Funny things about being pregnant – the later days

(This list is longer than the early days and the middle days due to the fact that my belly has taken on epic proportions in this final trimester. And I didn’t believe them when they said I wouldn’t believe just how big it can get…)

Wondering where my feet are.

Not looking forward to putting socks on.

Not remembering why I got up to go to the kitchen although conceivably I had a really good reason. I guess I’ll get a snack while I’m there…

Watching my belly literally take on a life of its own. Is he doing the wave in there?!

Feeling like a druggie with my little baggie of Tums. It’s easier than carrying around the 150-pack.

Knowing a belly growth spurt must be coming because of the fact that I’ve been craving (and eating) meat for 7 days straight. (Even more interesting considering I am a near-vegetarian.)

Noticing that the fronts of most of my shirts are starting to pill. That’s what you get from too much belly rubbing!

Going to look out the window and running into the glass with my belly.

When Roo gets the hiccups. And it rattles my bladder.

Hearing my tummy in its new location up under my rib cage when it rumbles.

Realizing how soft the skin inside my now popped-out belly button is.


I’ve always been a cardio lover. There’s nothing like the sweat dripping from your pores, the panting for air, the lactic acid flushing your muscles, all combining to give you that feeling of being alive. Favorites over the years have been running (depending on the phase of the planets), spinning, kickboxing, Zumba, and swimming. There’s always been swimming.

Now that I’m pregnant, I’ve rediscovered my love for swimming. Shortly after we moved to Frankfurt, I found a pool close enough to ride my bike to. Initially I didn’t understand just how nice swimming can be for the pregnant body. Now that I’ve gained considerable girth (so much that I purchased my first-ever sport bikini because that’s just so much easier), I love the buoyancy the water provides. And being in the water helps relieve swelling in your feet and legs. Double bonus!

I haven’t had to modify much. I’m a big freestyler, and that works really well with a baby belly. Backstroke was never a favorite of mine, aside from the fact that you can’t keep as careful an eye on what co-swimmers are doing to make sure they keep the their flailing arms and legs away from your precious cargo hold as it slices through the water. Breaststroke, the non-granny kind where you dip your head under with each stroke to avoid too much pressure on your lower back, works well too. I just get bored with my lack of speed after a while. Butterfly seems like too much effort for my cardiovascular system, so, while I will dolphin kick a few laps, I never do the full-on stroke.

A big question I asked myself recently was whether or not flip turns are still a good idea. There are a lot of great discussions in the U.S. Masters Swimming forums. From what I can tell, the standard advice goes here too – if it feels good, do it; once the belly is too big, you won’t want to anymore anyway. I’d been flip-turning away until just this week, week 34, when all of a sudden it became obvious. There’s just no more space to roll into a ball and flip over.

I keep it relatively low-key, but my typical swim workouts combine any of the following:

alternating 200 freestyle + 200 flutter kick + 200 freestyle stroke with pull buoy

alternating 100 flutter kick + 100 freestyle stroke with pull buoy

alternating 100 breaststroke + 100 dolphin kick with single-sided stroke

5 x 200 freestyle (on 5 minutes if I’m feeling strong)

5 x 100 freestyle (on 3 minutes if I’m feeling strong)

I usually aim for 2,000 meters total. Since my heart rate monitor doesn’t work under water, I go with how I’m feeling to monitor my intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion. Some days are faster. Some days just aren’t. I always give myself extra time between sets to get my heart rate down again and to catch my breath. And the water bottle is never far from reach.

The most fun part about swimming? When people smile and say that Roo is already getting his first swim lessons. And I like when Toby calls me a Kugelfish (puffer fish, literally ball fish).

Push it mama

When I started working out again, one of my first questions was related to intensity. How hard could I work out while still taking care of my unborn child? A number I often ran across in online articles and discussion groups was 140 bpm for maximum heart rate. Not having anything else to base my workouts on, I started there. The problem was that I needed a way higher heart rate to feel like I was getting a workout, even pregnant.

This became obvious to me when I subbed for a Zumba class around my 18th week, dutifully wearing my heart rate monitor. My goal was to stay under, or at least around 140. I did fine for the first few songs, and then I was up in the 160s and low 170s. A quick self-check of all my vital systems told me I was doing just fine, so I carried on, making sure to drink plenty of water. After that I decided I needed to find out more about this bpm limit.

Turns out 140 is a number quite literally pulled out of thin air with no real scientific basis. It’s obviously hard to recommend a single number for a population of people who share the fact that they are pregnant but very little else. Each pregnant woman’s pre-pregnancy training status and pregnancy story are different, and both need to be respected.

A much better way to monitor your effort during pregnancy, and one supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), is with Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. The key word is “perceived,” meaning the scale accounts for not only differences between people but also for differences between one person’s fitness level from day to day. The scale gives you a way to self-assess the intensity of your activity, independent of heart rate, ranging from the amount of effort it takes to sit around (6) all the way up to your maximum effort (20). When pregnant, and depending on your pre-pregnancy level of fitness, you should mostly be working out at a ‘moderate’ to ‘hard’ level ( 12-14 on the scale of 6-20) that allows for some conversation with some effort. For me, if I can still sing all the words to my favorite song on my playlist, I need to step it up.

