Tuesday, June 16, 2009
the running mother
My friend Sarah is one of the most inspiring people I know. She's recently given birth to her first child, the gorgeous and adorable Nathan, and she's already out running again, and has lost all the weight she gained - and she looks fantastic!! To say I'm in awe of how fit and motivated she's been, both during pregnancy and after it, is a bit of an understatement.
Even though I won't start a family for a little while yet, sometimes I do think about how being pregnant might affect me and my fitness. The thought of putting back on all the weight I've worked so hard to lose and maintain for the last four years is a bit terrifying. As I watched Sar go through her pregnancy with such a great attitude and keeping fit such a priority, I was really inspired. I remember getting an email from her saying "I haven't been for a run for three weeks!" and I was thinking, "well, neither have I - but I'm not pregnant, I don't have any excuse!" LOL.
To share the inspiration, I asked Sar if she wouldn't mind answering a few questions about how she kept so fit and motivated during pregnancy, and what advice she might have to share with other active young women who might be embarking on their first pregnancy in the near future, and she very kindly obliged!
I hope you enjoy reading, and if you have your own experiences and advice to share, please do!
Just a little note: this interview is just based on Sarah's experiences. Vigorous exercise during pregnancy isn't right for everyone, and a new fitness activity shouldn't be started while pregnant (eg- if you didn't run before you were pregnant, don't start now!). Always check with your doctor or midwife before beginning any exercise during pregnancy.
Hi Sar, and thanks for doing this! For those who don't know you, please tell us a little about yourself, and what your lifestyle was like before falling pregnant.
I just turned 30 this month, and live in Vancouver, Canada. My wonderful husband Dave and I got pregnant last spring, and we now have a 5 month old little boy named Nathan.
Before pregnancy, I had a very active lifestyle - I ran 4-5 times per week, and also worked out at the gym regularly. I started running when I was 14 for school gym class, and fell in love with it! I've since completed a marathon, as well as many half marathons and 10km races. Being active is a very big part of how I maintain positive self esteem, and how I like to spend my free time. In addition to running, I also love hiking in the beautiful areas around Vancouver, as well as snowboarding, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Was your pregnancy planned, or was it a complete surprise?
My pregnancy was sort of loosely planned - we knew we wanted to start a family in the near future, so in that sense it was planned, but we got pregnant very quickly which was a bit surprising. When we started trying to get pregnant (and by that I mean not trying to prevent it), we thought it would take about 6 months to conceive, and 2 weeks later I was pregnant!
At what point in the pregnancy did keeping up your pre-pregnancy lifestyle become difficult? Which trimester would you say was the most difficult (and the easiest)?
For me, the first trimester was the most difficult. I had quite a lot of nausea and fatigue. I actually didn't exercise even once from the time I was 6 weeks to 9 weeks pregnant. I was just too sick and utterly exhausted! However, after that point, my nausea subsided considerably, and I was able to become active again.
At that point, I started running again, and also going to the gym. At the gym, I would use the elliptical trainer, and also do some free weights and floor exercises. I was able to maintain my pre-pregnancy lifestyle quite well until the very last month, albeit at a slower pace. My running times were much slower as I got bigger, and I began to mix some power walking into my runs.
My due date was January 13, and I was running right into December. Actually, what stopped me running was more the weather than my physical state - we had a lot of snow and ice and I was nervous of a fall so I stopped exercising outside. However, I continued to attend the gym 4-5 times per week and even worked out the day before I gave birth! I'm convinced I felt so well through my pregnancy in large part to my active lifestyle and good fitness.
The second and third trimesters I felt wonderful. I hear from a lot of women that they are quite sore and uncomfortable through the final weeks, but that didn't happen to me, which I'm very thankful for!
Was there anything you had to give up that you really missed?
There wasn't anything that I missed too desperately. I would have loved a glass of red wine once I got over the nausea. And in terms of exercise, I missed snowboarding for the whole winter. It's far too risky to be doing something like that while pregnant!
What was your diet like? Did you have to take any supplements/vitamins? Did you have to abstain from caffeine?
