I was very happy to find out in October that we were expecting our first child, due in June. Of course, despite my excitement, I had my fears and reservations, and among those was HOW THE HECK AM I GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH SKI SEASON IF I CAN’T SKI. My worst fears were confirmed at my eight-week appointment, when my doctor said in no uncertain terms “no downhill skiing.” So here are my tips for pregnant ladies out there, especially those who are worried about how pregnancy and the potential loss of running, skiing, and other activities will impact many aspects of their lives…
(1) First the good news: You can still continue to do many physically active things, especially early in pregnancy! You can even run a marathon while pregnant!
Early in my pregnancy, with the OK of my doctor, I continued to run. Well, sort of. I quickly found that I felt like total crap all the time and didn’t really want to run much in that first trimester. I made some attempts at both group trail runs and some flatter, longer jogs (I think 9 miles was my longest?). They weren’t particularly successful, but they were something! Despite not having much training under my belt, I did the Route 66 Marathon at about 12 weeks pregnant, a combo of jogging and walking. After that, I just did a couple of other runs maybe a mile or two, more to test out how it would feel. In general it felt weird. It wasn’t painful, just awkward and sort of like my body was saying “let’s not.” So I decided to stop running and focus on other things.
What about my other typical activities? While I immediately stopped horseback riding (well, full disclosure: I took one non-jumping lesson while knowingly pregnant and then stopped…), my doctor was OK with me continuing to boulder at the gym, which I did (conservatively and not well…) until I was nearly six months pregnant, when my body just felt too heavy and awkward to continue.
But scroll down to Tip 5 for physical activities that worked for me throughout my pregnancy!
(2) Don’t be surprised if you just want to melt into a blanket on the floor. AND THAT’S OK!
This needs to be said. During my first trimester, I used to come home from work a little early and literally just sit on my couch in the dark until my husband came home. I was too tired to even turn on HGTV. I didn’t want to eat anything. I didn’t want to walk the dog. When my husband would get home, I’d move to the floor under a weighted blanket and we’d watch The Great British Baking Show on Netflix until 8 pm at which time I would completely pass out. For weeks, this was our routine.
(3) Just eat what you can.
Many athletes, especially women, give a lot of thought to what they eat, how they fuel, how they recover, etc. etc. Pregnancy can really disrupt all that, by changing your physical activity level, your nutritional needs, and your appetite.
In my first trimester, I lived exclusively on Annie’s bagel bites, Cascadian Farms’ organic version of Golden Grahams, and occasional fast food (Burger King veggie burgers, avocado rolls from Tokyo Joe’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, Burger King French toast sticks… you get the point). And orange juice. Nothing else sounded good, but I also found that if I simply didn’t eat, I felt dramatically worse and more nauseas.
Fortunately, I eventually made it out of that phase (week 14 was a turning point) and regained a relatively normal appetite, although I never got back on the high-protein meal prep train I’d been riding for a while before getting pregnant.
Despite my early queasiness, I’ve so far gained at the upper end of the “acceptable” limits (25-35 lbs total recommended if you start out at a “normal” weight), and a lot of that was gained pretty quickly during the second trimester. (Just remember, weight gain is often not linear during pregnancy.) Anyway, I’m likely going to gain more than 35 lbs when this is all said and done. But I’ve decided, and have communicated to my doctor, that I just don’t think it is healthy for my mental health to obsess over what I eat during this pregnancy. So that’s the plan.
(4) Think about the non-physical benefits of working out, and try to get those things in other ways.
When I workout, there are four things that I really get out of it: physical exercise, time with my thoughts and/or podcasts, time with my friends, and time outdoors. So let’s set aside the physical exercise piece which I’ll talk about a little later on. Those other three things? REALLY IMPORTANT! And not things you want to lose just because you are pregnant. So don’t forget to find ways to integrate them into your pregnant life. I’ve gotten nature time and time to process my thoughts while hiking and snowshoeing. I listen to podcasts while walking the dog around the neighborhood. I’ve gone out of my way to do some dinners and casual walks with my friends, even if they are friends that I usually only run with — otherwise I’d never see them these days! And I’ve found great social aspects to prenatal yoga, discussed more below. These are just a few examples.
(5) Prenatal yoga, walking, swimming, and water aerobics can have their place, even if they don’t sound immediately enticing.
Early in my pregnancy, my physical therapist recommended a water aerobics class. At the time, I’d gained like 8 pounds or something and felt tired but not particularly pregnant. But it seemed like something that might make more sense during my third trimester, when I felt huge and the weightlessness would be a nice break. She talked about how when she would get into the pool when she was pregnant, her body would release all the fluid that was in her hands and feet, and she’d pee like 7 gallons afterward. Sounded pretty satisfying! I can’t say that was my exact experience, but I did try out some prenatal water aerobics at the local rec center a few weeks ago and it was an interesting little adventure, if not the best workout of my life. I’ve only gone once so far, but we’ll see. I have also tried to swim more these last few weeks, especially when it’s been cold, rainy, or muddy outside. I really really hate swimming (GAH IT IS SO BORING!), but even 10 minutes of laps feels better than nothing.
