Pregnancy & Fitness: The Good. The Bad. The Powerful.
It was a beautifully warm May day in Chicago, which was abnormal for that time of year if you know anything about Chicago, and I was in full-on labor. However, unlike in the scenes from the movies we’ve all been shown my water didn’t break, there was no panic or crazy sense of urgency. I was at my apartment with my doula and laboring at my own pace with no medical interventions. Roughly 6 hours later I had finally made my way to the hospital and was fully dilated at 8:20 pm. By 8:22 pm my son was born and I was in a state of complete bliss. Yet, I know this isn’t every woman’s experience, especially Black women. As the years have passed I’ve become further intrigued by the topic of labor and delivery, and how fitness plays a role in the overall birthing experience of women.
“They say working out makes labor easier... I’m not sure about that...Certainly pushing is taxing and I pushed for a long time without tiring out - so maybe.” ~ Zuri Bryant | OB/GYN resident & new mom
“Fitness has its benefits across all life situations. We build physical strength, overall endurance, cardio capacity, breathing technique, and mental fortitude. Going into a hard sesh (like L&D) with a solid baseline of fitness helps during childbirth and in recovery which requires physical, mental, AND emotional stamina.” ~ Christina DeRonde | Yoga Instructor, Triathlete & mother of 2
“I feel like it helped me with endurance and mental stamina in birth.” ~ Veronica Rottman-Stevens | Yoga Instructor, Doula & mother of 2
“My ability to stay calm and use a yogic breath and mentality brought my son Riley into the world in such a beautiful painless way. They had to reposition Blake, but again, very uneventful and quick, in terms of delivery.” ~ Annette Corbin | Yoga Instructor, Athlete & mother of 3
Just like the women above, I do believe that working out helped me during labor and delivery, especially when it came to pushing. When I was pregnant with my son I worked as a full-time fitness instructor in Chicago. I taught upwards of 20 classes a week throughout the city and suburbs and still managed to have the energy to get my own workouts in for sanity’s sake. When I tell people the chronicles of my pregnancy, labor, and delivery they always swear that my experience was unique, or that somehow I’m the exception and not the rule. Though I know I was blessed to have the type of pregnancy that I did, I also know my experience is not unique to me. The reason I worked out so much while I was pregnant is that it was a part of my lifestyle before getting pregnant, and had I not been able to do so I may have legitimately lost my mind.
“I worked out both pregnancies...Each pregnancy was different but movement helped me feel sane, feel good, and stay strong.” ~Lacey Calvert Shelton | Yoga Instructor & mother of 3
“I did Cross Fit until mid- 2nd trimester & rode my bike until the end of 2nd trimester.” ~ Krystal Jenkins | Fitness enthusiast & mother of 1
“With my first, I more so did yoga as my main workout but also some barre and cardio. In my second pregnancy, I actually did a lot of Orange Theory. Labor was a dream and pushing went fast again!” ~ Veronica Rottman-Stevens | Yoga Instructor, Doula & mother of 2
As I’ve already said many times I was blessed to have had the experience I had while pregnant, and though some equate it to my already fit life I want to take a moment to put this conversation in perspective. Every pregnancy is different. There is no one size fits all solution to how to manage the process, and even if you have an amazing pregnancy one time it doesn’t guarantee that will always be the case. Just like with pregnancy, parenthood doesn’t have any guarantees, and the journey that happens along the way prepares you for the other side more than anything else.
“My first, I worked out until the morning I gave birth. My second pregnancy was with twins, so my body was on overdrive. It was more of a slow walk that I considered exercise and I tried to do it daily.” ~Lacey Calvert Shelton | Yoga Instructor & mother of 3
“First pregnancy, definitely worked out after about my 11th week. This one is waaaayyyy different, haven't even attempted!”~ Denise P. | Yoga Instructor & soon to be mother of 2
“I’ve had three full-term pregnancies and they have all been wildly different. The first pregnancy I worked out from start to finish. I felt great. Everything felt super easy. I barely gained weight. I was literally wondering what all the fuss was about. Then at 39 weeks, our baby was stillborn. No explanation. No cause, just a random stroke of horrible luck. Talk about devastation. ~ Annette Corbin | Yoga Instructor, Athlete & mother of 3
Though Annette and her husband were able to have 3 beautiful children after losing their first baby at 39 weeks, I have to take a moment in this space of health and wellness to acknowledge the drastic disparities between Black mothers and infants juxtaposed to their white counterparts.
