The Pregnant Athlete

Jessica Bellofatto Headstand SUPAbout seven months ago, three months prior to my 40th birthday, I started asking around to my slightly older female friends, “What doctors do you use for female issues? Where do I go to get my hormones checked? When you turn 40, do you feel more tired than usual? Start gaining weight?”

These questions and more were swirling around in my head as I had just returned from teaching my annual yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico. I had felt fantastic while I was there, meditating every morning at 6 a.m., running on the beach, SUP’ing in the ocean with my 11-year-old son riding on my board (adding 70 extra pounds of weight to my efforts), and teaching two hour yoga classes twice a day. It is what I generally thrive on.

Then, just a few short weeks later, there I was, barely able to drag myself out of bed in the morning, subbing out yoga classes left and right, and wondering naively, “Is my age finally catching up to me? Is this what 40 feels like?” The thought of being pregnant did not occur to me at all. After all, I had an IUD in, and they are said to be 99 percent effective. A couple of weeks into this strange new reality, it did dawn on me. I lay awake throughout the night, in shock, but knowing that it was true. I was pregnant. My son would be turning twelve in October, and my daughter eight in September. For all intensive purposes, I was WAY out of the woods. And here I was, about to turn around and head back into them.

I have been divorced for about four years, and am deeply in love with my live in boyfriend. It HAD occurred to me that he would make an amazing father, I just didn’t think I was necessarily ready and/or equipped to go it again. But, as my yoga practice has taught me over the past 20 years, anything is possible, nothing is impossible, and the only constant is change. Thus, we made the decision to embrace this unexpected gift and embark, all over again, on the craziness that is pregnancy, labor, and infanthood!

As I enter into my 33rd week, the home stretch, it has been, once again, movement that has kept me energized, happy, strong, and emotionally stable! Be it yoga, running, paddling, surfing, or swimming. A day after turning 40 at 18 weeks pregnant, I ran six miles at an average of an 8:30 pace (a bit slower than pre-pregnancy pace) and then took my seven-year-old daughter on an awesome downwind paddle with my friends with the wind at 20 knots. At 28 weeks, I placed fifth in a six mile SUP race, just a minute or two behind the lead women. And at 30 weeks, I placed first in my age group in a local 5k (this time at a 9 min/mile pace!) Throughout the summer I have kept up a demanding schedule of yoga classes on land, SUP Yoga classes on the water, taking care of my two older children and, oh yeah, packing to move! I say all of this not from my ego, but to attempt to dispel the myth that pregnant women, especially pregnant women of a certain age, are weak, or in some way handicapped.

Jessica Bellofatto SUPYOGA

In this quest, I am not alone. Recently, a 35-year-old woman who was 38 weeks pregnant with her third child, got harshly judged and criticized all over the internet when the folks over at CrossFit posted a photo of her, looking gorgeous I might add, lifting weights. The comments that followed ranged from being naive to being downright cruel, telling her that she was a horrible mother, would lose her child, and was stupid for staying physically fit and strong through the course of her pregnancy. I am not saying that all pregnant women should lift weights or go out and run six miles. But I have come across too many people that are shocked by the fact that I continue to run, surf, paddle, move, and revel in my body, that I feel the need to set the record straight. Pregnancy is not an illness. Pregnancy is a normal, natural condition (as is birth, by the way).

Jessica BellofattoYes, all pregnancies are highly individual, and yes, under certain circumstances women must follow certain guidelines to ensure that they are not putting themselves or their babies at risk. But, for the most part, we women can continue to enjoy most of what we enjoyed pre-pregnancy, while allowing for the inevitable fact that the body is changing rapidly every single day, and to honor that, to cultivate the ability to listen to what feels good and what doesn’t, each day. In my last pregnancies, beyond 14 weeks it no longer felt ok to lie flat on my belly. But this time around, I was able to lie flat on my belly (and therefore surf) up until 20 weeks. I am most grateful this pregnancy for stand up paddling. I only started paddling about six years ago, so had not had this sport to enjoy my first two pregnancies. It has been amazing to be on the water, whether it be teaching SUP Yoga classes, going on a downwinder, or just taking a leisurely paddle in the bay.

