How to stay a strong runner, maintain a healthy pregnancy, and succeed at a natural childbirth…
When I got pregnant with my son, Noah, I grieved the loss of my running abilities for a short while. For the first weeks, I felt sick, tired, and could barely maintain a pace that was two minutes slower than my marathon race pace. I figured it was all downhill from there. However, I quickly shifted my mindset to look at pregnancy as a 9 month training plan. There wasn’t really a race at the end, but there definitely was an event I didn’t have a choice but to finish, birth.I would later come to find out this was an event was more physically and mentally demanding than a marathon anyway.
I started to gain endurance and energy back in the second trimester and focused on learning what I could do to have a healthy pregnancy and easy, quick, natural birth. A lot of what I found helped me have a successful pregnancy and become a stronger runner at the same time. So, I would like to share that for other pregnant runners.
With my diet, I never looked at pregnancy as an excuse to eat for two. You only need a few extra hundred calories a day, and whether you are pregnant or not, when you eat better, you feel better.
–Protein: Recommended to eat 80g a day
–Veggies: Your body will thank you that you are helping digestion with the fiber. I tried to eat double digit servings of veggies a day. You can saute greens with your breakfast, have carrots for a snack, eat a salad for lunch, make a green smoothie, and have some steamed veggies with dinner. These give you great nutrition but also help to fill you up instead of turning to junk food and high calorie snacks.
–Healthy Fats: Your baby needs these to grow, and your hormones need fats for mood and energy, both during pregnancy and postpartum. Just eating half an avocado a day could help. I also ate two whole eggs for breakfast every morning that are rich in healthy saturated fats, cholesterol, and choline. In our house, we are not afraid to cook with butter, which is rich in Vitamin A and D. Plus, I would make my own salad dressings using 1 part apple cider vinegar and 2 parts olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fats. Having an appropriate amount of healthy fats throughout the day will help satiate you.
This was my typical day of eating while pregnant:
Breakfast: two eggs with cheese, sauteed spinach, and a half an avocado on the side
Snack: 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt and frozen raspberries (I would add in 6 dates to my yogurt. Learn why here.)
Lunch: Sprouted turkey wrap with cheese and veggies (I love carrots!) with a side salad
Snack: Fruit and sunflower seeds
Dinner: Salmon, sweet potato, and asparagus
Treat: Greek yogurt with flaxseed sprinkled on top
WATER, WATER, WATER! I typically drank 12 glasses of water a day. This is important for the extra fluids your body is creating as well as
Here are some of my running and pregnancy essentials:
–Gabrialla belt: This was great to take pressure off my belly and bladder as I ran. I even wore it all day at the end of pregnancy to help with my hip discomfort because my son was riding so low.
-Compression socks: These helped blood flow to my legs. My legs started to get less comfortable running as I carried more weight around (Go figure!).
-Water bottle: Carry one around with you all the time because you will be very thirsty and need to drink.
–Magnesium oil: This helps digestion and relax any leg cramps you may get. Rub it on your belly and legs.
-Chiropractor: I started getting adjusted in the second trimester because my round ligaments were getting strained from him growing. Plus, I knew that in the third trimester, I wanted to start having the Webster Technique done to make sure that he was in the optimal position for birth. I think this really helped my labor go smoothly and quickly (3.5 hours)!
–Red Raspberry Leaf tea and dates for labor preparation: Both of these have been shown to help the uterus contract.
-Hire a doula: I loved having another support person with me that was a little more familiar with natural pain relieving methods and was very calm during the process. I think it allowed my husband to focus on me more because she was familiar with my birth preferences. Just Google doulas in your area.
-Natural Childbirth Class: Hypnobabies or Bradley Method will help get you in the mindset for a natural birth and give you techniques of how to mentally cope with natural birth.
I also liked to keep a weekly log of doctor appointment notes, weight gain, and how I was feeling. This is a good reference to see how things are going and maybe what you need to change. I think this helped me be more accountable with my nutrition and intentional about making a healthy baby. Also, if you plan to get pregnant again it will be very helpful to compare.
Here is my birth story:
I spent most of my due date wondering when this baby would come out of me. Then, I sat down to a dinner of chicken alfredo, where Brynn said, “Maybe Noah will be born tonight?”. I said something like “Maybe, but probably not.” We started planning to head out to the Y center to swim for a few minutes. As we headed out the door around 7 pm, I said I had to pee, and as I sat down, I heard and felt a huge pop. My water broke! I shouted to Brendon what happened and told them to go ahead and swim for 20 minutes, while I figured out how to contain the water and get the last few things for the hospital (not my smartest thought). As, my parents and Brendon/Brynn pulled back into the driveway at 7:45 pm, my contractions had progressed to 2 minutes apart, and I was leaning over the kitchen counter, trying to relax and put Brynn’s lunch together for the next day. Brendon and I got to the hospital desk at 8:33 pm, where the nurses quickly saw I would not be able to fill out paperwork. I changed and was checked at triage at over 9 cm. I went through about 45 minutes of transition in triage, and my doula showed up somewhere in the midst of this. Around 9:30 pm, I walked very quickly to the delivery room, while feeling another contraction coming on. Brendon caught me as I got in the room once it hit. I knew I had to push. The resident made some comment, “It’s good you wanted a natural birth because you don’t have a choice anyway.” I started pushing, and my OB showed up probably 15 minutes later. He told me Noah had black hair, and I was able to say “Awww, just like his dad” with some renewed energy after having felt like I had been hit by a train over the last few hours. I was finally told the next push would be my last, and at 10:24 pm, Noah made his way into the world at 8 lb 2 oz and 20 inches long.
Recovery and Running Postpartum:
I started back to running somewhere between 4-6 weeks postpartum. Before that, I was walking at least 4 times a week. I didn’t try to push myself too hard and made sure I was eating and drinking enough. I continued to get chiropractic adjustments because of the high level of relaxin in my body and going through the birth process.
My speed came back fairly quickly. I think my body felt relieved to have the 2o extra pounds removed. Two months after birth, I ran a few 5ks and finished with times that were 30 -60 seconds within my PR. I felt great about that, but once I started back to work, it was harder to find time to run, especially enough to train. Brendon and I signed up for a marathon the following April and found time to only partially train. We ended up having a great time at the race but realized it was not our season in life for marathons when we wanted to spend more time with kids.
Looking back, I would change some of my focus onto strengthening my abs post-partum. I had a diastasis recti from pregnancy. There is so much misinformation out there about the appropriate exercises. Jumping back into pilates or planks could cause further damage if you have diastasis recti. Even if you don’t, it is important to look at exercises that specially target the transverse abdominus muscle first. It took me months to figure out what would actually strengthen my core. I finally found helpful information from Moms Into Fitness:
Transverse Abdominus Exercises
Post-Natal Core Stabilization #1
Post-Natal Core Stabilization #2
Post-Natal Core Stabilization #3