Fit Pregnancy Interview Series Part 3
Maggie during her pregnancy - Fit and Strong!
This next fit pregnancy interview is with another online friend of mine, Maggie Wang.
Maggie just delivered her first baby a few weeks ago on Tuesday morning, December 7th. Her son was born at 39 weeks, was a healthy, lean 19.75" and 7 lb 8oz. All of his vitals were fantastic and there were absolutely no signs or symptoms of underdevelopment in any way.
Maggie was very active before her pregnancy, as you’ll read below, and runs a blog encouraging other women to be active too (no Barbie weights, please!). Her website is http://maggiewang.com where she says that she’s been on hiatus, but plans on reviving the blog in January to cover her postpartum recovery.
If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview series, check them out after reading here.
On to the interview with Maggie:
Maggie, this interview is for you to share your fit pregnancy experience with other women. Unfortunately so many women are scared to exercise while pregnant for fear it is harmful for their unborn babies. How do you feel about this now that you’ve had your own fit pregnancy?
With all the conflicting and often out-of-date information out there about exercising during pregnancy and the worries that already accompany pregnancy, I'm not surprised that so many women are afraid to do more than walk and take a prenatal yoga class or two during their pregnancies. Having thrived during the past nine months on a regimen of regular, challenging exercise that a lot of my peers would consider too strenuous while growing a baby, however, I really don't believe that moderately hard to hard levels of exercise during pregnancy are harmful for a woman who was already active before becoming pregnant and has no underlying health issues that would require a total break from working out.
Before we the advent of the early pregnancy test, plenty of women were unaware that they were even pregnant until they were well into their first trimesters. They probably stayed physically active throughout that time without freaking out, eh?
How hard were you exercising before you became pregnant? What were you doing?
I was exercising about five to six days a week for an average of 45 to 60 minutes per day before I became pregnant. I was participating in a three-month fat loss competition at work where I was the only woman competing, so I was pretty serious about my workouts. I knew I'd have to put in a lot more effort to lose body fat than a male would, especially since I'd already been exercising and eating clean for years compared to my male co-workers who were largely sedentary and would have a newcomer's advantage. As for my routine, I generally lifted heavy weights at the gym three or four days and did two 20-30 minute interval runs and one or two longer steady-state cardio sessions per week.
When you found out your were pregnant, did you modify your workout routine? How & Why?
I did modify initially by taking out the highest impact forms of cardio like my interval runs and pure plyometrics workouts. I would have continued running through the first trimester, however, if I hadn't also pledged to do a 30-day challenge with an online group that required us all to do the same circuit-style workouts for the entire month of April. So I gave up running for the most part, but continued to use the elliptical trainer, stationary bike, stepper, boot camp style calisthenics, and other forms of cardio exercise. I continued to lift at around 80% of my pre-pregnancy load until the second half of my third trimester when I switched to a mix of medium to light weights and body weight moves aimed more at maintenance.
I made the changes based more on my level of physical comfort performing the exercises than concern over harming the pregnancy. I figured that if it made ME uncomfortable to run with a belly bouncing around in the second trimester, it probably wasn't doing the baby, my round ligaments, and my skin any favors either.
When you first found out you were pregnant what was your primary concern with respect to your exercise routine?
Honestly, I was very worried that I would be limited to just low-intensity, light workouts that bored me and wouldn't be challenging enough to let me maintain my level of fitness. The thought of nine months of power walking and yoga just wasn't appealing. I desperately wanted to stay as fit as possible during my pregnancy without compromising the safety of my growing baby.
Overall, during your pregnancy, describe what did you do for exercise
My typical week included three strength training sessions and two cardio sessions at a medium high intensity at around 30 minutes each. I also walked for an additional 15 minutes during my lunch breaks at work five days per week. I tried to squeeze in prenatal yoga once or twice a week...but I admit that it usually didn't happen. I think I did yoga about six times in nine months!
How did other people around you react to your fit pregnancy? Was it positive or negative?
I worked with mostly guys, so the reactions were pretty positive for the most part. My exercise routines really didn't come up in conversation much, believe it or not. I got more flak from women in the online pregnancy forums who were NOT exercising. There seemed to be an underlying current of defensiveness regarding the topics of exercise and weight gain in those communities. On the other end of the spectrum, the women in a fitness forum I moderate have been universally supportive of my fit pregnancy journey.
