Guest Blog: Prepping Yourself for Baby
Lesley strategically covering her baby belly with a baton.
If you are an expectant mom, you are likely spending most of your time thinking about how to prepare for your baby: what to buy, what to register for and how on earth you’re going to handle a fulltime job with a baby. That’s a lot of looking out for baby. Did you forget to look out for yourself? Take a step back and prepare yourself to be in the best position — without your head in a toilet.
I’m talking about your body.
As a pseudo-professional runner (as in, I run professional track meets but definitely do not make enough money to pay the rent on a cardboard box on the side of the road), I am pretty aware of my body. Just as most people have to learn things the hard way, I learned about nutrition mostly though a really bad track season—one so bad that it couldn’t possibly be just being out of shape. It could only be attributed to sickness or some serious nutritional deficiencies. So my doctor ran a full panel of blood work.
As an athlete, I’ve seen a lot of my own blood test results, and I know that peak performance is closely correlated with some of those numbers. Being pregnant is a lot like training really hard. Considering that you are preparing your body for the ultimate athletic endeavor (growing a human), it makes sense to ensure your body is equipped for that task.
Here are the vitamins and nutrients that I usually focus on as an athlete, and what fixing them (with guidance from your OB) might do for your pregnancy:
1) B12 (Morning Sickness and Fatigue)
Everyone says “Every pregnancy is different,” and they’re often talking about morning sickness. However, the interwebs are overflowing with suggestions that vitamin B12 helps alleviate morning sickness. Thanks to my running-career-long struggle with anemia, supplemental B12 has been a staple in my life, and I have a personal theory that my abundant stores of B12 are one of the main reasons that I’ve had pretty smooth sailing. It’s worth asking your doctor about.
2) Iron (Fatigue and Mood)
I thank my (barely) passing numbers on Ferritin, Hematocrit, and Hemoglobin for the fact that my fatigue was not as debilitating as it seems to be for many first trimester women. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like I was running 85-mile weeks and my brain became useless after 9pm, but my energy was not totally awful. In medical terms, your blood volume increases dramatically in the first six to 12 weeks, but your bone marrow needs some time to catch up and produce the cells you need to deliver oxygen.
Additionally, anemia during pregnancy (or anytime!) can make you feel depressed and generally unmotivated. You don’t need that on top of the rush of hormones. This is something to ask your doctor about, but I take a dose of iron most mornings with vitamin C, long before I consume any eggs or caffeine (both which interfere with iron absorption).
3) Vitamin D (Fatigue and Mood)
For the athlete, vitamin D is essential for performance. For the mother-to-be, vitamin D is essential for cell growth, immunity, inflammation and regulating mood. For baby, vitamin D is essential for a healthy musculoskeletal system. Vitamin D is best absorbed through sun exposure (hence the crappy levels in over-worked city folk), but egg yolk is also a great dietary souce. This is one to be really careful with, because an overdose can cause fetal neurologic damage. Of course, and I’m being a broken record here, this is something you should discuss with your doctor.
4) Finally: Coffee + running = magic
Apparently, when you start to host that parasite that you will some day call your child, your body immediately puts on the breaks and slows down digestion to allow it to absorb as many nutrients as possible. This leads to constipation. Oh joy.
The answer does not lie in Dulcolax or enemas or whatever it is you have been trying. I think the answer lies in running and a little bit of coffee.
There is some controversy over coffee, but most sources set the upper limit at 200mg a day, which is about one cup of coffee. I generally only require about four ounces of coffee with a decent dose of cream in the morning to feel like I got my fix. I save the rest for post run and afternoon indulgences like massive amounts of dark chocolate.
There is also a little controversy over exercise. Specifically, heart rate. My doctor told me to make sure I can hold a conversation while I am running, and I should be fine. That’s a good bar for most pregnant women, but my lungs are of another breed. Additionally, I didn’t really want to stop running hard here and there, so I did a lot of my own research on the topic. It turns out that the body has a lot of mechanisms for slowing the pregnant woman down.
Have you ever wondered why you are so winded after chasing that bus down? Well, you can thank progesterone for increases the body’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide. This forces the pregnant woman’s body to put more effort into expelling a normally tolerable level of carbon dioxide, thereby protecting the fetus from this by-product of breathing. The pregnant woman will actually have a lower level of carbon dioxide in her blood than a non-pregnant woman. The end result is getting winded a lot faster when doing anything, including walking up three flights of stairs to your apartment.
The other result of progesterone that immediately slows you down is its effects on the musculoskeletal system. Progesterone does not discriminate against muscle types. Yes, the uterine muscles need to relax. Unfortunately, every other muscle also gets to relax, leading to less power. More weight + less power + heavier breathing = can’t run up hills worth a damn. Not just hills, though, it’s really everything.
That being said, I recommend still getting out there and doing whatever form of exercise it is that you do. Especially if it’s a known natural laxative such as running. Combine a bowel-bouncing athletic activity with a little coffee, sit back and feel superior to all the women who are complaining about being constipated. And the importance of hydration can’t be understated: it helps with fatigue, hydration, and is vitally important in pregnancy.
Lesley Higgins is a competitive runner, representing the New York Athletic Club and Brooks. She was an All-American at the University of Colorado and finalist in the 2008 Olympic Trials 3000m steeplechase. She lives and works in NYC and is pregnant with her first. Follow her experiences running pregnant on lesleyhiggins.com and @le_diable.