My diet in general was very good - I was able to eat almost everything I could before pregnancy. As a vegetarian, I tried hard to eat enough protein. I included a lot of yoghurt and a moderate amount of cheese to help keep up my intake. I also ate beans and lentils regularly. Of course I also ate a lot of fruit and veggies, which helped with fibre intake (very important during pregnancy!). In terms of supplements, I took a prenatal multivitamin, a fish oil pill (for the DHA), vitamins C and D, and calcium. All of these were recommended by my midwife. And I definitely avoided caffeine for the most part - I only had decaf coffee occasionally, and tried to limit my consumption of teas with caffeine.
Did you have any cravings/morning sickness?
I definitely had some funny cravings! I once craved sausages and sauerkraut, and regularly craved salty and sour foods. I could have gone hog wild on the chips and vinegar, but I tried to satisfy my cravings with pickles and vinegary salad dressings instead (not to say I didn't have chips occasionally!). I mentioned above that I did have some morning sickness, but it was pretty well under control by the end of the first trimester.
I would have to say my diet was the most inconsistent in those early weeks when a lot of foods were unappealing. I ate a lot of whole wheat toast and jam (as that eased the nausea, for some reason) and not a lot else for two whole weeks. Fruit was another food I could stand through the nausea, and I really enjoyed it throughout my pregnancy - melons, grapes, oranges, grapefruits... anything really!
What was your fitness routine during pregnancy? Did you find that a particular exercise really worked for you during pregnancy? Was anything considered "too risky" or "too hard"?
My main fitness activities were running/jogging, power walking, and working out at the gym. For the first few months I could run as usual, and after that I would add a bit of power walking into my runs for little breaks. It's important to monitor your heart rate while pregnant, and I didn't want it getting too out of control with straight up running as I got bigger.
At the gym, I would do 30-40 minutes of lower intensity cardio, such as the elliptical trainer, and then some weights and floor work. I tried to keep up my arm and leg strength with free weights and some of the strength training machines, and did what core work I could on the floor. I did the "plank" position right up until the day before my delivery and I think it really helped keep my back strong to cope with the added weight. I never had any back pain once I started doing the plank. I also took a prenatal fitness class for 2 months, starting at 21 weeks pregnant. It was there that I learned which weight and floor exercises were safe during pregnancy (including the plank).
How did you stay motivated to keep up your fitness?
Mainly because it helped me stay feeling great through the whole 9 months! I never had back pain, or hip pain, or sleeping difficulties, and I think my fitness routine was the main reason (well, there may have been a bit of good luck thrown in there as well!). Also, let's be honest... I wanted to minimize the work I'd have to do to get back into shape after the baby came. Vanity definitely played a role! The exercise I did helped keep my weight gain reasonable, and that was another goal.
How did you cope with the changes in your body?
It was much harder than I imagined it would be to watch my body change throughout my pregnancy. Prior to my own pregnancy, I'd never understood why I would hear my pregnant friends complaining about their (totally normal) weight gain, growing belly, etc. As I watched other peoples' pregnancies, I thought they looked beautiful and glowing as they grew, but when it came to me I felt like a whale! Looking back at photos now, I can see I didn't look like a whale. I certainly had a big belly, but now I can see that glow that people talk about. At the time I just wished I could have my old body back.
I know I'm sounding a bit negative here - at times I did feel wonderful and glowing... and I certainly felt well physically. It was much more difficult for me to handle the changes emotionally than physically (exercise did help on that front as well... thank you endorphins)! I think by the end of the pregnancy I had come to realise the miracle I'd achieved in growing a baby, and was much more forgiving of the changes my body had experienced as a result. I also felt more confident I would return to a semblance of my old self, especially thanks to the exercise I'd done.
The million dollar question - how much weight did you gain?
I gained a total of about 22 or 23 pounds (about 10kg). This was within the range my midwife gave me for someone who started pregnancy with a healthy body weight. I was able to lose the weight within a month or so of giving birth, however my body shape has taken a few months to return (with considerable effort)! Seems a bit funny that you can weigh what you did before pregnancy but not have the same shape - I guess that's what carrying a near-8lb baby will do! I credit the weight loss to breastfeeding - I have eaten like a horse since giving birth!
How did you plan for the birth?
