Continuing my series about staying fit during pregnancy, here is the last article bringing you my insights, as I am about to ‘cross the finish line’ during my final weeks of the third trimester. At the time of writing this article, I have about 2.5 weeks left until Bubba’s official due date, so technically speaking, I could go into labour any day now! A very exciting and a very nerve-wrecking period, if you ask me – I better get on with this article!
If you have missed the first two articles in this series, you can catch up on my first trimester fitness tips by clicking here and read about how I managed to stay fit in the second trimester by following this link here.
How did I find the third trimester overall?
In a nutshell, if I could describe each trimster with one word only, I would say that the first trimester was about ‘feeling sick’, the second trimester was my ‘flourising and come back’ and the third trimester has been an ‘an absolute pain in the arse’. I am not going to sugar-coat this – I can’t wait not to be pregnant any more! Part of me is very excited about meeting Bubba and part of me is just longing to feel slim and light again, to fit into my clothes, to be able to exercise without restrictions and modifications and just to ‘feel like myself’ again.
Me with my brother – I’m 37 weeks+1 day preggars
I have encountered various different challenges as I progressed beyond 7 months of pregnancy which have had an impact on both my mental and physical fitness and wellbeing:-
- I started to significantly slow down, and my normal activities such as doing housework chores, going up and down stairs and just trying to follow my regular workouts made me feel more tired than usual. Funnily enough, this seems to have very little to do with my actual size (people often comment that I do not look enormous, even though I do feel like a giant hippo), but more like my body directing all its resources towards growing Bubba.
- I still need regular naps to get me through certain days; especially because my sleep at night has become very fragmented due to being uncomfortable, leaving me feel tired. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept well and woke up feeling refreshed. Unfortunately, this has resulted in hubby and I often needing to sleep apart to make sure that at least he can get a good night’s sleep – even though this is a necessity, it does not do any good for nourishing intimacy.
- All the usual pregnancy related niggles have started to appear during this trimester – just to list a few: constant urge to pee (Bubba likes to use my bladder as a trampouline); frequent bloatedness and heartburn (usually hits me during the night); hip/glute pain (this comes and goes, though, depending on the type of activities I do – fast paced or long walks seem to be a definite trigger); decreased immune function (I got sick twice within a very short period – once with a nasty tummy bug putting me out of action for two days, and once with a stinking cold). Some of these symptoms I have learnt to tackle, for example, I often go to the loo regardless of how much I actually need to pee to find relief from the pressure on my bladder; I keep Deflatine, Gaviscon and peppermint tea on my bedside table to help me get through tougher nights; I do not eat or drink anything after 6pm or just a very small dinner to avoid discomfort at night; I have had the flu jab and been avoiding sick people; my foamroller and massage balls have been promoted to be my new best friends!
- In addition, I have been experiencing some really intense emotions, too. I have felt a great deal of stress about the huge amount of work we are needing to do at home with very limited free time on our hands to prepare for Bubba’s arrival; I have been struggling with feeling jealous of my running buddies and hubby seeing them complete many fantastic adventures and races that I am unable to do in this state (yes, I do feel I am missing out on a lot of things right now, and God knows how long for); I have also felt down about losing my ability to carry on with my workouts at the level I am used to (a constant battle in my head), so I started to workout at home to avoid exposing myself to the (painful) sight of superfit people around me in the gym.
- Finally, even though I am very happy and relieved that I have successfully reached ‘full term’ (aka 37 weeks) in my pregnancy, these past few weeks have also been riddled with pregnancy related anxiety. On one ocassion, my midwife had to send me to hospital to get Bubba’s heartrate monitored as she had picked up irregular readings on her doppler device during my regular appointment. Thankfully, it was a ‘false alarm’, but it just shows that even though things have been going smoothly and without complications, there are still no guarantees that there won’t be any issues further down the road. I am very prone to fretting and panicking so I really need to focus on ‘chilling out’ both mentally and physically during these final few weeks to preserve my sanity.
