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Pregnant Belly Fitness

Pregnancy is an important time to stay fit and active, but of course there must be balance. And I don't mean just avoiding extremes here. I mean literally, balance. Your center of gravity is shoved a little further out each day, you might be dizzy, and your joints and tendons do wild stretchy things that you never imagined. In terms of awkwardness, pregnancy is a lot like a second puberty.

Be aware that your body will change constantly and feel weird, sometimes in a fun way and sometimes not. You will have unforeseen health complications and discomforts that arise suddenly and sometimes just as suddenly go away.

Moderate exercise is the best way to prevent swollen cankles, charlie horses, lethargy, depression, and a host of other babymaking side effects, but extra caution is also needed at this special time. Pregnancy hormones make your tendons and joints all loosey-goosey in preparation for childbirth. This can help you achieve deeper stretches than normal, but it's also easier to get joint injuries from falls and high-impact workouts. And that's a concern even if you don't have other health issues that arise during pregnancy that could require exercise restrictions.

You should always check in with your caregiver about major changes to your fitness routine during pregnancy, but as a rule of thumb, it's usually okay to continue any type of physical activity that your body is already accustomed to doing. Are you not really the exercise type? Start easy with moderately paced walking. Do you like yoga? Search your local area for a soothing prenatal yoga class, or just use a video at home. Do you run? Lace up your most supportive shoes, hit a smooth dirt trail, and remember you might have to take it slower than usual. Do you swim? Floating in water is a delight to the manatee-like pregnant body. Are you a cyclist? Avoid the streets, but go ahead and pop in a DVD of The Triplets of Belleville and spin for a few miles on a sturdy trainer. Are you a total aerobics buff? I very much enjoyed Complete Prenatal Fitness with Erin O'Brien. Are you a dancer? Try a beginner prenatal belly dance class. Belly dance was my mother-goddess fitness routine of choice before, during, and after pregnancy. It's the closest thing to getting an ideal workout for labor and childbirth while decorating your tummy like a giant Faberge egg (if you feel like it).

For inspiration, check out Sadie Marquardt giving her baby a ride. (Nux Gallica, who is now "two old," laughed at this video and said, "That lady is funny. Her mama milks are dancing!" So true, Nux, and so is her passenger.)



And then here is Sadie dancing a year or two after giving birth:



Which leads me to a secondary purpose of exercising during pregnancy--healing faster and better after the birth. Having a strong, fit body going into childbirth may facilitate the birth itself, but even if you have a c-section, fitness will serve you well afterward.

It's important to balance your fitness hopes and goals with open-minded expectations about the duration and finale of your pregnancy. Sometimes even the buffest bellies get put on bedrest. Sometimes professional athletes and hourglass-shaped contortionists end up needing c-sections or other interventions, for a variety of reasons--many of which cannot be known in advance. One of the major risks of preparing your body and mind for a healthy childbirth are the all-too-common feelings of failure, shame, and despair that follow a birth that did not go as planned (and they rarely do). Yes, there are women whose babies slide gracefully out of their bodies on waves of orgasmic songs of praise. It's absolutely true. I know some of these mythical mothers personally. They won the childbirth lottery. For most of us, it cannot be quite like what we see on those addictive YouTube videos. Most births are hard, long, ungraceful, and unpredictable. That's okay, too. There is no amount of preparation you can do that will guarantee a particular experience or outcome when those contractions start (and those contractions vary widely in strength, pattern, and intensity, depending on each woman's hormonal profile). But you can stack the odds in your favor and focus on the good you are doing to your presently pregnant body and to your future, post-birth body that is going to need Michelle Obama-Mama biceps to lift that carseat carrier/jogging stroller/case of diapers/11-pound sumo baby.

So get moving, have fun, and stay open-minded about your goals and expectations. Know that you may have to dial it down or take a break at any point. Pay attention to your body, communicate with your midwife and/or OB, and always check your balance.

Come by the Nutshell on the first Friday Monday of every month for more Middle Path Mother posts.

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