Black women in America are 2½ times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts. Black infants have a 2.3 times higher mortality than white babies, are 3.8 times more likely to die from complications related to low birth weight, and in 2017 had over twice the SIDS mortality rate, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
Less than a month ago Dr. Chaniece Wallace a 4th-year pediatric chief resident at Indiana University died from preeclampsia complications after giving birth to her daughter. Preeclampsia is one of the most preventable causes of maternal death and disproportionately affects Black women. This demographic develops preeclampsia and eclampsia at a rate of roughly 60% higher than white women according to a 2017 report from the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Though this is a blog post about fitness and not politics, it’s evident that education and changing behaviors are the only way sustainable change can ever happen.
I titled this blog post “Pregnancy & Fitness: The Good. The Bad. The Powerful.,” because the conversation around pregnancy and fitness is usually one dimensional. Growing up I was told that you should take it easy when you’re pregnant and working out might not be the best idea. As an early yoga instructor learning about teaching to pregnant women I was always told what they weren’t allowed to do. However, after having my own child and learning more about the experiences of other women with children I’ve finally understood that pregnancy is a unique journey. We all have our paths to follow, and at the end of the day, we all hope to have healthy babies.
As a fitness instructor, I always encourage my friends and family members to begin working out before getting pregnant. I tell my pregnant clients that they’re in charge of their process and to use our classes as a method to practice taking control when they feel uncomfortable or like something is wrong with them or their baby.
As women, society has programmed us to believe we don’t deserve to have ownership over our bodies, but what fitness allows us to understand, specifically when we’re pregnant, is that we are the only ones who have a true connection to our bodies. The advice I give to all mothers is to stay true to themselves, to listen to their bodies, and to do what they feel is right for them and their babies. I always tell fit women who are first-time mothers to stay active as long as they can, because I do believe it helps with labor and delivery. But most importantly I always tell them to stand up for themselves and what they want in regards to their labor and delivery. Have a birthing plan, know that it’s okay to have whatever type of delivery you want, and never allow anyone to bully you into something you don’t want when it comes to you or your unborn child.
Final bits of advice from this panel of mommas.
“Postpartum symptoms, colicky baby, exhaustion, fear (for first-time parents) can be overwhelming. Training for life is essential.” ~ Christina DeRonde | Yoga Instructor, Triathlete & mother of 2
“The advice I would give new moms is to chill out. Find a movement or fitness regimen that works for you, but know that beating your body into submission is a losing battle.” ~ Annette Corbin | Yoga Instructor, Athlete & mother of 3
“If you’re fit before you conceive you can keep exercising at that same level as long as you can tolerate it and as long as the pregnancy is normal. You know what your limitations are if it hurts stop.” ~ Zuri Bryant | OB/GYN resident & new mom
“My advice would be forget the snapback mentality and to concentrate on listening to your body. Give yourself grace knowing you will get back to a version of yourself after a while, but also that it's okay to miss that pre-pregnancy fit girl you were.” ~ Denise P. | Yoga Instructor & soon to be mother of 2
“Stay active as long as it feels good.”~ Krystal Jenkins | Fitness enthusiast & mother of 1
“Be patient and have grace with your body before and after pregnancy. Also, labor and delivery is out of your control. Lean into everything with love and kindness to yourself.” ~ Carla Primero | Fitness Instructor & mother of 2
I loved being pregnant, I enjoyed the challenge of labor and delivery, and on the other side of it, I love encouraging soon to be mothers who are finding their way through the journey. So with all that being said, you can be active while pregnant. You can find fitness routines that accommodate you and your baby, and most of all you can always find the power to listen to your body and do what is best for you and your child during the entire process.