Despite the many negatives, there have been a few positives, too, that are worthy to mention:-
- I have FINALLY started my maternity leave which means there is one less thing to worry about and I have more time on my hands to do stuff, relax and ‘nest’. It seems I left work just at the right time as it was turning into a really tough and manic period for my whole team. God, it felt good walking out of the office on my last Friday afternoon with my boxed up stuff!
- Bubba has grown A LOT over the past 2 months and I always find it entertaining to see how (s)he is moving around in my tummy – sometimes drawing funny shapes or causing vibrations ‘down there’ as (s)he is hiccuping! (Yes, hiccups in the womb are prefectly normal and very common!)
- When my midwife took my weight at my latest check up appointment, I felt satisfied to know I had ‘only’ put on normal amount of weight during my pregnancy, meaning I have done a good job with healthy eating and regular exercising to keep things under control. I also noticed that I have gained muscle which I never thought was possible during pregnancy!
- No stretch marks (do not want to jinx things, though!) – one of my biggest body image related fears. Call me vain, but it is a HUGE deal for me; the only difference is that some of us admit it and some of us try to ignore it.
In light of the above, I have come up with the following tips and coping strategies for maintaining fitness and health during the third trimester. Like I said before, these articles in the pregnancy and postpartum series on my blog are meant to be an account of my own experience, my own highs and lows, rather than suggest that everybody else should expect to go through the same. As always, make sure to consult with your midwife and/or doctor and get green light from them for exercising during all stages of pregnancy. However, at the end of the day, it is your body, and only you can know for sure what feels good and right, and what doesn’t!
1. Translate your ‘nesting instinct’ into getting your ‘fitness game’ into order
The nesting instinct is an irresistible urge to get everything ready for the new baby’s impending arrival; this desire tends to be the strongest in the final weeks coming up on delivery. I have found myself re-organising things at home, decluttering and replacing stuff, acquiring new stuff and tidying like there’s no tomorrow – those who know me well, realise this is very atypical behavior of me, so the only reasonable explanation is that my brain has been clearly hijacked by pregnancy hormones!
I have learnt to leverage this instinct in my fitness game as well. Now that I am on maternity leave, I have taken stock of what sort of equipment and tools I have in my home gym. As part of this process, I started selling a few items I don’t need any more and have acquired a number of things that I feel would be useful to have around when Bubba arrives and I find it tricky to get down to the gym. The main things Hubby and I have invested into are a water rower and a full set of pro grade kettlebells – which are perfect to get our sweat on at home! Also, during these final weeks of pregnancy, I feel more comfortable working out at home – I would certainly be mortified if my waters broke during exercising in the gym in a full view of everyone!
2. Prepare a strategy for post-partum recovery and safe return to exercise
I like to go into new things with having a clear idea of what I can expect and how I can tackle any challenges that lie ahead. The post-partum period is no different – I have no illusions that pregnancy is the ‘easy’ part and the ‘aftermath’ that comes after delivery will be the real test.
I know that keeping fit and eating well are two strategies that have helped me stayed healthy and happy, so this will be no different once Bubba is here. I started involving my hubby in these plans by first making him understand why having some time to myself to exercise and eat nutritions meals are so important to me. I believe that a happy Mum makes a happy baby, so it’s a win-win for everyone if Mum gets a bit of ‘me time’ every now and then.
We have already addressed the potential challenge of not being able to go out much (at least initially) by doing up our home gym. In addition to that, now that I have some time on my hands before Bubba arrives, I have started writing up exercise plans and collating exercise ideas using Youtube, Instagram and books so that I won’t have to spend ages coming up with these ideas when I’m so consumed with Mum duties. As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail!
I have also done extensive research on how to rehab myself after giving birth, what specialists I can see for a thorough assessment after 6 weeks, and how I can return safely to exercising. Unfortunately, post partum care for women in the UK is pretty basic with the primary focus being on the newborn. Thankfully, I have come across some fantastic resources online about pelvic floor health and restoration, and also met a local pelvic floor physiotherapist, so I do not feel so lost and helpless any more!
Finally, make sure that you surround yourself with people who are supportive of your postpartum recovery and fitness goals – those who will lift you up and can actually provide that practical help you will need to make things happen.
