This week I’m publishing a series of posts on women’s experience of exercise during and after pregnancy. There have been a series of high profile sportswomen continuing to train and compete in recent months. But what about regular active women? This week I’ll interview a runner, swimmer, triathlete and yoga teacher.
Laura Stewart, runner, 23 weeks (5 1/2 months) pregnant.
Before pregnancy I was running the winter cross country season, training between 20-30 miles a week, and just found out I’d got a spot from my run club the London Marathon, so I was gearing up for training where I was hoping to get a big PB. I was also cycling to/from work every day and swimming once in a while.
I was really lucky when I first found out I was pregnant to speak to my awesome GP whose advice was, “just keep doing what you’re doing as long as you feel fine, but do not make your own mayonnaise”, (wise words for everyone really).
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to commit to marathon training though so I declined the entry. But kept running a few times a week, a bit slower than usual though. I kept doing our club cross country races, running eight races while pregnant including the Southerns and National Championships which, I’m not going to lie, felt pretty bad ass.
I kept cycling to work for the first two months, putting a TfL Baby on Board badge on my backpack. I didn’t notice vehicles acting any differently and there came a point when the risk of being hit by a vehicle, door, or pedestrian became too high for me to continue. It made me really angry that I was having to give up something I loved so much, not due to my own limits, but due to unsafe infrastructure. I wrote a letter to my local Councillor and Will Norman, the Walking and Cycling Commissioner of London, explaining the real impact of their (lack of ) safe cycling infrastructure and it made me feel a bit better.
I always expected to remain active during pregnancy and beyond, but I never really had a clear vision of what that looked like. I guess it says a lot about who I follow on social media, but I have seen a lot of very active and very pregnant women, so it seemed like a normal thing for me to keep doing.
I found that from the first day though, I naturally started to take a more day-by-day approach to everything in life, including exercise, and did what I felt up to each day rather than planning ahead. Right now I have general weekly goals for activity that include one normal yoga class, one pregnancy yoga class, a swim and a trip to the gym each week. Some weeks the gym is only five minutes on the treadmill and a few wall squats, or the yoga class doesn’t happen.
For me it was around four months when I really started to feel the literal weight of pregnancy. Carrying an ever-growing bowling ball in my pelvis was getting more and more uncomfortable, and my swimsuits were stretched to their capacity. I was listening to my body before, but since then my body has been making it loud and clear what it wants and I’m just working around that.
There are a lot of great pregnancy yoga classes around and everyone in the NHS recommends walking, but beyond that there are so few coaches and PTs who have experience training women through pregnancy. I hope I’m eating my words in a few years, but there really is a huge gap in the market. I’ve read a few books on active pregnancy but found them either targeted towards very basic beginner goals or pseudo-sciencey and full suggestions like giving up wheat (as if).
Like I said above, the best advice I received was “keep doing what is normal for you” and when I see high profile sports women continuing their normal, it makes me happy. I wasn’t comparing my training to Gwen Jorgensen’s during her Olympic year, nor am I now. So, yes, I think anyone continuing their normal at any level is going to destigmatise pregnancy.
If you think about it, all these so called rules about pregnancy were made up by male doctors as a one-size-fits-all approach to childbirth, and I haven’t met a woman exactly like me in life yet, so why should we have the same maximum heart rate in pregnancy?
I think a lot of the pressure on women comes from the lack of information, and in the end having to make these decisions on our own. More normalizing, more information, and more Grand Slam winners can only lead to more healthy women, healthy pregnancies, and healthy children.
Laura didn’t ask me to write this last bit, but she has been a huge resource for me while pregnant. She’s a Level 3 Pre & Post Natal qualified PT and more importantly a coach who has experience working with women. It’s been invaluable to have someone to bounce ideas off and get resources from.
Each woman and pregnancy is different. Speak to your own healthcare professionals about what might be right for you and if at any point something doesn’t feel right, stop and seek advice.