We, as women, are so much stronger and more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. Instead of criticizing and judging the pregnant weight lifter, can we instead honor her? Can we honor and support ALL women and empower each other to live our best lives with less doubt, less fear, and more joy? Can we embrace all of the stages of a woman’s life and create the space for each of us to find our own unique expression and path?

These last seven weeks of my pregnancy I hope to be able to run, paddle, swim, do headstands, and enjoy this sacred time in a way that speaks to me. When we as women are happy and fulfilled, we can then serve others from that place. I already know that my baby understands this; after all, he or she chose me as its mother and made it quite clear that it was meant to come into this world at this point in time. I am honored and ecstatic to be of service to this being and can not wait to meet her!

25 Comments
Erica Lineberry

October 02, 2013 at 5:54 pm

You go mama! I agree wholeheartedly! I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant with #2, and have thankfully been just as successful this time around with staying active and fit as I was with #1. With my first I was able to comfortably continue rock climbing (with some added safety precautions of course) right up until my son was born – it’s what kept me grounded and sane! Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to do the same with this one as well. Best of luck to you for a happy and healthy rest of your pregnancy, and thank you for speaking the truth that pregnancy is not a sickness, handicap, or disease!

Jennet

October 02, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I am so inspired by you. I will turn 40 next spring, and am terribly out of shape. I’m not happy with my body at all, yet don’t seem to be doing anything to change it. Thank you for inspiring us – pregnant or not. I want to show my 3 boys what it is to live a healthy life as an adult…thank you.

Meegs

October 02, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Did you amend your yoga practice at all in the first trimester? I’ve heard different things about pregnant women not supposed to do certain twists, etc in pregnancy and I was curious about your thoughts and experiences. With the possibility of a pregnancy in the future, I’d love to continue my yoga practice unabated!

Tia

October 02, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Love it! I too was active through my pregnancy! Ran 6.6 miles the day I found out I was pregnant, taught step aerobics until 30 weeks, did boot camps through 33 weeks and I mean flipping the 150 pound tire, and taught yoga through 39 weeks! I had a very healthy baby girl who is as active as her mommy! Keep it up! 🙂

Angie

October 02, 2013 at 7:25 pm

As I read your story, I could completely relate. I too, became unknowingly pregnant after very reliable birth control failed. Our older 2 kids were 8 and 9 and I was nearing 40. As I googled and asked everyone I could think of why I was getting incredibly dizzy in child’s pose, being pregnant didn’t even cross my mind (and it wasn’t anyone’s explanation either). I continued my rigorous life that includes work, staying fit and eating well and also had onlookers questioning my sanity. Now, 2 years later, I can honestly say that this 3rd child is a gift from god. As much as I did not embrace the news of being pregnant, I am living proof that your lives will be everything they are and more than you can dream of with your new addition. Congratulations and good luck from MN!

Angelica

October 02, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I am currently in my eighth week of pregnancy. As a group fitness instructor, I find I’m unable to even get out of bed, let alone teach a class. I’m curious to know when you finally got your energy back? I’m so eager to get back in the swing of things–my last pregnancy I tried continuing my classes and it didn’t end up so well. This time, I’m listening to my body!!! Kudos to you and your journey through a healthy, fit pregnancy!!

HC

October 02, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I enjoyed your article. I am 39 years old and first time pregnant at 33 weeks. Two weeks after I started crossfit I found out I was 5 weeks pregnant. Since I was already active as a triathlete, I was able to continue crossfit until 6 months with some modifications. I also have a picture of me doing the overhead squat with same amount of weight as the woman you referenced in the article. I felt proud when I first saw her picture, saying “you go girl” before reading the ignorant comments. I discontinued crossfit due to financial reason but I’m still able to do yoga & lift weights. I stopped running due to cramping issues but sometimes do catch myself upping my pace. I still ride but on my modified mt bike with road tires & in a more upright position. My doctors are happy with my progress & baby girl is strong & healthy. They tell me to keep doing whatever I am doing. So far I haven’t had any swelling or back pain or major discomfort. I attribute my easy pregnancy to being active & I’m lucky that my body allows me to keep at it.

