A Pregnant Woman Should Rest — But Only After Her Workout!
A woman shares her fitness journey throughout pregnancy and how she sustained it post delivery.
When my partner and I started dreaming of having children, one of the things I felt disturbed about was the inadequacy of my body. Around 2016-2017, I was 37-years-old, 5 feet tall and weighed 73 kg. My latest health checkup revealed some troubles like borderline obesity, an enlarged liver and low D3 levels. To add to my woes, when we met the gynecologist for a routine consultation, she confidently wrote ‘infertility’ as my condition, even though I assured her we had never tried to have a baby.
While I had been physically active for quite some time, I was not following a disciplined or planned exercise regime, and I was simply not paying any attention to nutrition. I was going to the gym on a regular basis – but this was more in the nature of taking a break from work. My idea of relaxing after a hard day (or just any day) was kicking back with a few beers followed by ordering in Chinese food.
Admittedly, it was not the worst of conditions, but it wasn’t ideal either. I was perpetually low on energy and looked unhealthy.
I knew it would be unfair to invite a child to live in my body for nine months and then to nourish off my body for longer. I had to get my act together.
My partner and I decided to get a personal trainer, whom we had known for some time. It was one of the best decisions I made. Initially, we started a planned workout routine consisting of weight training, functional movements and yoga. But I wouldn’t hear any talk of nutrition. In my head, one hour of sweating it out in the gym was possible, but nutrition requires 24-hour commitment, which was too tough.
So, the inevitable happened. I was enjoying the workouts and was seeing some results, but there was still something lacking. My energy levels were still low, my weight was not changing much and my liver was still enlarged. Then after a few months, I took up a challenge to follow a nutrition plan and get my errant liver in shape.
The nutrition plan was really simple. It consisted of simple everyday foods in proper quantities.
In fact, the plan made me eat more food than I had eaten before. The difference was that I was eating healthy food.
And I didn’t spend a fortune buying fancy groceries or spend hours in meal prep. I quit alcohol completely for a few months. And as promised, after 3-4 months, my weight was down considerably and my liver was in the ‘pink’ of health. I knew that a healthy liver was no guarantee of conception but it was a health milestone for me.
We were overjoyed when I got pregnant in July 2018. After losing almost 10 kgs in about 7 months, I was 63 kgs and felt fitter than ever before. We went back to the gynecologist who had earlier pegged me as infertile. She congratulated me and then put me on the reddest level of high alert.
She prescribed a steady dose of absolutely no exercise and light walking only, advised me not to ‘bother about weight gain’ and assured me that I would soon fall sick. It didn’t seem right.
I knew I fell in the advanced maternal age category. But I had been active for a long time before I got pregnant, did not have any discomfort, bleeding or nausea – then why was I being made to feel like a sick person? Soon, I went to another doctor who was very sensible, told me that everything was fine and I should continue my workouts with some modifications.
So, I went back to my workouts with my trainer.
Most of the exercises I did were modified to be suitable for the different trimesters and were in accordance with the requirements of my pregnancy.
For instance, I had a low placenta in the first trimester. So, we avoided all high impact movements and incorporated inversion movements. I continued with strength training but the amount of weights I lifted reduced. Yoga and animal movements like duck walk and tiger crawl helped immensely. On the days I did not work out, I followed the age old adage of walking for at least 30-40 mins.
As my stomach grew and I was visibly pregnant, I’d receive some looks from people in the gym when they’d see me doing deadlifts, pushups and chakrasans with a huge belly. They were mostly positive vibes thankfully. But there were some well-wishers who would simply shake their heads and tell me I was partaking in dangerous activities. I smiled and nodded and continued. Like any well meaning expectant father, my partner would wince and mutter under his breath whenever he saw me tackling some weights heavier than 5 kgs. He was supportive but stressed out.
I maintained a healthy but easy diet. Nothing drastic and no special diets. Thankfully, apart from an aversion to meat for a few months, I had no nausea or other food issues throughout my pregnancy.
I made sure I drank at least 2.5-3 liters of water. I also indulged in my favorite pastas (no cream sauces) and noodles and Assamese fish and rice dishes often. I was pregnant and baby wanted treats!
I wanted to birth as unassisted as possible. My trainer and my doctor were both confident that I could have an all-natural birth. My blood pressure was great, I had gained a healthy and acceptable 8 kgs weight in 9 months, I was physically fit and active and had no complaints.
But life had other plans. Close to the due date, we found out that the umbilical cord was looped multiple times around the baby’s neck and had true knots.
Since everything else was still on track and there was no sign of distress in the baby, we decided to still try for a natural birth. We worked through many hours of labor. Finally, the doctor decided to do an emergency caesarian because the baby wasn’t being able to descend into the pelvis due to the umbilical knots.
Our son weighing all of 3.4 kgs was born looking just like his father!
From working for an all-natural birth, I had to have surgery. I kept thinking my body had failed despite all the efforts I put in.
It took me a while to realize that the beauty of birth also lies in accepting the mystery of the human body and surrendering to the unpredictability of the birth process.
The immediate few weeks after the birth of our son were difficult. I had to deal with the painful process of recovery, where even getting out of bed or using the restroom was a herculean feat. [Side note: I have never felt more love for my husband than I did on the day we returned from the hospital, and he rocked our crying baby through the night, telling me how lovely it all was as he helped me sit on the toilet at 3 am as I sobbed and laughed and peed!]
I had to figure out the world of breastfeeding which is the toughest, loneliest and most awesome thing I have ever undertaken. And above all, we had to care for a tiny human who we brought into the world.
Exercise was far from my mind. However, my trainer kept insisting that we had to get back to exercise, even if it was for the release of feel-good endorphins. My doctor also encouraged increased levels of activity and had cleared me for light exercises soon after birth.
Three weeks after giving birth, I started the whole recovery workout regime. It was not possible for me to go the gym to work out on most days. So, we started working out in my living room with a weight set, yoga mat and whatever pieces of furniture could be used. This arrangement was perfect as I could attend to my son and he sometimes joined us playing in his rocker.
Working out post-surgery was tough. Even holding a plank position for 30 seconds was difficult. We concentrated full body strengthening exercises and functional movements. I was not following any special diet and eating to hunger and drinking lots of water.
Within about 2-3 months, I lost a lot of weight and reached 60.5 kgs and more importantly, I felt my strength and vitality returning.
The process is far from over. Even at three months post-partum, certain movements like hip thrusters and twists are challenging and I am far from lifting the amount of weights I could lift pre-pregnancy. But I feel great, and every day it gets better.
I am grateful I had a healthy pregnancy and a quick recovery.
I had thought I would crumble into a gelatinous mess with pregnancy, instead I was healthy, happy and confident throughout my pregnancy and continue to be so post-partum.
I am fully aware that every pregnancy is unique and I was blessed with a fairly uncomplicated one. But I am also aware that for me personally, if I had not been active I may have had a very different story to remember.
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