Middle of your pregnancy needn’t see you in the middle of the road
Exercise in the second trimester
Mary Jennings: ‘In addition to my new pelvic floor relaxation homework, I enjoyed my running at a slow comfortable pace.’ Photograph: Eric Luke
When I was 14 weeks pregnant, it still felt surreal that a human, now the size of an orange, was growing inside me. There was still no visible bump and thankfully I was feeling good. In some ways I felt like a fraud. I didn’t feel pregnant, whatever that is supposed to feel like. The fatigue and apprehension of first trimester was behind me.
The Limbo Trimester
As I moved into this second trimester, I was surprisingly full of energy and was happily teaching classes and staying active. As each week passed, the concept of becoming a parent became slightly more real and the jeans start to become a little bit tighter. It was still too early for maternity clothes but far enough into pregnancy to share our good news and finally start to believe it myself.
I entered this trimester with great intentions of joining classes, devouring the latest pre-natal research papers and maintaining my energy and mobility as much as I could. I didn’t want to push my myself to fitness limits in pregnancy. Instead my focus was to protect my body so that my return to fitness after pregnancy could be possible, gradual and pain free. Being a runner, I was mindful of the downward impact of running on the body. With this new growing weight, I needed to make sure I wasn’t causing any long-term damage.
Taking a step back
Before pounding any pavements with a bump, my first stop was with a women’s health physiotherapist. Post-natal incontinence due to pelvic floor issues are extremely common with women. I was hoping not to become one of them. Eimear Murphy from Milltown Physiotherapy was happy to listen to my concerns and as a runner and mum of three herself, knew first-hand the issues that might arise. I had been diligently doing my pelvic floor strengthening exercises (Kegals) for weeks now. However, I was surprised to hear that these may have been the wrong thing for me.
Pelvic Floor Relaxation
Eimear explained that many busy, stressed or sporty people constantly engage their pelvic floor muscles. No amount of extra strengthening exercises are going to train these muscles to function well if they are not able to relax as well as contract. It turns out I was one of these uptight women. Working to release these muscles through breathing and relaxation exercises would have be top of my list of fitness tasks for the next few months.
Becoming a student again
In addition to my new pelvic floor relaxation homework, I enjoyed my running at a slow comfortable pace. I also continued with yoga. Luckily for me, my yoga teacher Ruth (EatLiveSmile.com) was also pregnant at the same time. Being a few months ahead of my journey, she became an inspiration, an example of how yoga can be adapted to suit the new body shape as each month progressed. Both running and yoga worked together in these months to help me keep active, calm and relaxed.
Not all plain sailing
I don’t claim to be a model student for pregnancy fitness. At times life took over and I let myself feel guilty and stressed for not fitting everything in. I didn’t prioritise fitness always. Even though I knew I would never have such freedom again for a long while, I still made excuses. I didn’t have a routine as I was no longer running with my usual buddies and my work schedule meant pregnancy classes were not practical. Even though I was mindful that not everyone was lucky enough to be this mobile and active, I became good at talking myself out of exercise. What I may have been missing was support from other pregnant women.
Finding like-minded bumps
From 14 weeks, studios welcome students for pre-natal Pilates, yoga and aqua-natal classes. If you have been very active pre-pregnancy and are still feeling strong, these classes can seem a little tame initially. Most of these classes will pose a different challenge – learning to relax. I was well into my third trimester before I felt I could relax and enjoy classes tailored for pregnancy, but for many women they enjoy this chance to wind down each week and focus on their pregnancy. Not only is the movement wonderful for the body, but greatly appreciated are the nuggets of information on birth preparation from the teachers and the opportunity to chat to other women who are at a similar stage.
Moving towards the next stage
By end of second trimester I still felt as comfortable as the start. Either that or I had forgotten what life was like before the bump. I was indeed a lot rounder, but by keeping active, outdoors and moving I thankfully didn’t feel the weight as much as I had expected. At this stage I had no idea what trimester three or labour would hold for me, but at least I felt comfortable that had done a reasonably amount in these early stages to build my confidence. As I reached the end of this second trimester, at 28 weeks pregnant, I was finally ready to start down the scary road of shopping for prams and car seats. That would transpire to be a workout in itself.
Next in Series (Feb), Fitness in the Third Trimester
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.