a big deal. The act of giving birth is called LABOR. Labor equals work. If you knew you were going to run a triathlon you would prepare for it months, maybe even a year, ahead of time. You wouldn’t go into the event thinking, “hey this will be just like sitting on the couch eating ice cream and watching Judge Judy so I better prep by doing that.” Your mindset would be, “wow, I am going to be swimming, biking and running for the better part of a day. I will not get much rest in between, and I need to prepare myself emotionally and physically so I can cross the finish line. So I better get TO IT.”
Preparing to give birth should start even before you decide to get pregnant. One should exercise daily for a strong body and mind. I am fortunate that I found my gym and yoga studio three years ago when I wanted to look my best for my wedding day. I formed a habit of taking spin and yoga classes, this soon became a lifestyle change and then became a job. I teach yoga, spin, barre classes and kettlebell bootcamp workouts. And I feel the best way to lead a class is to lead by example. If I want students to respect me when I make them sweat they need to see me sweat, so I am at the gym taking classes as much as I am teaching.
Before I even became pregnant I was in good shape. Happily due to my lifestyle shift 3 years ago, my body was accustomed to multiple workouts in a day and being pushed to its limit. Even if you don’t teach fitness or workout daily (something we highly recommend at Happiness Series- daily exercise will make you happier & change your life), I believe in starting an exercise routine that you can maintain throughout your pregnancy. Think about finding out that you are pregnant as signing up for that triathalon – now you are committed you better start training. I did not have horrible morning sickness but I would wake up feeling nauseated so I traded my 7am workouts for afternoon or evening classes. When you work out you divert the blood away from your stomach that tends to pool there and make you nauseated in the first trimester. I felt out of breath from all the work my body was doing to generate this extra blood supply so I had to learn how to make each breath more efficient. (A great lesson to learn for pre & post-natal women.) My spin students didn’t know I was pregnant in the beginning, and I couldn’t let them see me out of breath so I had to pace myself while teaching. Yoga became even more important, a place where I could focus on deep breathing and relaxing.
Of course as my belly grew my workouts changed, and I had to modify more. But I accepted my new limitations and learned to work with them, avoiding frustration with my changing body. I enjoyed classes like yoga sculpt (yoga with weights) because I knew I needed a strong back to support my expanding belly. As a result, at 39 weeks I have had no back pain whatsoever. Although I could not strengthen my core I could tighten up my obliques, arms. and legs. I would hold plank in yoga while the rest of the class preformed chattarungas (yoga style push-ups) and up-dogs- plank is one of the best body weight exercises a pregnant woman can do! Though I no longer felt the need to visit the gym for sometimes 2 classes a day, I did make the most of my time in each class and gained a greater respect for my body and what it was capable of doing.
Working out during pregnancy has made me feel stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. The numbers on the scale climbed with each midwife visit, but I knew I was healthy and so was my baby. Whenever I felt too tired to take a yoga class I’d talk myself into going, never once regretting going! Maybe I couldn’t do hurdler or twists anymore but at 39 weeks I did a tripod headstand, and it felt great to get upside down again.
One of the greatest side benefits of working out throughout your pregnancy is that you inspire others around you. People will try harder because they see you working hard. We can set the standard that not only is it ok to work out when you are pregnant, in fact it’s really good for you to! It’s also true that pregnancy doesn’t have to equal tremendous weight gain and lethargy. You don’t have to hide in your house in a tented robe. You can be front and center in a yoga sculpt class wearing a sports bra and showing off your baby bump. And you don’t have to just stick to pre natal yoga. (I did a video earlier in my pregnancy giving you the do’s & don’ts of working out while pregnant. Consult with your doctor first, and then get to a gym or take a class & exercise.)
Working out during pregnancy has also reminded me that food is fuel for my body. Pre-pregnancy I would try and eat healthily but I wasn’t quite as mindful as I have been since eating for two. Having nausea presented its challenges- I wanted to work out and needed to eat so I wouldn’t faint but not much appealed to my pregnant palate. In the beginning I ate a lot of almonds, saltines, apples and peanut butter sandwiches, and I drank quite a bit of milk. After three months, when the nausea subsided, I started adding back in more protein. Food that turned me off in the first trimester like chicken, eggs, salads and avocado, I was able to eat again in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. (It’s important to eat as healthy as possible while accepting the fact that some food just won’t do- you won’t want it. Honor that. And don’t be hard on yourself. BUT do make an effort to work out and eat well. )
The end of the second trimester I found myself having terrible heartburn so I would mix baking soda and water and drink that before yoga so I wouldn’t throw up in downward dog. Here in my third, and final trimester, I find I must eat smaller meals more often because the baby is taking up the space where my stomach should be. I’ve been eating artichokes, spaghetti squash, banana pancakes, cereal, quinoa, and fish tacos to keep me going. To get a lot of nutrients I often use our Nutra Bullet to blend up kale, walnuts, pineapple, apples, strawberries, kiwi, beets, ginger and coconut water. (Or just make the classic Happiness Series Kale Smoothie with the orange, pear & kale) Sometimes the only thing that tastes good is a shake, and it’s an easy way to pack in lots of nutrition without taking up a lot of room in the ever-shrinking stomach.
Labor is labor there is no way around this. Even if you are the type who wants to be knocked out and have the baby cut out and handed to you, you will still have to carry the weight of that baby for nine months and then for several years afterwards. More important than being ready for these changes in your body physically is being prepared emotionally, and working out helps with this too! Every time I take a challenging class or do a minute cardio burst, I think about how a contraction lasts about a minute. If I could get through one minute of mountain climbers then I could survive a minute contraction. Essentially, I have been training my brain for the unpredictable length of labor just as much as I have been prepping my body. It is important the two are in harmony.
As I approach my due date, I want to feel prepared for the journey ahead, not scared. Like a long hard work out – it’s only a small fraction of the big picture that is my life. I know I have the strength because I have seen it reflected in my yoga practice and workouts. If you are going to take time to prepare the nursery, to paint the walls, assemble the crib and pick out names, shouldn’t you take the time to work out? Your body, mind, and baby will thank you.
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.