Fitness During a High Risk Pregnancy

QUESTION

Dear Fitness Expert,
I am about six to seven weeks pregnant. I am experiencing bleeding though my doctor says my baby is ok. But because of the continuous bleeding, she asked me to stop all my workouts. Though I was not professional athlete before pregnancy, I was swimming and weight training about 5 times a week. I feel a bit depressed that I am not able to work out.

All the information I've read said that I shouldn't be gaining much since its still early in my pregnancy, but I have gone from 104.5 pounds (5 foot 3 tall) to 114 pounds. All my pants are feeling a bit tight. And of course, since a few weeks ago, I began having morning sickness and developing cravings for food that I normally stay away from. In the past, my favorite food were fish and vegetables.

My GP told me I had slightly low blood pressure and advised me to eat more red meat but it was difficult before. Now, I only want to eat meat, preferably red meat, and starchy carbohydrates like rice and noodles. Thank god, no craving for sweets. I am still tracking my meals (calories and composition) as I was keeping a relatively high protein diet before.

Anyway, is it normal to begin gaining weight in such early stage? Or am I just gaining from my bad diet of late?

ANSWER

Let me address your eating habits/cravings first. Over the years, I have worked with a number of women who were strict vegetarians before becoming pregnant. Not surprisingly, many began craving red meat -- an excellent source for iron and protein. As an FYI to you, over 40 percent of American women are slightly anemic and do not even know it. Once they become pregnant, however, their body begins to demand more iron. Thus, the craving for foods they typically don't eat. Red meat is a biggie. Listen and respond to your body. It's an extraordinary machine and knows what it needs.

Of course, this statement leaves many to wonder, "Really? Even unlimited supplies of fudge?" Well,...no. But you should reward yourself with sweets from time to time if this is what you crave.

We recommend that moms-to-be eat what they crave. The trick is PORTION SIZE. Just as nutritionists recommend to the vast public, we believe moms-to-be should eat throughout the day, smaller portions. This way, your body will continue to breakdown and properly utilize what it is being fed and you are less likely to pack on unwanted/unnecessary pounds.

However, and this is a big however, genetics have an idea all to their own. Over the years, I have talked to and counseled so many -- too many --- women who look to the Hollywood moms as a guideline as to how much they should gain and what they should look like when they are pregnant. Studies have shown that women will gain relatively the same amount of weight in each pregnancy regardless of how they eat. As an example, a woman have birth in 2000. She had an 8 pound baby and gained 60 pounds. She ate virtually anything and everything she wanted, did not work out. In 2002, she had a 7 pound, 6 oz. baby and had trained for a national team. Her workouts were long and intensive. She was far more careful about the "junk" foods yet gained 55 lbs. In her last pregnancy in 2004, she had another 8 pound baby, did aerobics and light weight lifting throughout the pregnancy, along with walking, and gained 55 pounds.

This was a typical finding for several studies that support the idea that genetics dictates how much weight a woman will put on during her pregnancy. Of course, we also believe that you can prevent unnecessary pounds by avoiding fast food, empty calories sweets and sugary drinks.

That leads to my your concerns about carbohydrates. If you typically restrict a carbohydrate intake and are now craving carbs -- you are going to put on weight faster. But don't panic. You need the carbs. Your body is craving them for a reason and again, you can select the kind of carbs you eat. Scarfing down French fries, white rice and white bread won't help you and really, it will not satisfy your carb craving. Fruits, veggies, whole wheat bagels and breads, brown rice, even a baked potato is the ticket.

But you must understand that you will gain weight, you should gain weight and you want to gain weight. I always tell my clients, you can work like a demon after the baby is born to lose the weight but you have one shot of making this baby as healthy, strong and happy as possible. Yes, there is also strong evidence to support the study that mothers mood and overall happiness or depression does effect the baby in the womb. Translation: Having a healthy, happy attitude about your changing body is extremely important. You have ten months (roughly) to create this baby. You will have a year or more to get your body back into shape.

Finally, lets talk about exercise. As a pregnant person, you can't avoid reading or hearing about the importance of exercise during pregnancy. Yes, there are all kinds of benefits to exercise. However, there are definite times when a mother-to-be needs to skip the exercise. Because I do not have all the facts pertaining to your bleeding, I really can't comment safely on the matter. You must work with your OB/GYN. Be more aggressive about finding answers and ask if s/he might recommend a nutritionist and/or trainer you can speak with. If your OB/GYN gasps at the idea of working with a training in terms of light walking and stretching, there is your answer and it would seem you need to remain sedentary. Again, its only ten months and you will have the most wonderful person as a result. You can always get "your body" back after baby is born. But if s/he is open to a walking regiment, you need to be sure you find a trainer who is certified and has worked with at-risk pregnancies. I know this is a scary terms but because of the excessive bleeding, you need to treat yourself as such and be careful for the baby.

What you eat, how you sleep, what you drink, how you move, how you feel are all extremely important during high-risk pregnancies. The good news is, I have worked with a number of high-risk pregnant clients who all had beautiful, strong babies and all but one of the moms (her choice) returned to their active lifestyles, losing all the baby weight and redefining their bodies!

Do not worry about your weight gain. That is what your doctor is for. For that reason, we suggest putting your scale in the closet. Don't look at it, don't worry about it. Weight gain is different with all women. What really matters is having a healthy pregnancy and how you want to train after baby is born. To that, we will have some great advice and training techniques for you.

Keep us posted!
-- Alex

Alexandra Allred

Alexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.

Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family. We're excited to have her on board!