It should be general knowledge that pregnancy is not the time to be losing weight. Pregnancy is a time when your entire body is changing and you are adjusting a variety of things: a new center of gravity; eventual weight gain; relaxation of your ligaments, amongst many other things.
In terms of the weight gain itself, most women are very conscious of this particular change. It is so easy to forget that the increase in weight we experience as expecting moms is needed to support the little life that is growing inside of us. Your body is increasing your fat stores to support milk production once the baby is here, it is increasing blood volume to support the growth of your fetus, it is growing the uterus, the placenta and the baby itself. To lose weight in spite of these very natural and necessary physiological changes would be unhealthy to say the least. However, adopting a healthier and more active lifestyle during (and even more ideal: PRIOR to) pregnancy is a whole other story.
Exercising while you are pregnant is actually great for Mommy and baby, with countless benefits. Unfortunately, most pregnant women are scared to exercise at moderate intensities because they think they can harm the baby. I was fortunate enough that my pregnancy was low risk and uncomplicated so I was able to continue doing what I love most, which is CrossFit. However, this is somewhat of a “the chicken or the egg” conundrum. Did I have a healthy pregnancy because of CrossFit or was I able to CrossFit because I had a healthy pregnancy?
I started CrossFit about 4 years ago and with CrossFit, I reach a level of fitness that I never imagined would be possible for myself. In those 4 years I’ve also become a Personal Trainer, certified in prenatal and postpartum training, a CrossFit Coach and a CrossFit gym owner.
When we decided to start trying for a family, I put my knowledge to the test: I checked with my doctor regarding my training regimen, got the green light to continue to CrossFit while pregnant and trained through out my entire pregnancy. Here is what I know, in hindsight (after going through the pregnancy, the labour and safely delivering a 7lb 2oz healthy baby):
- Reduced Fat Deposition and Retention: I gained 27lbs from the pregnancy (when I last weighed myself at 38 weeks – I went into labour at 39 weeks). I started off at 152 lbs and reached 179 lbs. While writing this article, I am 12 days post labour and have already dropped 19 lbs, leaving 8 lbs to lose before reaching my “pre-baby” weight. Granted, my body composition is completely different now, I’m sure (percentage of body fat versus lean muscle mass pre and post baby are not the same) but this gives an idea of the duration of weight retention I experienced. I am sure that some might be thinking “oh it’s genetic”. I can tell you this, both my sisters gained 50-60 lbs for each of their pregnancies (both sisters have had two children) and both my sisters took over 6 months to lose MOST the pregnancy weight (they’re still working on it and the children’s ages range from 2 – 11 years old). So no, it’s not genetic.
- Fewer Physical Complaints – I anticipated that I would have back pain because everyone I’ve known who has been pregnant has mentioned back pain. Fortunately, I did not have any back pain whatsoever. I fully attribute this to working out prior to and during my pregnancy. Back pain typically results from poor postural positioning and poor postural positioning is a by product of a weak core. CrossFit training uses the principle of core to extremity, which in other words is whenever you are about to perform any movement (whether it is lifting weights or lifting groceries off the ground, putting your carry on into the overhead bin on the plane, or holding your baby), the first thing you should do is make sure that your midline (or what I refer to as ‘quads, butts and guts’) are engaged. Once you get in the habit of this, you will find that you will be in a much more favourable position and experience less back pain.
- Transferrable Healthy Eating and Exercise Habits – When you kick start your health journey prior to pregnancy, keeping those healthy eating and exercise habits during prenancy will be a breeze. Same goes for post partum, getting back into your regular swing of things will be that much easier. For me, I was CrossFitting into my 8th month of pregnancy. Obviously, I listened to my body and when some of the WODs (Workout of the Day) were too much for me, I modified the movement, the weight or the intensity to accommodate how I was feeling that day.
- Shorter and Less Complicated Labours – Current research has shown that regular weight bearing exercise at a moderate to somewhat hard intensity has resulted in shorter and less complicated labours. We were told by both our midwife and our doula that first time labours are on average 10-20 hours from the time you experience early labour to the time you deliver. Based on this, we fully anticipated that we would have ample time to get last minute items for our home birth, but from the time I started experiencing contractions to the moment our baby girl was born at home happy and healthy, only 4 hours had passed. Now I’m not saying that everyone will have the same experience as myself even if you do CrossFit or stay active in whatever form you choose, however for me, it was short and uncomplicated.
- Strengthens Your Body and Mind – Studies have shown that women who exercised at a moderate to high intensity prior to and during pregnancy would have a higher tolerance to stresses related to pregnancy, both physical and psychological. For myself, I wouldn’t compare the physical and mental demand required to deliver a child into the world to a work out, but I do know that leading up to the final weeks of pregnancy, much of the anxiety surrounding my thoughts of “what is giving birth to a baby going to be like?” were alleviated knowing that I am a strong, willful and capable woman. The self confidence you build once you start exercising and getting healthy extend so far past the physical benefits you reap. I only started to see myself as this woman after I started CrossFit.
I don’t think that the only way to stay healthy through pregnancy is CrossFit, but I do know that continuing to CrossFit while pregnant is not as scary as people make it out to be. I also think that staying healthy through pregnancy can encompass more than just taking walks. But most importantly I think that if you are planning to start a family in the future, start exercising now and even if you are pregnant, it’s not too late to start exercising.
With all this in mind, you should definitely talk to your doctor about exercising during pregnancy and find out all the necessary information and recommendations that are suited to you and your current health. More importantly, listen to your body. Your body is an amazing thing and will let you know when or if too much is too much.
By: Anne Tang - Black Tusk Athletics