Feel the Burn: Working Out in Your First Trimester -The Toast

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urlPrevious installments of “Feel the Burn” can be found here.

I don’t care, do what you want.


No? Okay, let’s talk about this. You can definitely work out during your first trimester, provided:

1. You have had a conversation about it with your VERY OWN qualified medical professional, be that an ob-gyn, a midwife, or the babbling brook you plan to immerse your junk in to give birth.

2. You are experiencing a normal, low-risk pregnancy as diagnosed by the above medical professional, or a non-low-risk pregnancy for which the above medical professional has signed off on exercise.

3. You feel like it.

girlfriends-guide-to-pregnancyI, personally, did not work out at all during my first pregnancy, apart from the occasional brisk stroll, because I didn’t really start being a Serious Gym Rat until after I had my daughter. I was also reading the (awful) Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy (don’t buy it, but use our affiliate link if you do), which is a treatise that distills the experience of having a bunch of frenemies who say things like “well, I would never forgive myself if I murdered my unborn child by doing a few sets of alternating lunges, but you do you” into a WHOLE BOOK. I never took that part particularly seriously, but now I reject it with extreme prejudice. This pregnancy (I am pregnant, in case you do not read every single link roundup) I have kept on keepin’ on, like a bird that flew [and did TRX table rows.]

What I’ve learned from talking to ob-gyns, and my own midwife, is that we really do not know a whole lot about exactly what is and is not safe when it comes to exercise during pregnancy, because, as you can imagine, the studies are tough to conduct. A lot of what we know is actually based on women who have continued to work at very physically-demanding jobs during pregnancy (which is associated with a higher rate of miscarriage), but, of course, that comes with a variety of stress and also limits a woman’s ability to, you know, stop when things don’t feel right. The recommendations for things like heart rate are no longer taken particularly seriously (and are exceptionally different for different women.) You’ll see “don’t go above 140,” but I’m ALWAYS above 140 when I’m working out, so I’ve just taken to strapping a heart rate monitor under the bottom of my sports bra and taking a few minutes to simmer once I hit 160. For me, that’s a good bet.

Things I Know For Sure (In That I Have Received Consistent and Plausible-Seeming Advice From Professionals About It and It Has Proved Intuitive in My Own Life):

1. This is not the time to boldly start a new exercise regimen if you are not currently physically active. That doesn’t mean you can’t start going for nice walks, and then slowly extending them or increasing your speed over time, it doesn’t mean you can’t putz around on the elliptical, it doesn’t mean you can’t go swimming, etc. But it’s not, like, a good time to say “man, I really gotta figure out what all this Crossfit fuss is about!” Crossfit will still be there once you give birth.

2. You can, for the most part, definitely keep doing what you’ve been doing. Your fetus is latched onto you like a bad date.

3. Use even better form than usual (I apologize, I know your form is flawless.) Loosen up on your goals for reps. Make ’em pretty.

4. If you have a miscarriage in your first trimester, you are in good company; between one in four and one in five pregnancies will end in miscarriage during that time period. It’s shitty. It’s not you. You didn’t do anything. I just had a good, good friend in the BLOOM of fucking good health lose a pregnancy, and her doctor, bless him, sat down and took her hand and said: “let me be extremely clear about this, this had nothing to do with [activity people might blame because they have no awareness of the human body] or [activity people might have blamed in the 16th century] or [benign food product ingested].” Shit just happens. I really hope it doesn’t happen to you.

5. It’s a good time to ditch stuff like box-jumps or stuff that relies a ton on balance (though that will be more important as you get bigger and forget where your body parts are), you can start cooling it on stuff that involves a lot of torso twisting (SWEET.)

6. If you start cramping, stop. If you start bleeding, stop.

7. Hydrate more than usual, and don’t go in with an empty stomach, you’re more likely to faint than usual.

8. You may feel like death warmed-over for this whole trimester, and you don’t have to do a GODDAMN THING if you don’t want to.

Let’s expand on that.

Wildly generalizing, the two worst parts of pregnancy are the first 12 weeks and the last 4*. You do not yet look pregnant, you are often just bone-chillingly tired for no reason, and often you are a puke monster. This time was a lot better for me. Last time I threw up when I brushed my teeth, because my gag reflex became a hair trigger, but this time I only felt sick when I had an empty stomach. In related news, I am much, much larger than I was this time in my first pregnancy (your uterus may also boomerang out almost immediately, in a “oh, yeah, we’ve done this” reflex.) I encourage you to eat as well as you possibly can and do as much glorious physical activity as you possibly can in the time between when you test positive and when you hit about six weeks and start feeling like shit. It’s a lil window of delight.

I was able to do my thing, generally speaking, almost all of my first trimester, except for the wall I hit in week nine, when I went to the gym, and was just fucking useless. It’s not that my muscles were more sore than usual, or that my cardio was off. It’s that my body was tired and didn’t care. So I finished my session out, went home, and waited to feel like a person again.

This is for you, is the important thing to remember. Your body will make the baby, despite you. If you can only eat Ritz crackers, your body will extract the nutrients it needs from your withering corpse and give them to the baby. Women in comas have given birth to babies. Exercise during pregnancy in general looks like it’s pretty good for the baby, and all, but you’re going to be doing enough things, grimly, for the damn baby’s benefit, and more once the baby comes. Exercise can be a nice way to remember that you’re a person with a body that isn’t just incubating a plucked chicken, it can help you sleep, it MIGHT help with fatigue, but who the hell really knows?

Go for a nice walk, if you want to, okay?

*My advice for the last 4 weeks is to find a kiddie pool and make whoever put the baby in you or encouraged you to have one put in you spray you constantly with a cool mist of water while singing gentle soft-rock hits from the 1970s.

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