Pregnancy and Physical Activity: How to Find a Balance

October 15, 2021

Motherhood and athleticism can go hand-in-hand. We asked three of our Brava Ambassadors to describe their journey into motherhood so far. They shared with us how their experience of sport has changed through pregnancy and how they’re juggling training, nutrition, mental health and motherhood.

While there is ongoing research, evidence-based guidelines for activity in pregnant athletes can be challenging to find. All three of our ambassadors stayed active through pregnancy in many ways while listening to their healthcare providers and their bodies to establish what worked for them.

“My pregnancy was, in many ways, a breeze, and in others really challenging. I was incredibly grateful to be able to stay active right up until the morning that my son was born. I modified a lot, and that was mentally easier on some days than others, but for the most part, I had a relatively “easy” pregnancy.” Said Lindsay Scott, Brava Ambassador and physiotherapist in Toronto, Ontario.

“I was able to run regularly until 32 weeks, ride outdoors up to 38 weeks and swim until 3 days prior to delivery. I learned what it meant to truly listen to your body and not only respect but admire the incredible changes that occur when you are growing a tiny human inside of you.” Said Lisa Purzner, Brava Ambassador and physiotherapist in Nanaimo, BC.

“At 35 weeks and 4 days, I went for my last outdoor bike ride thinking I had many more rides to come before my baby joined us. I was wrong. At exactly 36 weeks my baby was born - he was a month earlier than expected.” Said Briana Botsford, Brava Ambassador and Naturopathic Doctor in Edmonton, Alberta.

One of the biggest struggles with returning to sport can be the mental aspect. Body changes and physical limitations can create some challenging self-talk.

“I’m learning to be relentless in calling myself out on comparison games.” said Lindsay.

“I’ve worked really hard to remind myself that being active makes me better in all other realms of life. I am a better Mom, co-parent, partner, daughter, friend, and so on when I prioritize a sweat-induced endorphin rush.”

Many women experience fear about how pregnancy or motherhood will change their relationship with sport or their ability to train and compete.

“My biggest fear was that I was going to lose all my fitness that I had worked so hard to achieve over the past year. My coach reassured me that pregnancy would be a temporary phase in my life and that many pro athletes returned to sport even stronger and more fit after pregnancy.” said Lisa.

Lindsay said, “I found the changes to my body to be overwhelming. This body that I had always been able to rely on to rise to the occasion when asked to do hard things suddenly felt unpredictable and foreign. That was hard.”

Briana struggled with body image, “I had a lot of fear and baggage around what it meant to be living in a bigger body. I’m still working on my biases and attachments with body image. It’s a work in progress and I do not have all the answers. What I know for sure is that our bodies are meant to change, stretch and grow life if we choose.”

The body’s incredible ability to change has also inspired Lindsay, “I’m now two years into life as a Mom, and while this certainly isn’t the strongest I’ve ever been physically, I have never been so confident in my body and its ability to adapt, exude resilience and thrive. That’s pretty exciting.”

Many athletes are familiar with facing increased nutritional demands based on their training load. Lisa experienced the increased demand for calories when balancing breastfeeding and training. “Between breast feeding and training I started to notice that I was losing some weight, prompting a consultation with a sports nutritionist for advice on how to maintain my weight and increase my energy levels, which I found very beneficial. I continue to focus on eating healthy, including dessert every day, but have also had to increase my caloric intake to maintain weight postpartum.”

After a baby is welcomed into the world, it can be challenging to balance sleep, training, nutrition and time management.

“My 4-month-old baby is mostly breastfed, with the occasional bottle while I’m at work. This makes training intervals pretty short but we work around it.” said Briana.

Lisa is finding herself incredibly efficient, “Motherhood has given me a new appreciation of the time that I have available to train. Basically, while my baby naps, I train. My husband and I set up a home gym with a bike trainer, treadmill and weights so that I could effectively get a workout in without having to leave the house. Morning nap time has been reserved for training since my baby was 3 months old.”

She also worked closely with her coach to create priorities postpartum, “With my coach, I slowly increased my training volume and intensity over the subsequent few months postpartum. With a decline in muscle mass during the last trimester and during my postop recovery, as well as the ligamentous laxity associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding, strength training was a huge part of the rebuilding phase after delivery.”

Lindsay describes the joy of movement, “As I eventually progressed to reintroduce cycling, and later running, I was just so thrilled to be doing the things that made me feel most like myself that I was able to find more joy in the activity than I had in years. It didn’t feel that important that my fitness wasn’t returning as quickly as I might have hoped, because it was all just so thrilling. That was a totally unexpected shift away from my usual competitive tendencies, and one that was very much welcomed. I’m forever in awe of the human body!”

Every person experiences pregnancy and postpartum in a unique way. Working with your healthcare professionals and coaches can help you determine the best steps for you to maintain your mental and physical health as a mother and athlete.