I remember going to the gym one day when my husband and I were first trying to conceive. Walking up to the elliptical machine, I approached it with caution, as if it might buck wildly at any moment. Why? Now that my husband and I had decided to try to have a baby, my mind was racing with what little information I had found about working out while trying to conceive. Some articles had suggested working out at a lesser intensity, implying that a strenuous workout would somehow stop the magical conception from happening or, god forbid, taking hold and staying put. Other sources went in the opposite direction, decreeing that all athleticism should continue as before. No one seemed to know for sure, and therefore, neither did I. As a result, my workouts during that time ended up being a bit manic-depressive in nature. I’d start out going at full tilt as was my usual tendency, and then fear and doubt would come screeching into my mind, and I’d slow way down or stop entirely. Same for my weight workouts – to lift or not to lift? This was the question, and it seemed the fate of my future child was at stake.
As it turned out, we conceived easily and quickly. My daughter was born in December, healthy and happy. I exercised during the entire pregnancy, often despite warnings from those around me who did not work out on a regular basis and therefore couldn’t understand my drive to do so while pregnant. My doctor even joined in the Greek chorus of misgivings, although he admitted that he didn’t like to exercise and didn’t do it. I therefore didn’t put much stock into his willingness to agree with my husband that exercise was nice, but not necessary. I often got stares at the gym, especially near the end of the pregnancy when I did my twice-weekly weight workout. It seemed like I was one of the few people who thought that working out and staying strong while pregnant was a good thing, not something to be feared.
Striking the right balance
It can be difficult even when you aren’t trying to conceive or are pregnant to know what the right type of workout is for you. Should you do intervals? Spinning? Yoga? How much, how often, where, what, when? Add the concerns of starting and growing a little life inside of you, and those doubts and questions triple in nature. However, through research and good old fashioned first-hand experience, I’ve now learned there are some good basic guidelines to follow. As you enter into the new realm of being a fit and strong mommy, both in terms of trying to conceive and during pregnancy, you can stay fit. So come on, be a hot mama!!
* Start out strong
Ideally, it is best to meet your weight loss and fitness goals BEFORE you start trying to conceive. Starting a pregnancy at a healthy weight and fitness level will give you the best possible chance of being able to stay strong during your pregnancy. This will also help you stay within the recommended weight gain (25-35 pounds), not to mention dropping that extra weight later on. Even though you may think you are prepared for the normal and healthy weight gain of pregnancy, watching the scale tick upwards can be eye-opening regardless. Plus, your formerly sweetly defined muscles will slowly start to disappear under the nice layer of fat your body creates during pregnancy – so it helps to know that they were there when you started and will return with a fair amount of ease after you’ve given birth. So take your time, if possible, to get yourself to a healthy starting point first. You’ll thank yourself later.
* You’re approved!
It is important to let your doctor know your plans to continue working out while pregnant and to get the go-ahead. If you have a preconception visit with your doctor before you start trying (always a good idea), start the dialogue then. Your doctor can give you specific guidelines for you and will already be aware of your desire to work out when you do become pregnant. And once the little bean is growing inside you, talk to your doctor often. There are different exercise guidelines for each trimester, and it is important that your workout be tailored to your specific pregnancy and health – and only your doctor can help determine that for you. Despite the fact that my doctor probably wouldn’t have encouraged me to work out had I not brought it up, he gave me guidelines to follow regarding how hard I could push myself. Which gave me a solid foundation every time I hit the gym, and gave my concerned husband reassurance that I had the good doctor’s blessing to do what I was doing.
* Moderation, moderation, moderation
This is not the time to be pushing your body full tilt . . . or even 3/4 tilt. This can be difficult for those of us who faithfully believe that if you aren’t sweating and exhausted by the end of the workout, then you aren’t doing your job. But remember – being the fastest or the strongest or the best is no longer the priority. While you can essentially continue your same workout regime while trying to conceive, remember that you will not know that you are pregnant for at least the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. Overheating during the early stages of pregnancy can be dangerous both for you and the baby – so cut back a little bit and be sure to stay extra hydrated. And once you have determined that you are pregnant, then it’s time to really evaluate your effort level. It’s fine to break a little sweat, but don’t allow yourself to be dripping by the end of your workout. And drink, drink, drink. More than ever, water is your best friend when working out – remember that while you can cool down by sweating when you are overheated, your baby can’t. So stay cool, Mama! And as you progress through your pregnancy, above all else, remember to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If anything hurts, makes you dizzy or nauseated, causes contractions, or in general just makes things feel not-quite-right, stop immediately. Your workouts should feel good and you should never end up completely fatigued at the end. (Remember, you’ll be spending the next several months feeling tired enough as it is!)
* Variety is the spice of life
Since you can’t go all out any more during pregnancy, workouts can quickly become boring. (This will be less true near the end of the pregnancy, when just making it through a workout instead of sitting on your couch eating ice cream is a victory!) So keep it varied. Go for a walk one day, spend your time pedaling through space on a stationary bike the next day, make a splash and go for a swim the next, etc., etc. When it comes to lifting weights, try switching up the order and reps to keep it interesting. There are a lot of good pregnancy fitness videos/DVDs out there – buy a few and add them to your workout rotation. Not only will doing new activities work different muscles and therefore help keep you strong throughout your pregnancy, you won’t feel as left out when you watch the kickboxing class in action at your local gym.
So is it worth it? I know I often wondered as I made my way through pregnancy just how much, if any, staying in shape would do for me when it came to labor. When you consider the fact that contractions are, when it comes down to it, involuntary muscle contractions, one could argue that being a top athlete won’t help you any more than being a total couch potato. I am here to argue that is quintessentially not true. For one thing, what you learn about yourself in terms of endurance, strength, and pure will from working out will absolutely benefit you when you are in that labor room. (Even if you aren’t exactly Lance Armstrong, knowing you’ve made it through more than one workout when you didn’t want to will boost your confidence.)
I trusted that my body could give birth and I believed that I was strong enough to do it without pain medication. And I was. Now, I’m not advocating going that route for everyone – do what’s right for you and don’t let anyone tell you differently. But I went into labor knowing that I was strong and that I could handle anything that came my way . . . and what came my way was a beautiful little girl. So work out, work on, and remember that you too can be a hot mama!
Keep in mind that the healthier you are while pregnant, the easier it is losing the weight gained after child birth. Just be responsible and consult your doctor before starting an exercise regimen while pregnant.