Saturday, July 12, 2014

She's Here!... and Benefits of Exercising Until the Very End (It's Hard But Worth It!)

Our baby girl made it safely into the world on Sunday, June 22 at 8:06 p.m.  What a whirlwind entrance she made!  After only a few hours of laboring at home, we rushed to the hospital and discovered I was already at 9 centimeters.  Needless to say, I was able to achieve my dream of a drug-free labor, but it was definitely a scary and painful experience for me.  Our daughter is now almost 3 weeks old, and we all love her so.

I have spent some of the last 3 weeks reflecting on the benefits of keeping up exercising (specifically running) until the very end of pregnancy.

I exercised throughout my pregnancy.  The day I had my daughter, I had walked 3 miles (chose not to run that day since I was feeling lots of pressure and some contractions, but walking felt great).  Two days before I had her, I had walked/jogged for 6 miles total, with 3 of those being a jog (lots of walking in between but 1.5 miles of continuous jogging!).  Running was something I wanted to keep up as long as I could.  I had run a marathon while early pregnant and ran a "long" run of 10 miles until around 32 weeks.  I also continued a couple 6 mile runs each week too and did the elliptical machine a couple times a week.  I noticed a significant drop in pace and desire to run around 34 weeks, but I kept up a few miles a week until the very end.  All in all, I did some form of exercise 5-7 days a week throughout the pregnancy, but at the end it was in the form of walking, jogging, and the elliptical machine.

I also resumed exercise shortly after the birth.  I know this is not typical, but I did a 3 mile run just a little under a week after having her, putting only 8 days in between my runs before having her and after having her.  Again, I don't endorse this or think it's typical, but I'm listening to my body and slowly easing back into things.  Nothing major yet.  Most days I don't do any form of exercise except our nightly 1 mile walk (which we resumed the 2nd day home from the hospital).  So short walks with 3-6 mile easy jogs are all I've done so far.

What benefits have I noticed? (I will also make comparisons to my other two pregnancies here.  Though I did exercise in both of them, I did not run until the end with either pregnancy.)

*Complication-free pregnancy.  No backaches, no gestational diabetes, no high blood pressure, etc.  In fact, I felt very good until near the end.  I didn't tolerate the heat well and felt uncomfortable being outside.  Being "advanced maternal age" (I'll be 37 next month), I felt like exercise helped me to be healthy throughout my pregnancy and to avoid some of the conditions that sometimes plague "older" mothers.

*Easy natural labor.  Of course, I had read up on natural labor and done stretches to prepare, but I feel like being in good physical condition also helped me achieve this.  My labor was 5.5 hours long, from first contraction to delivery.  My awesome husband coached me through the tough spots.  I think it helped that we are both marathoners and know our bodies well.  Labor is just another way God designed our bodies to work, and the uterus is just another muscle doing its job.  Also note that I had epidurals with both of my other babies, so this whole experience was new to me and opened my eyes to what I am capable of if I try.

*Smaller baby. I had no idea if exercise would affect my baby's size, but I do feel like it had an impact (although a small one).  My other babies were 8 lb. 3 oz. (born on due date) and 8 lb. 8 oz. (born 1 day early).  This baby was 7 lb. 14 oz. (born 3 days early).  My family has babies in the 9-10 lb. range, and I feared a larger baby was inevitable for me.  So this baby's size, though not much smaller, was a pleasant surprise for me.

*Possible earlier labor?  This was something I was really wanting to cause...going on my own without an induction.  It's common for 3rd pregnancies to have a slightly early labor (around a week early), but it is with 2nd pregnancies too and that wasn't true for me.  I initially was worried about preterm labor, but exercise did not cause that!

Around 37 weeks, I started trying an herbal raspberry tea to help start contractions, and I eventually drank the whole box without any real labor!  I was very discouraged because I thought all of the walking I was doing the last few weeks (7 days a week of daily walks of 3-7 miles total with some jogging OR elliptical machine for the equivalent number of miles) had to do something.  I knew my doctor didn't want me to go past 41 weeks, so I was really trying to start labor on my own.  I didn't want an induction (I had one with my 2nd pregnancy, but this time I wanted to experience the surprise of labor starting on its own).  I was 3 cm for a week before I went into labor on my own 3 days before her due date.  I'll never know if the exercising helped, but I did lose my mucus plug the morning I went into labor, right after I did my walk and morning stretches.  Since this was the earliest labor of all 3 of my pregnancies, I guess I can say that exercise may have helped that a little.

*Less weight gain and quicker weight loss. With my son, I gained 31 lb. and had lost 25 by 6 weeks postpartum.  With my first daughter, I had gained 37 lb. and lost 18 lb. 6 weeks postpartum.  Here is where I am really surprised at the difference.  With this pregnancy I gained 28 lb. and have lost 25 lb. already!  I only lost 11 lb. with the delivery, but once home I dropped another 14 lb. in the first week or so (I noticed sweating at night and lots of peeing!!).  This was (of course) without any type of dieting or any exercise except the nightly walking and one 3 mile run during that week.  I am nursing, but I did with the other two also, so I attribute the weight loss to the exercising I did during pregnancy.  Although while pregnant I had some discouraging months of large weight gain (I put on 13 lb. in a month!), I now realize how quickly this weight would drop once not needed.

*State of Mind.  Exercise helps me to relax, to sort things out in my mind.  Without it, I find it hard to feel like "me."  So even though I wasn't doing crazy miles, I still was able to get up and have that time to myself.  In fact, when I would walk (usually for an hour), I would not bring music.  I was alone in my thoughts.  It was good for me to have this time.

In my sleep-deprived state of mind, this is all I have to offer right now.  I hope it makes sense and can possibly encourage someone else out there to continue running during pregnancy.  It's good for you and baby!

Next son and I plan to complete the Twilight 5K a week from today.  He's been training with me and I love it!