I attended a fantastic prenatal class that helped Dave and I prepare a lot. It was very practical, but it also addressed the emotional aspects of giving birth, which I appreciated. I found out around Christmas (Nathan was born January 6) that I would need a caesarean section because my little boy was in the breech position and had a large head. My midwife and OB-GYN wouldn't allow me to labour a breech baby with a large head, so really it was my only option. At that point I felt like all the preparations I'd done were useless, but the work from prenatal class still came in handy. After all, the main thing is the baby is out and healthy, no matter by what means.
Tell us a little about the birth!
Nathan's birth was the most amazing experience of my life! I was completely unprepared for the strength of emotions I'd feel when I met him. Because I had a c-section, I was in an operating room, but Dave and my midwife were allowed to accompany me for support. They were sitting up near my head while the doctor performed the surgery. There was a drape up at chest level, so I couldn't see what was happening, but I had a spinal anaesthetic so I was completely conscious and aware throughout the whole operation. I felt a lot of tugging and pulling as they took Nathan out, but no pain. Once he was out, the doctor held him up for me to see and I was just blown away.... through the tears I said, "He's soooo cute!".
Nathan was then cleaned up and handed right back to me to cuddle (with Dave's help... I was a bit weak!) while they started stitching me up. After a few minutes, Dave was able to take him out to the waiting room to show off to our parents and siblings. I only got to see photos of this event, but it looked like it was very special for everyone! It took about 45 minutes to stitch me up, and then the three of us were taken to a recovery area where I waited for the spinal anaesthetic to wear off. At this point, my midwife was able to help me with breastfeeding. Nathan was an eager feeder right away. After a few hours, we were taken to a regular room on the maternity ward and we had loads of family and friends come to meet Nathan. It was a truly life-changing day!
How have you recovered from the birth?
Recovery was no problem. I was quite sore for a few days, but after that the pain was gone quickly and I was able to start walking around outside and moving normally. Really, my only limitation was that I couldn't do any kind of sit-up motion unassisted for about a week. By early February I was completely fine and I started running again at 6 weeks postpartum (the timeline given to me by my doctor). Now, all I have left is a scar!
Describe a typical day for you now, as a mum! How do you now keep fit with a baby in tow?
My days now most definitely revolve around Nathan! After we wake up and have breakfast, we usually head out and about for the morning. We might go for a run in the jogging stroller, or a long walk, or we might go to the shops in the car. My afternoons are usually spent at home, where Nathan (hopefully!) has a nice long nap. I usually do chores around the house while he sleeps, or sometimes I take the baby monitor outside and work in the garden. Dave comes home around 5:30pm and we cook dinner together. After dinner we might go for a quick walk before starting Nathan's bedtime routine.
Somehow my days are always busy and full - it really is a full time job looking after a baby! Finding time to exercise is a challenge. If I don't run with Nathan in the stroller (for instance, running with him the rain doesn't really work), I try to squeeze in a run once Dave is home, or early in the morning before he goes to work. It's definitely a challenge, especially because we try to fit in some exercise time for Dave as well. On the weekends we will both take Nathan out in the stroller for a run, often somewhere nice like down along the beach. Getting to the gym is a bit hopeless at this point, as we just don't have time.
What advice would you give to other active young women about to embark on their first pregnancy? Is there anything you would have done differently/wish you'd known?
Try to stay active for as long as you can, as long as your care provider gives you the go-ahead! Don't start any new and crazy fitness regime, but try to keep yourself as active as you can be. I would also say - especially if you are suffering from morning sickness - try not to be too strict about what you eat in the first months. Don't worry too much if all you can stomach is toast and jam, or whatever... you can make up for it once you're feeling better!
I wish I had been kinder to myself on an emotional level, so I would definitely tell other women to try their hardest to embrace the changes pregnancy brings. That is probably the most important advice - be nice to yourself, and give yourself a break!
Has becoming a parent altered your attitude/views on health and fitness at all?
My views haven't really changed - I still think health and fitness are extremely important, and I hope to teach Nathan these values as well. It will be fun and challenging to find ways to help him feel enthusiastic about fitness as the years pass!
Finally, what's the best thing about being a mum?
That's a hard question - there are so many wonderful things I could go on forever. Probably seeing Nathan's smile and hearing his adorable laugh! Knowing I can make him happy by being as good a mum as I can be is the best thing. I also love seeing him grow and change, as it's incredibly rewarding. It really is such a privilege to be his mum and be able to support him, now and always.
PS: Happy 2nd anniversary today to you and Dave xox