Five Things I Wish I Had Known as a Pregnant Athlete
By Sarah True
Like many first-time moms, I went into pregnancy with certain expectations of how the next ten months of my life would unfold. I drew assumptions from a variety of sources: observing the experiences of loved ones, a variety of books, and “knowledge” gleamed from popular culture. While some of my expectations have unfolded as I expected, I’ve been surprised to discover points that I hadn’t considered previously. If I had a time machine, here are the five things that I would tell pre-pregnancy Sarah:
1. Avoid comparison
In second trimester, I started to become obsessed with bump size comparison. I scrutinized my belly in the mirror, measuring my image with google images searches. Since I “popped” fairly late, I convinced myself that there was something wrong. Likewise, I became fairly obsessed with trying to figure out what other athletes do for exercise during pregnancy, a search that baffled me with a range of options. Some women really struggle and others seem to be unaffected; where did I fall in the spectrum and what should I be doing? I wish that I knew it didn’t matter. While I intellectually understood that there is a range of experiences, the internet mades it too easy to constantly contrast your pregnancy with those of other women. Since all it did was enhance my anxiety, I gave up the comparison trap months ago, instead paying attention only to how I feel and how my pregnancy is unfolding. Not only am I more in touch with my body as a result, but I reclaimed lots of time wasted on pointless scrolling.
2. Coach Baby is in charge
Early in pregnancy, my coach and I decided that a formal training plan no longer made sense for the upcoming months. Instead of Coach Dan writing my program, Coach Baby would be in charge. After years of following a strict training regimen as a professional athlete, this shift required a big mental adjustment. I was accustomed to the feeling of fulfillment when I accomplished my training for the week and enjoyed the structure that a training plan imposed. How would I adjust to the lack of a training plan? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easily I adjust to following the lead of Coach Baby. Through removing any expectation of what I “need to” or “should” do for exercise, I can focus solely on how my body feels and respond accordingly. If a long bike ride seems right to Coach, I’m happy to comply. Likewise, if we need to take a day off and nap instead, no problem! We occasionally get into disagreements, most notably on the topic of intensity (I would like to do some, but Coach Baby won’t let me), but I have learned to go along with the boss and simply enjoy moving my body.
3. Do what feels good
When training for an event, I’m accustomed to sticking to the training program unless I’m sick, injured or overly tired. Training rarely feels good during these blocks, as I tend to be quite fatigued. It is worth it, however, as these training phases create adaptations that make me stronger, faster, and prepared for racing. During pregnancy, however, I quickly realized that there is no need to push myself into a state of exhaustion. Carrying a child is hard enough and requires significant physical resources. Instead of a high placement or fast time, the objective for pregnancy is for mama and baby to reach the finish line healthy and happy. For me, that means continuing to move and be active, but to listen to my body and Coach Baby, respect the demands of pregnancy, and to focus on doing what feels good and brings me joy.
4. The familiar might feel unfamiliar
Of triathlon’s three sports, I anticipated that I would most enjoy swimming during third trimester. In my reading, I was bombarded with messages extolling the joys of lap swimming during pregnancy. You’ll feel weightless! You’ll be cooler! You’ll feel most like your pre-pregnancy self! Contrary to the pregnancy swim propaganda, I have a love-hate relationship with lap swimming in third trimester. While I appreciate the cool water and lack of gravity, I don’t enjoy swimming as much as I anticipated. Not only are maternity swim suit options a bit appalling, but I simply feel awkward in the water. I started competitively swimming at the age of 7 and I have developed certain expectations about how my stroke and body should feel in the water. Instead of feeling familiar, a sport that I’ve done for decades feels foreign. While I’m continuing to adjust to the changes, I can’t help but feel occasionally frustrated. Although I can easily accept slowing down in the water, it is harder to move in a body that no longer feels like your own.
5. Growing a baby is thirsty work
Based on portrayals on television and movies, I assumed that pregnancy would come with an insatiable hunger and craving for particular foods. With the exception of an increased hankering for dairy and a couple of weeks where I dreamed of French fries, my diet hasn’t changed much. More than anything, I am surprised to discover how suppressed my appetite is! When it comes to my desire for fluids, however, my thirst is seemingly unquenchable. Partway in second trimester, I began to wake up in the middle of the night to gulp down multiple glasses of water and Nuun, a routine that has continued well into my third trimester. During the day I stay on top of my hydration through a combination of Nuun Sport and Nuun Instant, as the additional electrolytes help me absorb the fluids more effectively, and yet it feels as though I can never get enough. I was concerned that this was an indication of a medical issue, such as gestational diabetes, but I’ve been reassured that this is a perfectly normal side effect of growing a tiny human. Between increased blood volume, maintaining a healthy amniotic fluid level, and supporting baby’s blood circulation, more fluids are needed during pregnancy. Add in exercise in the summer heat and it’s no wonder I feel so thirsty!
When Coach Baby True arrives on July 15th, I will unquestionably have a lifetime of new lessons ahead of me. Like most first-time mothers, I’m both nervous and excited for the next stage. More than anything, however, I’m grateful to the last 9 months for reminding me how incredible the human body is. It’s easy to take our bodies and their potential for granted; they’re simultaneously deeply familiar and strange to us. While pregnancy is only one facet of some women’s physical potential, we allpossess such fascinating and diverse capabilities. Although the past months have reminded me how adaptable and interesting the human body is, I hope to always celebrate my physicality over the course of my life. And, just as importantly, to pass along this critical lesson to our child.