June 3rd 2014
Size 13: Pregnancy and the perils of keeping fit
February 6th 2013
Newly pregnant Emma Bartley works out how to stay active in a bump-friendly way
I found out I was pregnant in the loo at work one afternoon. That was about four months ago and looking back, I realise with some surprise that I still use that particular loo regularly without thinking anything of it. It hasn’t become a special loo to me, bringing up waves of nostalgia along with each work wee...
Things change so rapidly in pregnancy that there really isn’t much time to look back. Of course you want to keep your baby as healthy as possible and find out how to do that. But there’s also another thought, more or less from Day One. And that is: “Oh s***. Now that this thing is in there, it’s going to have to come out.”
Ever since I’ve wanted to have children, ever since I can remember, I’ve felt afraid of childbirth. It comes with a particularly frightening vocabulary – contraction, forceps, episiotomy – and really no comparators. You have no idea what that pain will be like; only that it’s often said to be the worst imaginable.
But I’ve also heard some very positive birth stories – my mum did it three times with no complications, and since reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman (£7.99, Ebury Press; www.amazon.co.uk) I’ve had hope that there are things we can do to improve our experience. If you’re one of the six women left in Britain who hasn’t read it, Caitlin had a pretty bad time of it in labour with her first daughter, when she says she simply couldn’t conceive of how a thing “the size of a cat” could fit through her cervix.
The second time, though, she did her research, spent nine months moving around rather than eating crisps on her sofa, and describes her labour as involving walking up and down for hours before getting into a birthing pool, pushing a couple of times and ejecting a baby, shouting: “That was EASY!”
If you believe that positive thinking is important – and the natural birth expert Ina May Gaskin cites a study showing that the fear of pain leads to more pain – that part of the book probably did more for womankind than any of the author’s much-admired feminist rants. It made me determined to try to have an active birth.
Nature helped, of course. One of the benefits of being a Size 13 rather than a princess-perfect Size 6 is that I already followed the NHS advice on preventing morning sickness, which is to snack constantly. And I never experienced anything worse than mild queasiness, so there was nothing to stop me keeping up my pre-pregnancy exercise routine of cycling to work, one spin class a week, one run of up to 5K and a circuit involving weights, PowerPlates and so on.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting, £16.99 (Simon & Schuster, www.amazon.co.uk) my best early-days source of information, said it was fine to carry on doing anything you did before, with a few caveats (you shouldn’t get too hot, avoid lying on your back, stuff like that). I didn’t have any contact with the NHS until my appointment with a midwife at 12 weeks, but Gail Johnson of the Royal College of Midwives confirms the What To Expect advice: “If you’ve already been physically active, there’s no reason you can’t continue,” she says. “We wouldn’t recommend joining a gym when you’ve just found out you’re pregnant – in that situation it’s more about simple things like walking a bit further. But if you are already active then it’s just a matter of making sure you don’t get too hot and taking on lots of fluids. If you become overheated your body has to work hard to make sure the foetus doesn’t get too hot.”
Unfortunately for me, my personal trainer, Zac Taylor – a Sun columnist and one of the first people outside my immediate family to hear my news – took a more cautious line. “Nothing that gets your heart rate up, nothing that gets you hot, no lifting above your chest,” he told me. I ignored him, but every time I turned up in his spin class his loud entreaties to “TAKE IT EASY, YOU” and comments of “YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE” made me quite paranoid about being outed at work before I was ready to be out. Plus, it did sink in a little bit. As well as being careful not to overheat on the bike, I started to run more slowly, walk more often and avoid sit-ups, planks and so on altogether. I even tried yoga (of which more another time).
So I’ve kept up my three weekly gym visits into my second trimester, but can’t help worrying that by easing off I’m losing fitness – and gaining weight. The bump is a definite bump – I don’t feel as if I’ve ballooned all over – but if I bend over, it folds. Is this water? Is it fat? Is there anything I can do to stop it getting worse? We’ll have to look into that next time, because right now I’m experiencing another pregnancy symptom – it’s time to visit that momentous loo.
Vital statistics: Week 22
Bust (widest part): 38in
So it turns out I am more of a pear shape than I thought! I am also including these pictures of me trying to move my baby into a better position for its 20-week scan. That yoga shoulder stand is coming in useful already... (Or not. The little bleeder wouldn't shift and I had to go back another day.)
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