More often, I try to walk. As in, like, everyday. Operative word: try. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit in, or I come home tired. But especially with the time change and more daylight, I’m feeling optimistic about my walking for the rest of my pregnancy. The biggest challenge with walking, other than just getting out there, is that I have to pee ALL THE TIME. I try to plan accordingly and pee just before I start my walk. I also sometimes make sure I’m doing a relatively short loop with a bathroom available, or I just walk from public restroom to public restroom…
Finally, I’ve found movement that feels good, plus a great community, through prenatal yoga. I’m not the HUGEST yoga fan generally. I go sometimes but I’m sort of picky and frequently find myself frustrated or annoyed with various teachers and styles. But I knew I wanted to keep my joints and ligaments moving during pregnancy, so I enrolled in an eight-week “mom-ester” at MamaLove, a local mom-focused yoga studio. I was admittedly skeptical about the whole mom-community-feel-your-feelings-connect-with-baby thing at first, but I’ve ended up absolutely loving my weekly time with my gentle and funny instructor, Janine, and the other women with whom I’m sharing this journey. (I’ve since bought more classes after the initial eight.). We talk about our bodies and our fears and our excitements, all while moving in ways that make me feel better prepared for birth and less achy while sleeping. I feel very fortunate to have this resource available.
(6) Get clothes that work with your pregnant body.
Bras, people. Very important. I’ve never had to think too much about bras in the past, but during pregnancy, the wrong bra can pinch and squeeze and inhibit breathing and generally make your life miserable. Early on I bought bigger sports bra from target and a few underwire-free comfy nursing bras from a consignment store that work fine for day-to-day, walks, and yoga. In an ill-fitting-bra emergency, I also got a bra from True & Co. that is life-changing, and I plan to invest in these bras pretty much exclusively going forward.
My other favorite finds have been a pair of stretchy Gap Maternity cropped leggings, which I found at a consignment store, and my Lululemon Align pants. I was skeptical about the Align pants because they are not maternity pants and because my Wonderunder pants from Lululemon do NOT feel good on my pregnant body. But as soon as I tried them on, I was pleasantly surprised and now I love them. (For the record, I got one size large than my typical size and am wearing them now in my third trimester.) My husband also got me some really fancy pants from Beyond Yoga, and they are super comfortable but tend to slide down.
For casual/workout tops, I’ve mainly used a few larger t-shirts that I had on hand, plus one sportier top I got from Target. For yoga, I tend to wear these awesome tunics also from Target, which also came in handy for hiding the bump in the early stages. Let’s be honest: I wear these tunics to work too.
For outerwear, I’ve made good use of some old sweatpants that can fit nicely under my bump. I’ve worn these on their own or over leggings when it is really cold. I did not buy new snow pants for winter activities — the layering works fine and if needed you could also put some waterproof pants as the very outer layer for even more protection from the elements. I just unzipped mine on the sides at the top (they zip the whole way down the sides) but found that most days, these were totally unnecessary so I stopped wearing them. Up top, I was able to get away with my normal vests and coats for a while, especially my North Face fleece that is pretty roomy. But for a trip to Tahoe in the winter I did invest in an XL puffy that was super on sale from REI. I was able to layer up underneath without worrying about space, and I love a puffy for its packability during snowshoeing and XC skiing. It was $80 well spent, in my opinion.
Most of my non-workout maternity clothes came from H&M because I just couldn’t justify paying much for maternity clothes, especially with the seasons changing. Old Navy is also a good option. Early on (probably until close to 20 weeks), I was able to keep wearing a lot of my clothes, especially with the addition of a Bellaband and my pants unzipped. But then moving to the maternity clothes felt so much better!
(7) Explore downhill skiing alternatives.
Colorado has had some VERY good snow this year at the ski resorts. Last year was an incredibly weak ski season, and yet my husband and I went skiing almost every weekend. Under normal circumstances, we’d be CRUSHING it together this year. We had to get creative this year so that my husband could still enjoy the snow and I could keep myself moving OUTDOORS through the frigid winter months. I have to say, I think we did pretty well! Here is what I did:
- Winter hiking. Wear micro-spikes. Go slowly. Avoid terrain that makes you uncomfortable. I only did a little hiking, and mostly early on, because the trails have gotten really icy and I toppled over a few times in the snow. Then it got super cold for a few weeks, and hiking just didn’t sound great. Now that things are thawing a bit and then hopefully drying out, I plan to get out for more spring hikes.
