Run baby run: Get your pregnancy off to a flying start

‘Early days of pregnancy filled with caution and a long list of food and activity guidelines’

 Mary Jennings: “Pregnancy is not a time to lose weight, run faster or tone up.”  Photograph: Eric Luke

Mary Jennings: “Pregnancy is not a time to lose weight, run faster or tone up.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

“Congratulations, you are pregnant.” It’s exactly one year since I heard those life-changing words. Amidst the blur of excitement, these early days of pregnancy were filled with caution and a long and often conflicting list of guidelines regarding food, exercise and activity.

The longest trimester

The first trimester feels closer to three years rather than three months. It’s an anxious time as we anticipate the second trimester when the fatigue, nausea and the odds of miscarriage are due to decrease. Many women choose to keep the news a secret in these early days and spend their time on Google, wondering what they should be avoiding. Added to this, no pregnancy fitness classes will accept pregnant women until the second trimester. Each individual has to gauge what’s suitable for themselves and their baby. Naturally cautious, many women take a break from fitness altogether. However, in these early months, fresh air and exercise might be just what we need to keep us busy and relaxed.

Doing my homework

Wishing to give myself the best possible chance of a successful pregnancy while keeping a fitness business afloat, I spent a lot of time in the first trimester researching fitness and pregnancy. The standard line from the doctors and fitness professionals is to keep moving, lower exercise intensity, avoid anything new and steer clear of overheating the body. Most guidelines are very prudent and generic, limiting activity to exercising only at a low heart rate.

Finding the balance

Like many first-time mums, I too was cautious about exercise in pregnancy and listened to the doctors. I was intrigued by Susie Mitchell’s very interesting Pregnancy to Podium book where she recounts her pregnancy journey as an Irish elite track cyclist. Through extensive research and support she maintained her fitness, debunking many of the pregnancy fitness myths and cautions. Although I had no competitive instinct, it was inspiring to read how fitness and pregnancy could work together.

Each to their own

My aim would be to keep mobile, active and outdoors for as long as possible in pregnancy. I was motivated by the stories of friends and colleagues who had managed to do this, but also knew many women who were unable to exercise through pregnancy for various physical and medical reasons. The more research I did, the more I realised that everyone was different, and pregnancy and fitness would be an experiment. My body would let me know how to proceed.

Know your limits

It is amazing how quickly my body adapted to its new resident. Within the first six weeks of pregnancy, I noticed a remarkable change in my breathing when walking uphill or running. This indeed became a challenge as my business involves running and chatting concurrently. My body needed the oxygen elsewhere and meant my pace dropped right back. Following all advice to listen to my body, I used my breath as my gauge for exertion; I knew my comfort zone and did not exceed it.

Keeping a secret

Keeping the good news a secret until the second trimester makes it harder to get advice and tips from those who have been through it all before. I felt that everyone noticed my slower pace and I became conscious of my bump even though I didn’t have one. While many ladies spend these three months making excuses as to why they are not drinking, I spent the months avoiding running with others.

Clearing your head

The first trimester can be a very stressful time. There is a long list of things to occupy your mind. Awaiting the scan results, wondering if you could possibly be pregnant when you don’t feel anything, reading about miscarriage rates and hearing stories of others unfortunate circumstances, there is certainly a need to clear the head. Getting outdoors served this purpose for me. It helped me feel confident and strong and distracted me from my worries.

Be realistic

Pregnancy is not a time to lose weight, run faster or tone up. It’s a time to make your body and mind feel strong, mobile and relaxed. I shifted my approach from having a training plan for a marathon to training for a healthy pregnancy, labour and recovery. There is an element of luck in pregnancy and at any point I could have been advised by the doctor to cut back on exercise for medical reasons. Being grateful that I still felt comfortable being active, I took advantage of my good fortune to get outdoors while time was on my side.

Week by Week

As I approached the end of the first trimester, the nerves dissipated, the bump started to show and I settled into the realisation that every week could be my last week of feeling comfortable and confident exercising. I started treating each week of running and fitness as a bonus. Being able to share my secret was a weight off my mind and I could now ask for advice from mums who had been through it all before. One pattern became evident. No two people had the same experience. What worked for one didn’t work for another. I realised that I would have to create my own pregnancy fitness journey based on what my body was going to agree with each week. The baby would be in charge and I would follow it’s lead into the second trimester and beyond.

“Fitness in the Second Trimester” will be published in Health & Family in the New Year

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury-free. Mary is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes: Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running.

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