By Krista Mann
It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to slip on my backpack, but when I didn’t reach to click the hip belt into place, and instead smoothed my shirt over my growing belly, I was reminded once again that this trip was going to be a bit different. At six months pregnant, I was headed out on a four-night backpacking trip, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Even before I found out that I was pregnant, I was fiercely determined that I’d stay active as an expecting mom. It was in my blood. I had been playing sports and hiking since I was three, and to stop moving would be almost like holding my breath for nine months. Luckily, we live in a day and age when being active while pregnant is not just viewed as OK, it’s encouraged. It seems like there’s always a new study supporting the benefits of this choice: A recent article in the New York Times stated, “Mother’s Exercise May Boost Baby’s Brain,” and Science Daily boasts, “Physically active moms-to-be give babies a head start on heart health.” And Dr. Raul Artal, who chairs the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine, explains that, “Pregnancy should not be a state of confinement or indulgence for women. Women who remain inactive during pregnancy face the potential for significant weight gain, which can lead to obesity, gestational diabetes, and many related complications for them and for their babies.”
Books and websites and doctors all encourage women to stay active, listing benefits like improved sleep, less fatigue, reduced back pain, healthier babies, easier labor, and faster post-partum recovery, just to name a few. The short story: Pregnant women should stay active because it’s good for baby and good for mom. Music to my ears.
But what does staying active while pregnant actually look like for you?
First, talk to your doctor and consider your level of activity pre-pregnancy. Every woman, and pregnancy, is different, and you want to make sure you are safely participating in exercise and outdoor activities.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “most forms of exercise are safe while pregnant,” but ACOG does advise against doing exercise while lying flat on your back after the first trimester and suggests pregnant women avoid contact sports, scuba diving, and exercise with an increased risk of falling.
Try These Safe Activities
Even with these limitations, there are so many activities you can do to stay moving. For example:
-Low-impact and water aerobics
-Cycling, including stationary or recumbent bikes (As your belly grows, be careful as your balance changes and increases the risks of falling.)
Other pre-pregnancy activities include light strength training, running, and racquet sports. But, as noted above, it is important to discuss your pre-pregnancy exercise and normal athletic pursuits with your doctor so you can safely continue to enjoy your favorite activities.
With my past experience backpacking and hiking, as well as with my doctor’s approval, I felt very comfortable setting off on a multi-night trip and was capable of hiking distance—even at six-months pregnant. But I also knew this trip needed to be a little different. I knew that my pack needed to be lighter, that we would hike less mileage per day, and that I would eat and drink more. So I wanted to go someplace where I already felt comfortable with the terrain. Experts across the board seem to stress this point. Be active, but adapt to your changing body and set realistic expectations.
Certified Lamaze Educator and Certified Prenatal Yoga Teacher, Deena Blumenfeld, who’s the owner and principal educator at Shining Light Prenatal Education, reiterates this idea. “Pregnancy teaches us to be flexible, not physically, but mentally. It teaches us to slow down and appreciate what our bodies say.” She says that women can still enjoy the activities they participated in pre-pregnancy, but that it is important to adapt, pay attention, and respond to your body’s needs during pregnancy.
Watch For These Things
In addition to talking with your doctor, and listening to your body, it is important to be aware of warning signs. ACOG recommends that you stop the activity and contact your care provider if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising:
-Dizziness or fainting
-Increased shortness of breath
-Calf pain or swelling
-Decreased fetal movement
-Fluid leaking from the vagina
Eat and Drink
The key to safely enjoying exercise while pregnant is to stay hydrated and fuel your body. This means drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise as well as maintaining a calorie intake that meets both your pregnancy and exercise needs.
While backpacking, regular water breaks and trail snacking helped me maintain my energy and enjoy our prolonged daily hikes. Anytime I started to feel grumpy or tired, I remembered it was a sign that we needed to pull over for a snack!
Dress Your Bump Right
Finding maternity exercise clothes can be a challenge, but this is an important component to an enjoyable active pregnancy. ACOG recommends wearing a supportive bra and picking clothes that are comfortable and cool (to avoid overheating).
There are a few maternity-specific outdoor providers like Mountain Mama, and some clothing stores have an active wear maternity section, but selections are often limited and expensive. Picking a few quality, seasonally specific pieces is a good start, and you can supplement your wardrobe by borrowing from friends, stealing from your significant other, or sizing up in everyday active wear. The most important element is to find clothes that are comfortable and breathable.
During our backpacking trip, I employed all three options: I borrowed, sized-up, and bought one nice maternity mid-layer. The rain jacket I borrowed from my husband was so big I was swimming in it, but it was comfortable and allowed me to add layers underneath, which were my two priorities. Being flexible and creative will help you find the right mixes for your active maternity wardrobe.
Staying active should also be fun. One of the benefits of exercising while pregnant is improved mood, and selecting activities that make you happy can only enhance those feelings.
Exercise as a couple. Blumenfeld notes that including your partner can be a great way to work in quality time together before the baby is born and also maintain the lifestyle you enjoy as a family.
Get social. Joining pregnancy-specific classes can be a great way to find or build a community while also staying active. Spending time exercising with current friends can also help maintain relationships since it’s a way to share your pregnancy journey.
Do what you love, but adapt. Doing activities that you already love helps you stay connected to who you are and lets you share, from the first moment, those things with your baby. Adapting those activities to accommodate your changing body helps you do this in an enjoyable and safe way, tailored specifically to you.
My backpacking trip allowed me to take my baby to one of my favorite places, doing one of my favorite things. It was a chance to keep moving and catch hold of a moment. For me, this moment really came together while sitting on a bleached-white piece of driftwood, watching the sun set in bursts of sorbet-like colors over Lake Superior as ice crackled and melted out on the water. I held my husband’s hand, and felt my baby kick, as my muscles relaxed after a long day leaving footprints on a sandy trail, so happy to be both active and pregnant.
This article originally ran in Women’s Adventure magazine‘s Fall 2014 issue.