- Cross-country skiing. This was my primary workout this winter. Last year I bought skate skis and used them a few times just to mix things up. This year I got a lot more use out of them. I also rented some classic skis while in vacation in Tahoe, and that was a nice break from the intensity of skate skiing. Note: if you have never cross-country skied before, it can be tough during pregnancy and falling is very possible. I’d recommend classic XC skiing for those who have not done it before and stick to easy (i.e., not hilly) terrain. The downhill sections of some nordic routes can be nearly as tricky as downhill skiing, and cross-country skis don’t have edges that turn the way that downhill skis do. In Colorado, my favorite terrain so far is the FREE Breckenridge groomed trail (mainly because it is free) and Keystone Nordic, which is flatter than some other options. In Lake Tahoe, Tahoe XC was a great spot. Eldora in Colorado is particularly tough (hilly) terrain, in my experience.
- Snowshoeing. On days that I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to cross-country ski, or for afternoons after I’d finished cross-country skiing, snowshoeing was a great option. Snowshoeing is generally less physically taxing and less likely to result in falls than cross-country skiing. Most nordic centers have snowshoe trails, or you can find free trails in parks and recreation areas (be aware of avalanche risks if you snowshoe in the backcountry). And ski resorts with uphill access may allow snowshoeing on the uphill trail (e.g., Arapahoe Basin). I have MSR snowshoes and they are great. Remember to avoid any skin tracks with your snowshoes, as a courtesy.
- Ski touring. Before I got pregnant, I’d decided to turn my downhill skis into a backcountry setup with AT bindings and skins. I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to try them out this season, until one of my friends suggested that I could take them ski touring at some of the flatter trails in the area. So I decided this had to happen. So one day, my husband snowshoed, because he is a very good sport, while I skied with my skins on in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area outside of Ward, CO. It was very cold and windy (as is often the case at Brainard) but it felt great to try out my new gear and I felt very safe on the snowshoe trail. I did fall once but it was into a ton of powder, so all was OK. I also successfully peed in the woods without taking off my skis.
(8) Get comfortable.
Pregnancy is uncomfortable, no two ways about it. I’ve found that yoga and walking help me be more comfortable, along with some other measures. Sleeping is THE WORST, so I’ve found that in addition to stretching and moving during the day, a u-shaped pillow helps me sleep comfortably on my side. I’ve had the most success when I offset my hips, either open facing upward a bit or downward, with one of my legs up over the pillow. I’ve also been using an exercise ball while sitting at my desk and watching TV, and try to open and wiggle my hips while sitting on it. I’ve also continued using a lumbar support pillow in my car. I’d started using this when I had my bulging disc last year, and I find it helps put me in proper alignment. I also purchased a support band that helps take some of the weight off my back, but I haven’t had to use it yet. Finally, I’ve had two prenatal massages so far and highly recommend massage, chiropractor, acupuncture, or whatever makes you feel taken care of during pregnancy. Whether you are maintaining a high activity level or not, your body is doing a TON of work and needs support.
(9) When in doubt, fill weekends with nesting.
The Container Store. You’ve heard of it? My favorite place right now. For weekends that we haven’t gone out to the mountains, and especially when the weather isn’t great at home, I’ve spent a lot of my free time getting things in order. That means: inventorying, washing, and organizing all the baby clothes; organizing all of our bathroom and first aid stuff into translucent containers that I’ve then labeled using a labelmaker; writing thank you notes for baby gifts; doing various projects related to a master bath/closet renovation we have going on now (more on that in another post); getting my garden ready for Spring; taking extra good care of my indoor plants; and cleaning my car and house.
(10) Think of birth as the big target race, and do the “training” that makes sense for that.
A triathlete in my yoga class introduced me to this mindset, and I’m absolutely obsessed. We were all supposed to go around the room and say what we were excited for about having a baby. We weren’t allowed to say “I’m just so excited to meet him” — it had to be more specific than that. Most of the women in the class mentioned things they were excited about for after birth — some aspect of mothering or seeing their partners become fathers, etc. But this one woman boldly said she was excited for actual labor. At first, we were all so confused, and then she explained: she is an athlete who trains for events that she knows will be hard and painful and challenging. But that’s why she does it, totally voluntarily. So she was thinking of labor as one of these events, and was relishing in preparing her mind and body for this new challenge. It was a huge shift for me.
So I think about moving and stretching my body in ways that will help birth, if not give me chiseled abs when this is all over (FYI, you really shouldn’t try to chisel your abs when pregnant…). I think about getting my mind prepared through reading birthing and parent books, thinking about mantras or breathing exercises I want to do, and listening to podcasts such as The Birthful Podcast, which has been super interesting. I try to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, whether in prenatal classes or on a hike with a new mom who is is in my running group. In other words, being pregnant doesn’t mean we need to sit around scared for nine months!
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, or find yourself struggling to cope with a pregnancy, I hope these tips help!!! Folks out there, what are your best tips for surviving pregnancy? What were your biggest fears about what you’d lose or miss out on while pregnant, and how did you handle it?