By Amanda Cassell, RD, LD
“Look at that pregnant girl running! What is she trying to prove? Can’t she just take a break for a while and enjoy being pregnant and not worry about her body image? That couldn’t be good for her baby!” These could be some of the thoughts I can imagine bystanders might have as I run by them in my neighborhood subdivision during the early morning hours.
However, before I made the decision to keep up my training during my pregnancy, I researched the subject and found evidence that regular exercise benefits not only the mother, but her baby as well. The key is knowing yourself, your level of fitness, and working closely with your doctor to be sure you don’t overdo it for your sake and your baby’s.
The most important factors to keep in mind when exercising throughout pregnancy are that you shouldn’t begin something that your body is not already accustomed to, and you should keep the intensity at a lower rate. If you already have a base fitness of running, swimming, and/or biking, research has shown that you can continue that activity as long as you keep it at a moderate pace and turn down the volume a bit. Another important piece of advice I received when I first became pregnant was this – if you can hold a conversational pace while running, you are not pushing too hard. However, if you find it hard to breathe and can only muster out a few words, slow it down. If you can’t breathe, your baby can’t breathe.
I will admit that I was a little skeptical of what my body might be able to handle while pregnant, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I have felt great throughout my entire pregnancy, with only occasional symptoms of lower back pain. My baby is growing right on target for her due date, and my weight gain has been slow and steady as each trimester has passed by. While writing this article, I am 35 weeks; I am still continuing to run an average of 30 miles per week (with weekday runs of 6 miles and longer runs on the weekend of 8 miles), swim 2500 yards twice weekly, lift weights, and occasionally bike on the bike trainer. Now, keep in mind that I already had a large base of swimming, biking, and running going into my pregnancy. I have actually decreased the volume and pace while pregnant, along with eating an extra 350 calories daily needed for my baby.
The most difficult struggle for me was continuing to exercise during the first trimester. With factors like nausea, fatigue, and a little more trouble breathing normally, it was rather tough some mornings to get out the door to go for that run or jump in that cold pool! But, as I read in Dr. James F. Clapp III’s book, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, I discovered he recommends you continue to keep your base fitness up during the hard times of the first trimester in order to see the benefits to your body and your baby later. According to his book, if you stop exercising completely during the first trimester, and then try to pick back up in the second trimester when you get that burst of energy back, the benefits are not the same.
With the physical ability that God gave me, encouragement from my husband, and determination and persistence needed to continue training, I have been blessed to keep exercising 7 days a week, with the exception of an occasional day or two when I just don’t think I need to push my body. My general rule has been “no zeros,” meaning I try to exercise in some form or fashion for at least 1 hour per day, every day – no days where I do zero activity.
I’ve heard before, your baby is the only person that will ever know what your heart sounds like from the inside. I’ve tried to set a great example for my baby from the start by keeping my heart a healthy heart. Training over the past months has been something she and I have done together. I hope she will understand what it has meant for both of us some day and will thank me for it.
Amanda Cassell is a registered dietitian for The Core Diet. She creates meal plans and training/recovery plans for athletes. She has also served as president of the Mississippi Heat Triathlon Team for the past four years.
The previous article is the personal story of our contributing writer Amanda Cassell and is not meant be used as medical advice for our readers. As with any activity that can impact your health, Well-Being strongly advises that you not enter into any new exercise program or change your current fitness routine without first consulting your physician, especially when you are pregnant.