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Exercise and My First Trimester of Pregnancy

Posted Sep 22 2009 10:07pm

Now that I'm almost at the end of my first trimester (I'm at week 14 right now), and everything looks pretty good with my developing baby, I felt like it was time to start sharing with you all my experiences in the weight room during these first three months.

Many of you probably already guessed I was pregnant by the nature of some of my recent posts, but before I was ready to start telling my own story, I wanted to make sure everything was going well (and so far, so good).

First off, this pregnancy was completely unplanned and unexpected. In fact, I was told most of my life that I'd likely never be able to have children due to issues I had with my cycle (more on that later, but in short, I was amenorrheic for 5+ years with no completely clear explanation.... no, I wasn't too skinny, I didn't undereat, blah, blah, blah.... I had chronic yeast and bladder infections in my teens, and I was recently on bioidentical hormones for 15 months). So, it was to my utter and total surprise when I randomly decided to take a pregnancy test at home when my period following cessation of my bio-identical hormone treatment didn't come as expected and saw two lines instead of one!

I'm guessing I became pregnant at the end of June/beginning of July, RIGHT AFTER I had graduated from my 1 year dietetic internship AND just completed my 5 year PhD. Pregnancy was the last thing on my mind. All I really wanted to do was to start a normal, non-student life for the first time EVER, and get my body back, as I had lost it along the way while writing my PhD dissertation and doing my internship at the same time this past year.

The first signs I was pregnant were about 7 days after implantation: I started feeling uncontrollably tired any time I set foot in the gym (any time I started exerting myself physically). My training partner even made fun of me and thought I was just trying to be a wimp. But, I honestly couldn't even do what I wanted to even though I set up a great training program to get me in awesome bikini-shape.

Then, it was about a week later that I took the pregnancy test and almost passed out in shock: "Me? Pregnant? Never! Ahhh!!!!!"

It took awhile for me to adjust to what was happening, but then I decided that it was all good and that I'd now work on building a 'super baby'. For nutrition, I turned to all the recent pregnancy nutrition research for guidance (such as choline supplementation, which isn't widely known about), and tried to maintain a good diet. I'll talk more about diet in another post though (I had a few weeks of extreme sugar cravings... yuck).

For training: I didn't really know what I was supposed to do and not do for exercise, especially for strength training. I was confused by the older pregnancy and exercise advice to keep heart rate low during exercise ( <140bpm to keep body temp below 38C), but then this was never supported by any evidence and so, was revised. Then, it was recommended by ACOG that strength training was beneficial for building strength (duh) and helping delivery. ACSM also recommends similar advice and goes a step further saying that women should avoid supine positions (lying on the back) after the 4th month. Other than that, specifics on weight training were quite sparse.

The book Women in Sport by Barbara Drinkwater, and The Pregnant Athlete Chapter has some good information about strength-training exercise for pregnant women and basically says that if a women exercises strenuously prior to pregnancy, she can do almost that during pregnancy, up to a certain extent. According to the authors, there are risks to the fetus of overly strenuous strength exercises such as:
  • decreased maternal blood glucose values, especially later in pregnancy (it's more common for pregnant women to develop hypoglycemia during exercise as the baby grow larger due to the baby's increased demand for glucose);
  • reduced uterine blood flow which would be an issue for both the mother and fetus - however, the baby is protected from this more than the mother because the placenta has a high oxygen extraction rate
  • increased maternal body temperature in response to exercise - however, research on this shows that women become more efficient at dissipating heat as pregnancy progresses
Overall (from Women in Sport), women who exercise during pregnancy are advised to:
  1. Avoid prolonged or strenuous exercise during the first trimester (I can attest to that because you're so darn tired and nauseous in the 1st trimester)
  2. Avoid isometric exercise or straining while holding breath
  3. Avoid exercising in warm/humid environments (I had to have a fan on me in the gym almost every time I trained...)
  4. Avoid the supine position after the 4th month (I've been bench pressing as much as I can now...)
  5. Avoid activities that involve physical contact or danger of falling (mountain biking is contradicted to my demise... even though I still mtn biked up until a few weeks ago).

My experiences
1) Oh, the Fatigue:
For me, I wanted to continue weight training with the same intensity that I had been doing before, but that just wasn't happening. As I said, I was extremely fatigued in these first three months. I made it my goal to go to the gym everyday after work, but on some days I was just too tired, and opted to go home and simply walk with my dogs outside. Then, other days, I'd get to the gym (with my eyes closing on my way there) and have to take a power-nap in the parking lot before I started working out. One time, in the gym where I train clients out of, I got there a bit earlier than my appointments for the night, and did a George Costanza Nap - I put my gym bag on the floor under a desk and completely passed out for 20 mins; it felt great.

Also, about 1 month into the pregnancy was my husband and I's one year anniversary. We got married in Vermont last year and so planned on returning there to do a long weekend of hiking in the Green Mountains. This was all fine and dandy (I love camping), but my body had a really hard time getting up those mountains... I just had no energy at all. My husband even had to get behind me when it was steeper and help push me up the mountain. It was pathetic.

2) Recovery: Another issue I was having after I did get in a good workout (this involved exercises like heavy front squats, med ball slams, chip-ups, bench press, ropes) was that it was taking me a lot longer to recover both between sets and after the session was over. I'd be sore for 2-4 days, where I only used to feel like that if I'd take a long time off the gym. And, between sets, I'd have to rest for much more than 2 minutes sometimes just to catch my breath.

3) Strength & Stamina: In this first month, my strength stayed relatively the same, but my stamina suffered. I often cut a workout short because I just didn't have the energy for it.

4) Nausea: I was extremely nauseated from about week 5 to week 10 (I know that's not that bad as some women have it for many more weeks with even worse symptoms). As such, sometimes it was really hard to get in a good lift because all I wanted to do was eat something to ease my upset tummy. Thankfully I never vomited, and thankfully I found some great remedies that really helped ease the nausea such as Sea Bands and a few different homeopathics.

5) Back & hip pain: I was diagnosed with a Grade 1 spondylolithesis (basically a broken spine) at L5/S1 when I was 15 years old as a result of my gymnastics training. At the time, my back doctor told me that if I got pregnant, I'd have really hard time with the pain I normally experience, especially as I got bigger. Well, I experienced my first bout of really bad back pain at about week 8 after my husband and I flew to MN to visit family. All the sitting and the lack of good shoes totally threw my back and hips out of place. My physical therapist has now recommended that I start wearing a SI belt on a chronic basis to help with my hip and back instability that's progressively becoming worse through the pregnancy.

6) Core Strength and Kegels: Also because of my increased demand for a strong core, pelvis and glutes (due to my back issues in combo with pregnancy), I've really kicked up my core and glute training. Additionally, I'm finally learning how to correctly use my kegel muscles which I think is a department I was sorely lacking in before. Some of the key core exercises I'm focusing on are: bird-dogs, prone and side bridges, staggered kneeling cable chops and rows, swiss ball jacknives, and front body-loaded exercises such as Zercher squats and front squats.

Now that I'm nearing my second trimester I'm starting to kick my intensity back up. For the past two weeks I've been training pretty hard 3 days a week. On the other days, my training is light or it's outdoors with my dogs or on my bike.

I'm looking forward to these next 6 months and will share with you what's going on. Thank you to all the women that shared their pregnancy & exercise experiences. I am still working on this for an article, but need to collect some interviews from gynecologists and researchers.

Ok - now I'm off to teach boot camp tonight.... doing all the work I can while I'm still functioning normally.
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