Gen Matchette

October 03, 2013 at 4:29 am

Jessica,

Kudos to you for maintaining a healthy and active life while being an “older” pregnant mom. I was active w/my first two pregnancies, doing step aerobics the day before my son was born, but it was really with my third pregnancy (I turned 35 while pregnant with her) that I decided to forgo what the doctors told me and listen to my body. I showed up to my regular yoga class the day before I had my daughter, three days overdue by that point. The look on my young male instructor’s face was priceless. Her labor was the longest compared to her brother and sister’s, but my delivery of her and recovery was so much easier! Keep on truckin’, girl!

Happy Momma and Baby thoughts to you! And, congrats to your whole family!!!!

Cheers, Gen =)

Jessica Bellofatto

October 03, 2013 at 4:46 am

Meegs, to answer your question, yes, there are certain modifications that one needs to make in yoga- mainly in the first trimester to avoid deep twisting or detoxification poses, and perhaps no ‘jumpings’ as in jumping forward or back to chatarunga, etc. I say perhaps because I think it depends on what level practitioner you are and if you can jump softly and mindfully with little to no jarring I believe it is ok. It is all really about listening and intuiting what is appropriate and what is not. as the pregnancy progresses obviously you can’t lie on your belly, deep backbends should possibly be avoided (unless they feel really great), forward bends make space for baby with legs wider apart, etc. I hope that helps!

Jessica Bellofatto

October 03, 2013 at 4:49 am

Angelica, you generally get your energy back at the beginning of the second trimester- 12-14 weeks or so. I would encourage you to do as much as possibly now though. When I was pregnant with my first child I felt the way you do in the beginning and literally did not get off the couch for my entire first trimester. But I felt AWFUL, gained a lot of weight in those first weeks, and then found it much harder to keep it going even when my energy was back. Try to move a little every day. I know for this baby I felt so much better when I moved DAILY through that first trimester exhaustion.

Jessica Bellofatto

October 03, 2013 at 4:50 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE all of these comments from so many AMAZING WOMEN!!!! I am grateful to be among your company. Power to the SHE!!!! xoxoxoxo

Kim Tuthill

October 03, 2013 at 7:29 am

Kudos to you! I am a Mother of two healthy and very active girls – ages 19 and 10. I was 36 when I had my first and 44 when I had my second daughter! I kept up my Yoga, biking, hiking, walking, and I also went downhill skiing throughout both pregnancies. My doctor approved of all of my activities as I had been very active in the past and was in very good shape. My only problem was that nobody makes maternity ski pants! Now, my oldest daughter is a World Champion Ice & Snow Sailor – 3rd in the World behind a Swedish woman and a Russian girl! Our family is all about staying active outdoors – mostly in the winter!

Gwendolyn

October 03, 2013 at 7:32 am

Way to go! Thanks for again reminding everyone that pregnancy is normal, and that being active during pregnancy is healthy! I am 20 weeks along with baby #8, (yes, I did say eight!) and I have run, competed in triathlons, and lifted weights throughout my various pregnancies. The pregnancies that I was most active in were the ones with the easiest births and fastest recoveries after birth. While activity during pregnancy is not without its challenges, it is so worth it in the end! I hope you have a wonderful last 7 weeks and birth!

Tina

October 03, 2013 at 7:50 am

Grudging admiration at this. It is obvious from how these (I hope) non-Photoshopped pictures show the muscles here, that your rectus abdominis muscles have been extremely well developed–and probably from a decent baseline. Not just the near-super human flexibility and obviously externally-rotated hip joints …

I am pretty sure that some of these poses are contraindicated for most of us more normal people.

I’ve been into pilates big-time. It is saving whatever is left of my yoga practice. I am an amateur dancer.

Trailmomma

October 03, 2013 at 8:37 am

Thumbs up for sure and thank you for clarifying that this is not the norm for every pregnancy but it also isn’t abnormal either. I ran until I was 9 months with my first and 8 months with my second. It is doable if done correctly and you are smart about it. Congrats on baby #3!

Jen

October 03, 2013 at 9:58 am

Thank you soooooooooooooooo much for this. I am now 39 (today) and pregnant with my second. I have been a long distance runner and cyclist x 30 years of my life … give or take! Truth be told I have hidden my dedication to my sport during my pregnancy. I live in a small rural judgemental town and I run and bike is solitude. Some close to me know the what I continue to pursue but only a select few. Judgement and gossip is harsh and deep. I wish that I could be proud of what I know a woman’s body can do. I am so frustrated with society’s pressure on woman to live in some type of baby bubble … I truly believe that this mentality is far more unsafe to our existing and unborn children. Thank you thank you thank you and best wishes for you and your family!

