I must admit, as a life-long fitness addict the thought of being pregnant and gaining extra baby weight totally freaked me out. I was convinced that I would no doubt gain double my body-weight overnight and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Extreme thoughts, I know.
The nicest surprise about pregnancy for me was that as soon as I found out that little baby Man was on the way, all of those silly thoughts about weight gain seemed to no longer matter and life was put into perspective. Rather than focus on weight gain – which, let’s face it, is inevitable as we do grow another human being to the size of a melon by the end of 40 weeks – I became much more focused on physical strength and just feeling healthy and well.
I began to view this path to giving birth a bit like training for a marathon. There is a reason Mother Nature gave us 40 weeks to get to the end of the “race”; we need time to slowly prepare our body and mind.
Sadly, I was not one of those women who barely noticed they were pregnant in the first 12 weeks – I felt sick most of the time and I actually lost a few kilos in the first few months, which was actually a little upsetting – how ironic – as I was panicking that baby was not growing as I was shrinking! At this point I learnt a lesson that would help me get through the next two trimesters:
BABIES ARE AMAZINGLY RESILLENT AND THEY WILL TAKE WHAT THEY NEED – YOUR BODY KNOWS WHAT TO DO TO HELP!
As soon as 12 weeks hit I suddenly turned a corner – thank goodness – I could eat “normally” again and I started to feel like I wanted to do more to prepare my body for the next two trimesters, giving birth and beyond…
Before I share with you how I stayed fit and strong for the rest of my pregnancy, I just want to say that most importantly it’s key to listen to your body and to do only what YOU feel comfortable to do. If anyone tries to push you into something you’re not happy with – whether it be a run in the park or a yoga pose you can’t quite work out –just don’t do it. Nobody else is in your body – you know what’s best if you take time to listen and connect with your baby and your body.
The other important step to take in planning your fitness routine in pregnancy is to consult your gynecologist. Hopefully, you have found a doctor who is not too “old fashioned” and tells you to just rest. Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from exercising, just putting your feet up for 9 months is not going to do you and your wellbeing any favours.
Movement is key to staying strong, supple and ready to take on the huge task ahead – motherhood! Plus, when you exercise your literally release happy hormones. Consult your doctor early on in your pregnancy and agree what is right for you. If you’re not happy with the opinion, seek a second opinion. Most doctors will say you can do what you were doing before but to tone it down to a new lower intensity level – so if you run 10k every day, maybe take long walks instead. Usually, after the first 12 weeks you can go back to your usual gym, yoga, walking or exercise of choice, within reason.
My top five tips are:
1. Do something small each day
Even if it’s just a fifteen-minute swim (swimming is great, btw, as it literally takes the weight of the baby off of you for a while) or walking the dog, plan something into your day and do it. In fact, one thing that I found helped me was to plan my exercise every Saturday morning for the following week so that I could plan everything else around that. After all, this is the most important time in your life to focus on your health so do not feel guilty about making an exercise routine a priority.
2. Walk as much as you can
Opt for stairs instead of elevators, take an evening stroll on the beach, even walking around the mall can count! Walking will keep your blood flow moving and will help to prevent any unwanted swelling in places like your legs and ankles, especially in pregnancy when we are more prone to swelling. If you sit at a desk for work, set an alarm and take a walk every 40 minutes or so, again, this will help prevent swelling. I work from home and even I am guilty of sitting at my desk for too long. One trick I taught myself was to keep only a small glass of water at my desk so I was forced to get up, walk downstairs and top-up on a regular basis – it saved me from those dreaded “cankles” I’m happy to say!
3. Don’t be afraid to lift weights and go to the gym
The first thing I asked my gyno when I was ready to move back into an exercise programme after the 12 week mark was, “can I go back to the gym?” His advice was “if you did it before, then there is no reason you can’t do it now”. I had no medical concerns to prevent me from doing so. Look for a trainer in your gym who trains pre- and post-natal women and ask them to show you what adjustments you need to make to your weight lifting and gym sessions. Mostly it’s just a few tweaks here and there – at this stage you don’t want to be aiming to bulk-up or make any drastic body changes.
Seek some advice from a trainer to formulate a simple routine to keep you toned and strong. All exercise methods – whether it be gym or Pilates – will tell you to avoid any twisting from the waist when you’re pregnant as this can lead to placenta abruption, rather turn from the shoulders and keep the waist straight and core strong. I focused on toning my arms and legs with various weights and machines (strong legs help with childbirth and you’ll need those arm muscles to carry new bubs around all day and night). I used the TRX for support with pre-natal squats and lunges (basically wider legs so that my baby-bump had room). We also focused on my back muscles with some floor-work on a mat to keep my back from getting the infamous pregnancy aches – the “superman” exercise (on all fours, simultaneously raise your opposite arm and leg – 20 reps on each side x 2 sets) was part of my daily back work-out as this helps to even out any unevenness, at the same time as toning your back. It worked a treat!
4. Prenatal yoga for staying supple and strong
Yoga is great for pregnancy as it teaches us not only how to stay supple through the various asana, but it also teaches us patience and how to find peace and calm. I switched my usual yoga class to a pre-natal yoga class and found that I really looked forward to my practice each week. There’s something about meeting other pregnant women in the class that is very calming and reassuring. Prenatal yoga focuses much less on strong poses and more on “opening” poses in the shoulders, back and hips – you begin to see warrior pose and goddess pose in a whole new light when you think about childbirth at the same time! It’s important to keep shoulders open and strong early on because as soon as baby arrives we start to naturally slump a bit more forward through breastfeeding and just dealing with baby all the time. We’re lucky in Dubai that most yoga studios offer pre-natal yoga. I can personally recommend Exhale at JBR; however, there are other options out there.
5. Meditation, breathing and relaxation exercises
My husband and I chose the hypnobirthing route for our antenatal preparation. Hypnobirthing teaches how to connect to your breath and mind to prepare your body for birthing naturally. However, the meditation and relaxation training is also useful in everyday life, especially on Sheikh Zayed Road in traffic! As preparation for a natural birth, I would practice my breathing exercises and meditation almost daily – in my car, before bed, in the shower or just as I walk around, it’s easy to stick on some relaxing music and take a few breaths if you give yourself time to do so. Although I have always enjoyed meditation from time to time, I have never been so rigid with my practice and this journey has taught me how beneficial it is to just take 5 minutes to breath in a conscious way. You don’t need to find a class to learn these methods; YouTube and iTunes have some helpful guided breathing and meditation videos.
It might be that breathing techniques and meditation are just not your thing or you’re just not ready for that right now, and that’s fine but you can also try find your own version of mediation – it might be playing the piano, listening to the birds in your garden, watching the waves come in and out at the beach, cooking, drawing or listening to classical music – whatever gives you 5 minutes peace in side your own head, allow yourself that pleasure, in fact plan it into your day. One study found that if music was played while mums-to-be relaxed; the same music would soothe their newborns. They ceased to cry, opened their eyes, and made fewer jerky movements. So it looks as if babies may associate their experiences in the womb with whatever their mother is feeling at the time. Relaxing is beneficial for you and baby!
I’ll be taking a little break to look after my new arrival for a little while – wish me luck! I’ll be back – stay tuned, sassy mamas!
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