“I'm not fat...just pregnant...” This became my mantra over the last 9 months. What happens when a personal trainer who works almost exclusively with weight loss clients faces her own pregnancy weight gain challenge? Like many women, I struggled with the idea of gaining weight during pregnancy. Seeing my body change was stressful at times, but alas, I knew it was a necessary part of motherhood.
Maybe I was lucky to have the added pressure of being a trainer. I had an image to uphold. Gaining too much could have been bad for business. I didn't want to let my clients down, BUT ultimately it was not my work life that helped me stay on track. It was the health of my baby girl that seemed to keep me motivated...even when all I wanted to do was sleep and eat ice cream.
I'm due any day now, and by maintaining healthy eating habits and exercising regularly I gained 30 pounds with this pregnancy (not too little, not too much). This moderate gain is good for baby too! Studies have shown overweight or obese mothers tend to have larger babies, and larger babies (over 8lbs 12oz) have a greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity later in life. In addition, a mother who exercises has shown to have a fetus with a lower heart rate and greater fetal heart rate variability, which is a very good thing!
If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant here are some tips from my personal experience that may help you stay on track...
My Approach to Healthy Eating:
When you are pregnant you are eating for two, right? Um, not so much... More like eating for 1 and a tiny fetus... But, of coarse, many of us have been programmed to believe that as a pregnant woman we are entitled to eat as much as we want when we want it, and everything from ice ream to pickles are fair game. In reality you only need about 300 extra calories a day. That's the equivalent of a small afternoon snack. I really had to fight against the misconception that I was "allowed" to indulge every step of the way.
The other factor working against me was hunger. I was definitely hungrier than my pre-pregnancy self who could get through a work day living on coffee, fruit, nuts and salad. During my first trimester I found myself ravenous every couple of hours, and specifically craving things like bagels and cookies. I even felt nauseous and weak if I didn't eat often.
How did I end up staying on track even when it felt impossible? I kept my focus on what was best for my baby. And what do you know, it turned out to be the same things that were best for me! I concentrated on intake of protein and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. I tried to stay away from foods that had no direct benefit to my growing baby, such as processed foods, sugary foods, or anything with ingredients I couldn't pronounce. When I had a craving for something bad I would ask myself- "How does this help my baby?" and most of the time it worked. Not to say I never indulged. I definitely had my fair share of Ben and Jerry's, but I often opted for the frozen yogurt instead of the ice cream.
I aimed to eat the recommended 70 grams of protein a day (25 grams more than the recommended amount for a non pregnant woman). Protein is a building block for human tissues, so knowing that each meal was making my baby bigger and stronger was extra incentive get those 70 grams. Greek yogurt, protein smoothies, nuts, tofu, fish (in moderation) and lean meats where staples in my house. Every meal revolved around the protein. Just to give an example – one chicken breast has 30 grams of protein, so you can imagine that fitting 70 grams per day could take some extra thought and planning. Bagels are not a high protein meal, and therefore there was no room in my day for a bagel!
The next step was adding in the fruits and veggies to make sure I was getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. I started using what experts are now calling the “rainbow approach” to my fruit/veggie intake. With the rainbow approach the goal is to eat a colorful assortment of produce each day, from strawberries to eggplant, and spinach to sweet potato. Because I am not a nutritionist and am not always sure which foods contain which vitamins, the rainbow approach was a good way to insure the my baby was getting a little bit of everything.
My Exercise Routine:
Because I am someone who really enjoys staying active, it was not hard to make it to the gym or a yoga class. I know that is not the case for everyone, but I have to say, even when it was the last thing I felt like doing, I always came out of the gym feeling re-energized and free from the pregnancy blahs. I truly believe it helped to make my pregnancy go smoothly with minimal discomfort, making mommy and baby happier all around. I worked out 4 to 6 times per week during my entire pregnancy, with at least 4 days of 30 to 40 minute cardio sessions. Other days I added moderate strength training and/or yoga to the mix.
Please note: After the the first trimester it is not recommended to lay on your back, do extreme back bends, high impact exercises, intense core work, exercises in which you could easily fall, or perform any deep twists, so I made the appropriate modifications.
When I found out I was pregnant my heart rate monitor became my best friend. 140 bpm is the recommended maximum heart rate for pregnant women. For most people this is a moderate max heart rate in which you can break a little sweat and feel slightly out of breath. I highly recommend using a heart rate monitor for exercising while pregnant. That way the guess work is taken away, and you can get the optimum benefit out of your workout while insuring that your baby is safe.
While strength training, I kept the workout moderate by using light weight and high repetition sets (12 to 15 reps). That way I could keep my muscle tone without over straining my body and putting stress on my baby. As I got bigger and my balance began to falter, using the machines in the gym felt safer than using the free weights. Keeping my muscles strong greatly decreases the time it will take to get my pre-baby body back. I see it all the time. Women who stay toned during pregnancy take less time shedding the baby weight postpartum.
Like many women, yoga helped me to stay calm and focused throughout my pregnancy, but on a physical level it helped me maintain my core strength. The breath work is great for calming the mind and body, but is is also a key component to strengthening the transverse abdominis (the band of core muscle that wraps around the torso like a big thick belt). Keeping the transverse abdominis strong throughout pregnancy can help the pre-baby belly come back sooner, and can help prevent and repair a diastasis (separation) of the abdominal muscles. So taking deep yoga breaths on and off my mat has hopefully kept my core intact.
Looking back over the last 9 months I feel a sense of pride. I think of this experience as the first test of motherhood. Could I put my baby's needs before my own? Could I take care of my body to keep her healthy? Yes I could! Was it completely selfless? No it wasn't. There were definitely moments of frustration as my body changed, and my patient husband had handle many “I feel fat” situations. I will admit that I want to fit in to my pre-pregnancy jeans as soon as humanly possible. BUT overall it was the growing love for my baby that kept me on the healthy path. I could not have done it without her tiny presence.
And hopefully all this exercise and healthy eating will make for a easy labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery...Stay tuned for the postpartum blog post!