One of the coolest things about Evolve is the variety of humans who make up the fabric of the team. At Evolve we have coached many athletes during and post pregnancy and we are lucky to also have an amazing OB as an athlete. If you have ever wondered about what do when you go from training for one to training with a baby on board, Dr. Schnapp has the answers.
Every day, I am grateful for the internet. As soon as my patients have a positive pregnancy test, they consult every mom group they can find. By their first visit, they know they shouldn’t get a manicure (false), the gender of the baby based on any of 17 different methods (50/50), and that they should not raise their heart rate over 140 bpm during the pregnancy (absolutely false).
Historically, pregnant women have been treated differently in various cultures. In Victorian England, pregnant women didn’t do anything physical for fear of “the vapors.” I am not sure what “the vapors” are other than an excuse to lounge around for nine months. I can’t imagine that a pioneer woman was too concerned about the vapors when survival depended on getting crops planted. And of course, everyone has heard stories of women squatting in the rice paddy to deliver and going right back to work.
As with most things, the reality of exercise in pregnancy lies in the middle. There are tremendous benefits to exercise in pregnancy. Exercise increases blood flow to the placenta, which leads to good fetal growth. Women who exercise are less likely to develop diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, both of which can lead to early delivery and complications for mom and baby. Exercise helps with sleep in pregnancy, which can be a challenge. Women who exercise are more likely to have a vaginal delivery and a better recovery. Perhaps the most important benefit is that exercise just makes you feel good.
The flip side of exercise in pregnancy is that you can overdo it. Women can continue any activity for which they are trained. But the changes of pregnancy will affect how you feel and your endurance. First trimester, the hormonal changes can make you exhausted. Nausea can be a limiting factor as well. Changes in sugar metabolism partially drive nausea of pregnancy, making it critical that you have some kind of nutrition on longer workouts. In second and third trimester, you need to be cautious with exercises that have you flat on your back. There isn’t a specific cut-off or limit, you just have to watch for feeling light-headed or dizzy. Breathing can become more challenging as your lungs are squashed. Resting pulse increases in pregnancy as well, so if you train by heart rate, you will need to adjust. Dehydration and overheating are real concerns due to the increased fluid demands in pregnancy and the personal furnace that you are carrying around. As you hydrate, remember that your bladder is getting smashed by the baby so peeing on yourself is a definite possibility, but not at all worrisome.
There are special considerations for triathletes. Swimming is a wonderful exercise for pregnant women. It almost makes you feel not pregnant to float in water. Breathing can be the challenge. Running is fine, but again, listening to your body and cutting runs short or decreasing pace as your body demands are important. Cycling is the discipline most affected. Your center of gravity is off, and your balance may suffer. Spills during pregnancy can be more serious if you hit your belly. Finally, getting comfortable on the saddle as you start to have more lower body swelling might be impossible. In third trimester, your body makes a hormone called relaxin. It allows the pelvis to open a little during delivery to give baby more room to get out. It also makes it easier to overextend your joints while stretching or doing yoga.
Of course, there are some women for whom exercise in pregnancy may be an issue. If there are any complications like placenta previa, twin pregnancy, high blood pressure or multiple other considerations, your physician may give you other instructions or restrictions. If you are in doubt about something, you can always consult the internet. I’m sure you will find reliable answers there!