Written by Charlie Shotton-Gale.
When I found out I was pregnant for the first time I was obviously elated. However, I discovered I was pregnant at approximately 2 weeks, so it was quite early and before all the symptoms began. My husband, family and friends all got very excited and starting all the joyous talk and celebrations.
Then the symptoms came.
And boy, did they come.
I was very lucky to have absolutely no morning sickness or nausea at all, my food cravings changed but weren’t ridiculous at all.
But the tiredness. Ohhh the tiredness.
Prior to pregnancy I was one of the hardest working people I know, I would be on the go from waking at 6am to getting in at night at 9pm. I run 3 organisations and was still Powerlifting training. However, that all became hugely irrelevant when the tiredness hit me. I would sleep for 10 hours a night then nap two or three times a day. 1 week I just didn’t wake up, my eyes would be open, but I was not awake!
When I fell pregnant I was coming out the back of a serious 10 month long back and hip musculature injury (multi factorial rather than just 1 issue) and had not been able to train at full capacity for a long time, although I was increasing the loads on my lower body.
This changed dramatically.
I researched so much what I can do when pregnant, what is safe and what is not and why. I spoke to midwives, other pregnant women, I read some stuff online (mistake!). The information was mixed, contradictory, sometimes just frankly ridiculous. so I thought I’d share what information and experience I have thus far to potentially help any other expecting mothers who want to do the best for their body and baby but are facing a lot of challenges.
This was the experience I had for my first trimester:
- Weeks 1-4. I generally feel ok, no sickness, tiredness is getting more but that just means going to bed earlier. Exercise was still fairly regular, 3-4 times a week, but the total volume is a little less.
- Weeks 5-7. Oh my god! what has happened to me, I can’t stay awake, I can’t remember anything, I can concentrate, I can’t exercise without immediately being wasted tired or dizzy, hell I can’t even walk the dogs! And who stole my breath? I can’t breathe anymore if I walk anymore than 10 steps, god forbid I have to walk up a mild hill or climb more than 3 steps. Wow I am glad my dog is old.
- Week 8-9. Ohhhhh, things are feeling a little better, I think I’m going to be able to exercise! Done a couple of weight training sessions and some long dog walks. However, starting to feel changes in my lower abdomen area, a tightness I’m not used to and some odd light pains when I do things like the plank or exercises where I am bracing my core quite hard. I can still do most of the normal exercises though, so when I’m feeling good I do what I can and enjoy it! I might get through this pregnancy on easy street.
- Weeks 10-18. What did I do? Why did I talk so soon. What has happened to me. I am broken, tired, lethargic, hungry, eating crap I don’t want but I know I need (well I need a version of the crap, I’m sure eating a bowl of oats instead of this milk tray would be better for me but I don’t care!) I am struggling so much with everything, exercise is the last thing I can do. However, I have managed 1 weight training session and 1 medium to long (30 to 60 mins) of dog walking each week. The exercises I can do have changed dramatically over the 8 weeks. I can now no longer back squat, the pulling in my lower abdomen area just isn’t worth risking, so I am comfortably front squatting every week. Deadlifts vary week by week so I’m just taking it as they come. I’m told I shouldn’t lie down and bench because the baby and weight could squash my Vena Cava (main blood vessel that transports blood from the lower body back to the heart) but I haven’t found any issue of dizziness or symptoms of this, my internal organs seem to feel ok so I’ve gone with what everyone tells me ‘if you feel ok doing it, then do it.’
I know the first trimester ends by about week 12-14 but my tiredness went on so long I felt it necessary to talk about it here.
The Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy (2019) report was released just as I fell pregnant and I have copied the main recommendations contents below for you, with a link to the document at the end.
The specific recommendations in the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy are provided below with corresponding statements indicating the quality of the evidence informing the recommendations and the strength of the recommendations (explanations follow).
1. All women without contraindication should be physically active throughout pregnancy. Strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence.
Specific subgroups were examined:
► Women who were previously inactive. Strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence.
► Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus. Weak recommendationi , low-quality evidence.
► Women categorised as overweight or obese (prepregnancy body mass index ≥25 kg/m2 ). Strong recommendation , low-quality evidence.
2. Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 min of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to achieve clinically meaningful health benefits and reductions in pregnancy complications. Strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence.
3. Physical activity should be accumulated over a minimum of 3 days per week; however, being active every day is encouraged. Strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence.
4. Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits. Adding yoga and/or gentle stretching may also be beneficial. Strong recommendation, high-quality evidence.
5. Pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) (eg, Kegel exercises) may be performed on a daily basis to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence. Instruction on the proper technique is recommended to obtain optimal benefits. Weak recommendationiv, low-quality evidence.
6. Pregnant women who experience light-headedness, nausea or feel unwell when they exercise flat on their back should modify their exercise position to avoid the supine position. Weak recommendation , very-low quality evidence.
A copy of the full study in PDF can be found here.
What this highlights is that pregnant women should be active at least 3 times a week (if they can, if they can’t don’t worry soon enough you will be able to), should mix up their training with cardiovascular and strength based activities and lying on your back should only be avoided if you experience symptoms such as light headed or dizzy.
I really liked this article, it was clear, concise but detailed enough to give me an idea of how to make up my week, however, it didn’t give me any idea of what I could continue to do in the gym. That took a lot of talking to other female Powerlifters and listening to what worked and didn’t for them, then gently trying that out for myself.
In the next part of this 3 (maybe 4 part, let me see how the tiredness goes when this bundle of joy arrives) series I will talk about exercise and health in the second trimester including:
- What exercises worked for me
- how I structured my training week
- What I ate, why and how it benefited how I felt
- what I was aiming for in this trimester
- Aims and activity for the third trimester
I hope this has helped, if you have any questions about my experiences (any medical questions I would definitely speak to your midwife but I am happy to hear the question regardless) you can comment below or visit the website to drop me an email.
Good luck all those mums-to-be-reading this!
The ever growing one.