I'm 7 months pregnant and still loving my CrossFit WODs, but I've been shocked by the double standard that exists when it comes to working out while pregnant.
As I set up the bar for a round of clean and jerks at the gym a few weeks ago, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. It wasn’t because I’m a pale-skinned redhead working out in northeastern Brazil where the entire population has dark hair and deep tans, nor did I have an impressive amount of weight on the bar. Their attention, rather, was riveted on my expanding pregnant belly, which was big and bare and visible to all as I got ready for those lifts.
I’m 28 weeks pregnant and still loving my biweekly CrossFit workouts, which involve everything from weightlifting and pull-ups to burpees and double unders (jumping rope). I do almost everything that I did in three years of pre-pregnancy CrossFit, except for sit-ups and hand stands. I avoid dropping into low squats, keep my weights somewhat lighter, and work more slowly in order to keep my heart rate from peaking. Most fundamentally, I pay attention to what my body’s telling me. I do what feels right and avoid what does not.
The result? I feel fantastic. This is my third pregnancy, and it’s never felt this easy or this good, even though I’m 6 years older than I was with my first child. I did not work out during my first two pregnancies and experienced significant achiness, fatigue, bloating, and general discomfort. This time I feel strong and energetic.
Continuing to work out during pregnancy, however, has been eye-opening in ways that I didn’t expect. Nothing could have prepared me for the freedom with which people – strangers, fellow gym-goers, friends, even my own family – express their doubt and criticism upon hearing that I’m still doing CrossFit.
“Are you sure you should be doing that? Is it safe? How do you know you’re not damaging your baby? Oh, please be careful! Are you crazy? Did the doctor say you could? Shouldn’t you just stick with walking or AquaFit?”
Aside from the obvious offensiveness of being accused of not caring for my growing baby, I am concerned by the lack of support for pregnant women exercising, despite all the medical information out there encouraging pregnant women to stay active and even maintain the same level of activity that they engaged in prior to pregnancy.
It is tough facing the barrage of criticism alone. The fact is, hardly anybody does it. Among all my acquaintances, I know only one person who continued to work out up until the day her baby was born. While some women have legitimate reasons for needing to take it easy during pregnancy, and one should always talk with a doctor or midwife about a fitness regime, most pregnant women put in very little effort to stay active. I’d argue that the majority uses pregnancy as an excuse to do nothing for nine months.
“Pregnancy is treated like a serious illness,” I’ve been told multiple times in Brazil. The same mentality persists back home in Canada, where people look with horror and judgment on anyone who does anything remotely intense. Read about Lee-Ann Ellison’s Facebook scandal surrounding a picture of a pregnant overhead squat, and the mixed reaction to Meghan Leatherman posting record weights in her final weeks of pregnancy.
Ironically, nobody bats an eye when pregnant women joke about their food cravings and the massive quantities of junk they indulge in while pregnant – pints of ice cream nightly, McDonalds for lunch every day, endless packs of Twizzlers
There’s something seriously wrong with the fact that horrible nutrition is considered socially acceptable during pregnancy under the guise of a craving, whereas maintaining a healthy level of exercise (paired with excellent nutrition) is viewed as irresponsible and stupid.
I will continue to work out for as long as it feels good. I don’t have anything to prove by doing CrossFit till the end, nor will I hesitate to stop if my body tells me to. But in the meantime, I’ll take Ellison’s words of advice, rather than succumbing to a nightly container of ice cream on the couch:
“I strongly believe that pregnancy is not an illness, but a time to relish in your body’s ability to kick ass.”
That’s exactly what I intend to do.