It’s great to see an increasing number of articles that promote the advantages of exercise during pregnancy, benefiting both mother and child. Gone are the days where a pregnant woman sits on the couch all day eating bonbons! Fortunately, research has provided more knowledge about what is considered appropriate exercise, especially as it relates to how much, how hard and how long. But one topic that has received less attention is the mental/emotional side of exercise during pregnancy.
We’re told that we should exercise when pregnant (unless there are absolute/relative contraindications), but that we should take it easy.
We’re told that we should let our body be a guide to help us determine what’s appropriate or not (in addition to rate of perceived exertion, talk test, heart rate targets etc.).
We’re told that we should be grateful to be able to exercise at all. Can’t train for your marathon right now? That’s ok, consider yourself fortunate that you can still perform some form of exercise.
Sounds simple, right? Not always! Just as some women will welcome the break from their usual training and taking it down a notch or two, others might find it a challenge, perhaps more so if she is accustomed to working out hard and pushing her body to the limit.
The truth is that it can be hard to let go of the high one gets from a hard workout. This high is addictive and makes you feel good. Wanting to feel good still applies when you are pregnant, perhaps even more so considering the weight gain, bloating, fatigue, etc.
It can be hard to let your body be the driver, as what you are experiencing in your pregnant body is not always straightforward. Are the symptoms you’re experiencing now part of what’s considered “normal” for a pregnant woman? You might be thinking that you can put up with the aches and pains and discomforts better than most other pregnant women, given your athletic background and higher pain threshold. You might have spent years mastering the ability to push through pain by letting the mind take over (remember how they say performance is 90% mental and 10% physical?)—you’re now told to “soften” and to be more gentle on your body; this softening can be challenging if it’s in your DNA to go hard.
Finally, it can be hard to let go of your structured and vigorous training regimen and of your running goals, especially at first. There may be fear of losing fitness, losing muscle tone, etc. You may have mixed emotions about your pregnancy. On one hand, you are ecstatic about being pregnant; on the other hand, you are sad that you have to postpone your next goal (i.e. race). Furthermore, not having that performance goal may influence your motivation.
If you can relate to some of this, the question then becomes “Now What?”
The first step is to be easy on yourself! What you’re experiencing is common; it just may not be talked about as much. Stop being hard on yourself and let go of any guilt, shame or mixed feelings. Training, and possibly competing, has likely played a significant role in your life; it may not be easy to simply let go of your training and performance goals. Wanting to maintain a certain level of fitness or feeling disappointed about having to postpone a goal race does not make you a bad mom-to-be. I’m not saying to ignore the guidelines and continue doing what you want to do. What I am saying is this: just as it’s important to let your body adjust to the pregnancy, you need to give your mind some time to adjust as well. You’re a beautiful human being, not a robot void of emotions. Acknowledging the mixed emotions and desires will likely help to give yourself permission to ease up a bit on you workouts and expectations.
The second step is to make sure that you are up to date on the recent guidelines and recommendations on exercise and pregnancy. They exist for a reason- to protect the health of you and your baby. Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you make informed decisions (perhaps along with your health care provider or exercise professional) about the right level of activity for you during this time. Reading the Athletic Mom-to-Be is a great start!