Guest Post: What I Wish I Would've Known About Exercise During Pregnancy
Some people do some pretty stupid things without even knowing it. I am one of those people. I wanted to be one of those cute pregnant ladies with the adorable little bump and then immediately bounce back after pregnancy. Does this sound like your wish? If so, please read on!
The scale started to increase and I exchanged my skinny jeans for full panel maternity wear. The books on my nightstand were now on the topics of French parenting and natural birthing techniques. The one thing that didn’t change: my workouts.
As an athlete my entire life you’d assume I could have a plan when I got to the gym but I am such a bonehead and usually end up doing some crunches and bicep curls before hitting the elliptical. Can you relate? Please tell me I’m not the only one! Luckily my gym offers free fitness classes. Normally spinning and total body weight lifting classes are awesome, but they didn’t suggest any pregnancy modifications besides not being on your back for too long. I was jumping, running, and lifting like a beast but just because you can, does not mean you should.
I should have listened to my gut… Like my actual gut. With every powerful movement, I felt like my insides were falling out. I also had extreme sciatic pain in my lower back and SPD- which feels like you got kicked in the crotch, soooo pleasant! I spoke with a few friends and they assured me that that was just a normal part of pregnancy and warned with universal head nods and giggles to cross your legs when you sneeze.
We had a beautiful baby girl, Lucy, and in the weeks that followed her birth, I enjoyed snuggles, light walking, and a blissful maternity leave. At six weeks I went to my postpartum appointment and my doctor gave me the okay to resume exercise and intercourse. The very next day I jumped on the saddle for both! I biked like no time had passed in my spin class despite this dull pressure in my lower abdomen. When I got off the seat, I felt like there was a bowling ball between my legs. That evening, my husband and I tried to have sex but it wouldn’t work. It felt like something was blocking his ability to enter.
Now these aren’t common conversation topics so I had a hard time bringing it up with my friends (and don’t even get me started about the online photos that pop up when you write ‘penis won’t go in after baby’). I brushed it aside assuming it would get better on its own. I dismissed the strain when I lifted the car seat. I ignored the pain in my crotch when I ran. And I didn’t think twice about the fact that I still couldn’t sit up straight without my entire core feeling fatigued within minutes.
12 weeks came and went and I traded in my comfy yoga pants and baby snuggles for work dresses and company presentations. My weight was fine but my work pants didn’t fit because of my mommy gut. I assumed it was baby weight and added more cardio to my weekly routine.
Shortly after, I went on a walk with your favorite blog writer and co-founder of Expecting and Empowered, Ames! She was the first person to tell me that the discomfort during exercise, sex, and normal every day activities was not how life post baby was supposed to be. She recommended seeing a woman’s health physical therapist so I booked an appointment right away. Remember that feeling of ‘falling out’ that I had while jumping and running? Yeah, I actually had organs that were so prolapsed that they were coming out of my body. And that mommy gut that I thought was extra fat? It was actually a 4 cm gap that I had between my abdominal wall that made for a very weak core and also the inability to button up my pants. The running and jumping I had done my entire pregnancy and the unsafe core work and intense lifting I did all to quickly after the birth of my daughter lead to some pretty significant issues. I saw my women’s health physical therapist for several months after that initial appointment and was able to improve the strength of my pelvic floor and abdominal wall tremendously. You can find one in your area here.
But after months of therapy I still couldn’t run. For any of you who know me personally, running has been part of my identity for as long as I can remember. I used to be able to run a marathon with minimal training (not something I would recommend) and now I couldn’t even go half a mile without my whole pelvic floor being sore for days on end. It was sad, but I accepted this as my new life and changed my focus on things my body was able to do.
When I got pregnant for the second time, I was terrified to do any type of exercise and a literally quit cold turkey after the positive pregnancy test… until I found Expecting & Empowered. To be honest, with the all-day nausea and fatigue I was only able to do two workouts a week during the first trimester but already I was realizing how different these exercises were. The Expecting and Empowered guide follows a woman through each week of pregnancy and modifies as her body changes.
I felt cool going to the gym and having a plan, almost as if I wasn’t a bonehead anymore. And on days you don’t feel like leaving the house, all these workouts can be done with minimal exercise equipment that can be bought cheap on Amazon (scroll to the bottom of the shop page). Some of my non-pregnant work friends would join me in the workouts and they constantly said ‘pregnancy safe does not mean easy’ (I still think they should have held a 20 pound dumbbell on their lap while doing wall sits to make it even). Lunges stop slightly after the halfway point to prevent SPD and pubic discomfort. There were exercises specific to the sciatica I had experienced and within a few short weeks that strain was eliminated. My favorite part was the pelvic floor strengthening because this was not part of my workouts previously. It’s not just your standard Kegels sister- these pelvic floor exercises are unique and work all parts of that sensitive area. It gets you ready for labor but also strengthens so you don’t pee your pants when you sneeze. There is something pretty incredible following a guide created by moms who have degrees in physical therapy and personal training. This plan is safe but it was also effective.
And effective it was! I loved my pregnant body and was impressed how much stronger and more stable I felt every single day while following Expecting and Empowered. My birth story (read here) was a dream; I was able to get into challenging squats for minutes on end to move things along quickly and our son came in just a few powerful pushes. It was completely intervention and medication free and looking back I feel that I was practicing for his birthing day with every E&E workout I did.
I was fortunate that Krystle and Ames were in the process of creating the Expecting and Empowered Postpartum edition a few weeks after I delivered. They gave me access to the guide after my six week checkup and I have been following this for the past month and a half. 12 weeks into the postpartum guide and my back pain from nursing has diminished, I am fitting into my work pants with minimal abdominal separation, and I’m not afraid to sneeze. I rarely step on a scale but can say I feel confident, strong and lean for having two babies in less than two years of each other. BUT the best part: I can run! In the past two years I ran less than 10 miles total because of the prolapse and you know, not wanting my organs to fall out of my body and into my underwear (sounds terrible and let me tell you, it is). I waited until my baby was 10 weeks and took it a few blocks at a time instead of rushing it. At three months post baby I have already ran more miles pain free than in the past two year combined which is something I did not think I would ever be able to do again.
I would love to sit my first pregnancy self down and have a serious chat with that spirited and anxious little lady. I would let her know to listen to her body, stop when things are too challenging, and that pain during pregnancy can be prevented through the right stretching and strengthening. I would tell that bonehead to get a workout plan that was pregnancy specific instead of trying to make the old fitness routines still work for her changing body. I would tell old Abby to research some pelvic floor work instead of just squeezing those muscles a few times and thinking she was good for the day. And I would tell her that pregnancy is a nine month journey to meet one of her favorite people in the universe, and that her life is about to get infinitely better (and quite a bit more challenging so take those date nights and easy Saturday mornings now).
If you have recently found out you are pregnant or you are somewhere in your 2nd or 3rd trimester and have questions on exercise, I highly recommend Expecting and Empowered. They have a plethora of topics to read through, ways to help with some of those common pregnancy pains, and even some sample workout plans if you’re interested in seeing what the plan is like. Thanks for reading and be safe and strong mama!
Thanks SO much for sharing your story Abby!