What was the most supportive thing someone told you about your fit pregnancy? The most unsupportive?
The most supportive thing was said by more than one woman (including my doula and several friends who'd had fit pregnancies themselves), but the general gist of it was that pregnancy, labor, and recovery would all be much easier for me because of my continued commitment to exercise.
The most unsupportive thing wasn't that much worse than what you might find in the majority of pregnancy books and web sites about exercise. I remember feeling like I could not be totally honest about the kind of exercise I was actually doing when I went in for my prenatal appointments at the OB/GYN office that provided my care up to 25 weeks. At my very first appointment, the nurse practitioner I normally saw there pretty much said that I should give up all impact cardio, lift no more than 15 pounds, and keep my heart rate below 140 BPM. I'm terribly inefficient at cardio. I can hit 140 BPM at little more than a slow jog. As for lifting no more than 15 pounds—there was no way I could stick to that. So I just nodded when they asked if I was exercising at each check up and never offered up any details.
How was your first trimester, with respect to exercise?
It was pretty good, actually. I experienced some nausea and fatigue during the first trimester like other women, but I found that getting in a workout would completely squash any urge to throw up and give me an energy boost. I was able to exercise at pretty much the same level as I did pre-pregnancy.
In the second trimester, I continued to lift heavy 75-80% of my normal levels. I believe my go to workout programs during that time was Chalean Extreme and TRX suspension trainer workouts because I preferred to work out at home in order to get in more sleep. Cardio was either done at home (interval circuit DVD) or at the gym. I continued my lunch break walks, too. I did notice some round ligament pain about halfway into this trimester as I finally started to show a bit of a bump, so I picked up a maternity support belt to help with that during cardio sessions.
I was gaining about a pound a week at this stage, and my belly was starting to get in the way of some exercises, so I began to modify certain lifts or eliminate others completely. I also backed off of the heavy lower body work from week 32 onwards at the request of my midwife, who said that in her experience, women with too much muscular development in their glutes and hips sometimes had a tougher time relaxing in labor. Since I had switched care providers to a standalone birth center specializing in low-risk, unmedicated, natural childbirths by this time, I was pretty keen on doing what I could to make things work. Cardio became much less comfortable; I confess that I switched to various Wii and Xbox exercise game titles at this point to meet my 2-3 cardio sessions per week quota.
How did you know what you were doing for exercise during your pregnancy was ok/safe? Did you ever doubt your decisions? Were you worried during your pregnancy that you were exercising too hard?
I used Dr. James Clapp's Exercising Through Your Pregnancy as my guide. I don't think that the usual exercise advice found in pregnancy books is geared toward women who were in above average physical condition and very active prior to pregnancy. They are overly conservative because they have to prescribe a program that is safe for even the most sedentary woman to try. Clapp's well-researched book and statistics made me feel much better about following my instincts and continuing to work out an advanced level.
Having lost a prior pregnancy at 8 weeks last year, I admit that in the first trimester when I was doing jumping jacks, burpees, and similar boot camp moves that I sometimes wondered if I was tempting fate again. But deep down, I knew that the embryo was so tiny and well-protected at that point that no amount of jumping jacks would affect it. Twenty to twenty-five percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage in the first trimester, mostly due to chromosomal abnormalities. I'd just been unlucky the first time around.
Once I hit about 19 or 20 weeks and I could feel the baby move, I pretty much stopped worrying about my exercise level harming the baby. He always measured on target at our check ups, and I could feel him bopping around after every meal and when I went to bed.
During your pregnancy, did you have any complications such as hypertension or extreme water retention? Please describe why/why not?
I had the most boring pregnancy in the world when it came to symptoms. I was negative for gestational diabetes, group B strep, pre-eclampsia, and placenta previa. My iron counts were great from the start, so fatigue wasn't even that bad. I never got a single night leg cramp, back ache, or swollen joint. My lactose intolerance mysteriously disappeared until my 37th week or so. As far as I can tell, I was spared from diastasis recti, too. I did throw up one time late in my second trimester, but that was due to food poisoning from a bad cheese stick, not morning sickness.
I truly believe that staying in good shape throughout the pregnancy minimized the worst of the pregnancy aches and pains for me or kept them away completely, especially since so many of the problems are related to poor circulation and weak/deconditioned muscles.