Here are some resources I can recommend to help you on your postpartum recovery journey:-
- Girls Gone Strong – Strong Moms Sisterhood Facebook Group
- Girls Gone Strong community
- Dr Jen Torborg’s books: Your Best Pregnancy Ever and Your Best Body after Baby
- Vicki Causer at Strong Mamma and Rebecca Aston at Becky Aston Physiotherapy – if you live near London
- Instagram: Ashley Nowe at Get Mom Strong; Kim Kopni at The Vagina Coach; Haley Shevener post-partum athleticism coach; Tracy Sher aka The Pelvic Guru; Julie Wiebe women’s health physio; Girls Gone Strong
3. Give lots of TLC for your body and practice self-care
As pregnancy niggles started to appear in this trimester, I am trying to stretch each day and use my foamroller, Orb ball, and tennis ball to release tension in my muscles. It seems that my lower back and my glutes/hips have fallen victim to my expanding midriff – which is no surprise as I have recently found out that I am carrying 12 extra kilos (!) every day which inevitably places more stress on my joints and influences my posture. (This weight gain comes from Bubba’s weight, the weight of the uterus and placenta, amniotic fluid, extra blood circulating in my system, water retention, my boobs having grown bigger and heavier to prepare for breastfeeding).
I am happy to report that these practices have helped a lot keeping my niggles at bay and not having them constantly. These are now part of my workout routine, rather than an ‘optional extra’.
Other forms of self-care to reduce these niggles may include taking a relaxing bath, visiting a spa, doing some gentle yoga or thai chi, getting a massage…
4. Practice correct alignment in exercise and daily activities
I carried on exercising and doing all the normal stuff I do regularly during the final trimester (with some modifications, of course – such as taking longer breaks between sets and exercises; replacing or ‘bump-proofing’ some exercises; lowering the weight for some moves; taking more rest days between two workouts etc.).
Naturally, as my bump has grown significantly, the temptation to arch my lower back and ‘waddle’ have grown alongside it, too, in an attempt to make myself feel more comfortable carrying this extra weight. However, these unnatural postural and moving patterns will not do you any good long term, so you do not want to settle into these, no matter how tempting. Make a conscious effort to monitor and correct your posture by checking that your ribs are stacked over your pelvis to facilitate a ‘neutral spine’ posture; you are taking nice and full breaths (not laboured and shallow); your pelvic floor is contracting and relaxing naturally during exercise and daily activities.
5. Start incorporating pelvic floor fitness into your day (your most neglected muscle group!)
One thing I have learnt is that working from the inside-out is definitely the key for pregnant and post-natal women. The weight of the baby and all that pushing during labour WILL significantly impact your pelvic floor muscles (often causing temporary incontinence and sometimes even organ prolapse – eeek!). Therefore, training and retraining this inner core system before going back to more intense forms of exercise is non-negotiable.
Make time to do kegels instead of making time to buy pads to mask the symptoms of having a weakened pelvic floor! There are many things you can do to rehab your pelvic floor through exercise so you do not have to live with the unpleasant ‘side effects’ of pregnancy and childbirth for the rest of your life – peeing yourself, feeling pain on your pelvic floor, coping with big abdominal separation that causes a pooch (diastasis recti), painful sex, back pain are common but NOT normal and CAN be fixed or at least improved through exercises and with the help of an experienced pelvic floor PT.
The scope of this article does not extend to going into great detail on the anatomy of the pelvic floor muscles and how to do kegels correctly – check out some of the resources I listed under point 2, especially Dr Jen Torborg’s books and the Vagina Coach Instagram account for some practical advice in this area.
Well, this is all I can think of that has helped me get through the third trimester mentally and physically speaking – I hope there is some helpful food for thought in there for everyone! Now it is only a matter of a couple of weeks until I enter the next chapter, the so-called ‘fourth trimster’ which will be about postpartum recovery, bouncing ‘forwards’ and adjusting to new roles and routines. Wish me luck!
If you are or have been pregnant, how did you find the third trimester? What startegies helped you to stay fit and healthy on the final stretch?