Sara

October 03, 2013 at 10:37 am

This was such a great assurance for me! I’m almost 20 weeks and was very active before pregnancy. I’ve still been active since I’ve been pregnant, but tone things down a bit when I get tired. I’ve practiced yoga regularly for a good 5 years and was told a few weeks ago by a prenatal yoga teacher that I should stop doing downward dog, or any kind of inversions, and actually sort of criticized me for thinking that I could still do it…I felt in my heart that she was wrong and stopped going to her class of no downward dogs. For some reason everyone thinks that we’re fragile pieces of glass while pregnant and any kind of inversions or exercise other than swimming and walking should be put on hold or else we’ll break. I feel great when I invert and exercise, so why would I stop? Your writing only makes me feel more at ease and less fearful of those negative voices…so thank you. If my body tells me to stop, I will…but for now, I feel great keeping up my normal practice! Namaste

Carly

October 03, 2013 at 10:50 am

I haven’t been pregnant for quite some time (although after reading this post, I realize you can go “back into the woods” when you least expect it) but thank you so much for saying what I wish someone had said to me all those years ago! You are a true inspiration 🙂

Jess

October 03, 2013 at 10:59 am

Wow. It was meant to be that this article just showed up in my Facebook news feed. I’m currently 9 weeks pregnant and like Angelica, I have never felt more sluggish. I’m so glad you just reinforced my thought that staying active now – even when it is the last thing I feel like doing – will pay off in the long run. Thank you for being such a shining example of the benefits of fitness during pregnancy!

nika

October 03, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Hi first time Mommas, after having my first in 2011 I discovered the Tupler technique.
I wish I had done it exclusively for my entire first pregnancy but, I also recommend walking and walking in the pool.
anyway it is awesome and I I discovered it much later after and used it for repair but I think it can really change the outcome of your pregnancy in terms of your body.
wish you all the Best with you pregnancies.

kckmomdoc

October 04, 2013 at 4:53 am

I am an Ob/Gyn and it astounds me that there are medical doctors who are ignorant i personally got motivated by seeing womenof pregnancy and exercise. I can say that most Ob/Gyns I know are not ignorant of this, as there is great data dating back 40 years that an average risk pregnancy is not harmed (and even benefits) from the maternal exercise. I got motivated to exercise (after a 20 year hiatus of building my career) thanks to my enthusiastic exercising pregnant patients as well as seeing moms pushing double jogging strollers!

ShannonC

October 04, 2013 at 7:03 am

I think it is WONDERFUL to see women who remain active during pregnancy. My own mother was a fitness instructor when she became pregnant with me in the early 80s. Luckily, we lived in a large metropolitan area and she worked for an all women’s gym. They not only encouraged her to remain active, but allowed her to lead a set of classes specifically for fellow pregnant women. When she had my sister seven years later, we had moved to a more rural town, and the gym owner would not allow her to teach classes after she started showing. She also told her she had to lose the baby weight before returning to work. It was such a disruption to her routine that she never was able to lose that weight, and my sister has had a very difficult battle with serious obesity. I firmly believe that her own metabolism and body chemistry was effected by my mom’s decrease in activity during that pregnancy.

Jen

October 05, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I have to laugh at the “pregnancy is not an illness” line. For me, it well and truly was. Hyperemesis knocked me on my arse and I was a walking pillar of misery until I gave birth. Just getting to work was a challenge most days.

Of course, I was not active prior to my pregnancy, gave up early on Pilates during the pregnancy when survival seemed to dictate it, nor was I active immediately postpartum. I completely agree that if you were active before, there should be no reason why you can’t remain so during gestation!

Jessica Bellofatto

February 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm

dear all, thank you so much for your wonderful comments. As we know, pregnancy, labor and birth and all of the rest are such vastly different experiences for us as women. My hope in sharing my story is that women can overcome their anxiety and fear about staying active throughout their pregnancies and recognize the amazing benefits of movement throughout all stages of our lives. thank you!

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