If you could do things differently for your fit pregnancy, what would that be?
I would have tried harder to integrate flexibility training like prenatal yoga into my routine. The few times I did try what I liked to call big belly yoga, I always felt more limber, but it was always last on my list of exercise priorities.
How much total weight did you gain during your pregnancy?
Did you get any stretch marks? If you didn’t, why do you think this happened? If you did, do you think they could have been prevented? Do you think creams or oils prevent them?
I got about half a dozen very small, very light stretch marks on the underside of my belly near the bikini line. They appeared around my 36th week when my bump really expanded. They are less than 1/2” long and could be mistaken for pressure marks from my clothing. I don't think they could have been prevented unless I'd managed to have a much smaller baby bump. Given that I have a very long torso for my height and really didn't protrude all that much, I think I got off lightly.
And no, I don't think that any sort of topical cream or oil can even penetrate down to the dermis where stretch mark damage occurs. I believe that staying well hydrated, eating healthy foods, and maybe keeping up with your fish oil caps are more beneficial.
How was your labor and delivery? -- Natural or Assisted? – Long or short? Briefly describe your birth story.
I had a natural childbirth at exactly 39 weeks—or, as predicted by Clapp's research, right around the seven days early experienced by his exercising test group. Prior to the actual day I went into labor on my own, the only sign I'd had that things were moving along was the loss of a large chunk of my mucous plug about four days earlier. I'd been having painless Braxton-Hicks contractions since the second trimester, but nothing like a real contraction.
My experience was an amazing and empowering, and I am so glad that I prepared myself so well physically for it.
What was the weight/height of baby? APGAR scores?
Spencer was a lean 7 lbs, 8 ounces and 19.75” tall. He latched on quickly after being placed on my chest and has been surprisingly easy to care for. I don't remember what his actual APGAR score was, but he passed each part of his newborn exam with flying colors according to the midwife. He showed none of the signs of being underdeveloped or less than full term despite a slightly early arrival.
We were able to leave the birth center just 5 hours after his birth, and his pediatrician gave him a clean bill of health at his exam the next morning and at his second visit at 6 days old.
How is the health of your baby now even though he’s only a few weeks old?
Spencer is a very easy going baby at almost two weeks. Like others have noted, he is more long and lean than round and chubby, but he has no problem keeping his temperature regulated. We can't keep hats, socks, or mitts on him! He settles down easily and has been breastfeeding like a champ since the midwife put him on my chest at the birth center.
He sleeps for 4-5 hours at a stretch at night already, so I usually only have to do one middle of the night feeding. The second or third night after we brought him home, I woke up around 2:30am to find him semi-kneeling by my left breast latched on and feeding himself. I did NOT put him there. He also sleeps right through walks in his sling and my husband's bouts of Call of Duty Black Ops in the living room. Our relatives all comment on what a calm baby he is.
He had a mild case of jaundice, but cleared it himself with a bit of sun and breastfeeding. Otherwise, he's had no health issues.
How much of your weight gain have you lost since having your baby? How long did it take?
I was down 16 pounds the day after giving birth. I am one week postpartum now, and I have lost another two pounds, which puts me at my pre-pregnancy weight.
How do you feel about your body now?
I am very pleased with how it has weathered pregnancy and labor. My lower abdomen is softer than it has ever been before, but each day I can see it returning little by little to its former state. My weight gain was pretty much limited to my belly and the baby, so there isn't much change to my arms and legs that a few weeks of clean eating and a return to my lifting/cardio program won't fix up. I don't think I am being too optimistic in saying that I expect to be very close to my pre-pregnancy shape in less than three months once I get the go ahead to work out again.
What advice would you give other women who want to have a fit pregnancy?
Do your own research and trust the signals from your own mind and body. There is no one-plan-fits-all prescription for exercising while pregnant, so if the prospect of cutting back to sedate walks for a full nine months makes you a sad panda, by all means modify your current routine to suit each phase of your pregnancy. Our bodies and babies are amazing in their abilities to adapt to the load placed on them by exercise. Your symptoms will be much less severe than those of your non-exercising peers, your chances of achieving the labor and birth you want will be much better, and your recovery time will be much shorter.
Thank you for your time!