What’s really interesting is that due to some crazy changes a pregnant body goes through, you most likely won’t have to work out as hard to reach the same intensity levels as pre-pregnancy. The following result in the heart having to work harder to pump blood around the body, hence influencing your perceived exertion:

  • blood volume increases by 40-50%
  • heart rate increases by about 15 bpm
  • stroke volume and cardiac output (basically how much blood your heart pumps with each beat) increase

Workout intensity is an important consideration since you shouldn’t be working out so hard that the baby starts suffering. This is why it’s beyond important to listen to your body. Really listen. If something feels good, it probably is good. If something feels bad, drop it. And if you’re not sure, call it quits and ask your doctor.

Some days I like to push it. Other days it just feels better to take it easy, and so I do. I never forget that pregnancy is the time to be kind to myself – I am, after all, baking another human being in that lovely belly of mine!

Fit mama

There is a lot of uncertainty and misinformation surrounding fitness training during pregnancy. While everyone agrees that a minimum level of activity is good for both the mother and the growing fetus (even if mom was inactive before getting pregnant), there is more debate about moving beyond low-impact things like walking, swimming, and gentle yoga.

I was physically active long before I got pregnant. Working out and pushing myself physically has always been a part of my life, whether it’s been desert hiking, open-water swimming, functional training, Zumba, or yoga. I’m not crazy athletic; I just like being physically fit and able to rely on my body. And I like my ice cream and skinny jeans.

For the first three months of my pregnancy, I toned it way down when it came to working out. Partially because when I finally got pregnant, there was a mental block about not wanting to shake the baby out, as silly as that seems in hindsight, and partially because I wasn’t really sure what my body was doing anymore between the tiredness, instant aversion to many of my favorite foods, and the constant queasiness.

Then I got sick of not moving and was determined to have a fit and healthy pregnancy, and to set myself up as optimally as possible for a quick recovery and return to my skinny jeans. So I started working out again. At first I continued with my functional resistance training and cardio on the elliptical, and then added Pilates, swimming, and pelvic floor exercises.

As my belly and Roo (as we’ve taken to calling him) have grown, I’ve had to adjust my technique and resistance, remember that my balance and core stability are temporarily on hiatus, and listen to my body even more than before. When there have been questions about what is good for me or not, I’ve diligently done my research.

I am by no means an expert, so take anything I say as a starting point for your own research. I just know that I feel good about and enjoy what I am doing. And, even more importantly, I feel comfortable in my new athlete-mama body, despite a few more pounds and a big belly.

Funny things about being pregnant – the middle days

Realizing that while I can still drive in a straight line, I can no longer park straight.

Being pregnancy drunk – an unexplainable silliness leading to singing to myself and random mental commentary on innocent bystanders. I swear I saw Lenny Kravitz pushing a stroller down the street!

Realizing that no matter how much I was hoping to resist the trend of my ever-growing hips, it’s time to put away the skinny jeans (and any other pants I used to fit in).

Running into things with my suddenly-there baby belly.

Having that same belly and the accompanying boobs intercepting and statically attracting any crumbs attempting to make it to the floor.

Hoping I don’t tinkle when I sneeze. (That’s what those pelvic floor exercises are for!)

Wondering if sneezing bothers the little guy.

Being forced into better posture by the belly.

Funny things about being pregnant – the early days

Feeling self-conscious about the fact that the initial phase of baby belly looks like a college student’s beer gut.

Being winded after a single flight of stairs.

Realizing they have special seating for me in the trams and special parking spaces at the grocery store.

Being paranoid about the source of my cheese and any leftovers or open food products older than two days.

Craving no-nos like wine and gelato. Although I did later find out that some flavors of gelato are made without egg. Yeah!

Having absolutely no desire for my favorite latte macchiato. What?!

In love

I have decided that I love my pregnant belly. Sure, it’s weird to not see my feet anymore unless I’m standing a certain way, to no longer fit into even my ‘fat jeans’, to not be able to balance on one foot very well anymore, to groan like a rudely awoken bear when I put on my socks, and to not know where the ends of my body are when I’m walking around corners and other objects (including Toby). But it’s so very nice to feel the little person moving inside of me. I love talking to him and stroking my belly, imagining that he can feel me through my skin and thinning abdominal muscles, wondering the whole time if he’ll get Toby’s long legs and thick hair, what color his eyes will be, what he thinks of me.

Barefoot and pregnant

Because I had finally hit the point where I could proudly say I was earning real money, I milked my PT earning potential in Düsseldorf as long as I could. When I joined Toby in Frankfurt seven weeks after he’d already started his new job, there was no doubt I would continue with PT.

I first picked a new gym, no easy task when you don’t have a feel for the market, and started hanging out there. I had the effect of double-bad timing to contend with – first there were all the World Cup soccer games keeping people from the gym, and then it was summer vacation when all Germans take off for a few weeks with their families. Needless to say, it was hard to get a hold of people to train with for that all-so-critical initial contact.

I stuck it out for a few months, always waffling between the positive feelings that my breakthrough was coming any day and the negative feelings that our household income would be better off if I spent more time at the coffee house and stopped paying my gym rent and own health insurance.

In Germany you are required by law to pause your work for maternity leave six weeks before you give birth. For me that would be October. I’ve decided to stop a bit early.

I feel a sense of relief now that the decision has been made. It’s also given us something to laugh about. While I have spent the summer falling (comfortably and of my own free will) more and more into the role of housewife as Toby’s job got crazier and mine never did, I am now officially, full-time “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.”

We just talked the other night about how strange it is that we’ve so easily slipped into these old-school roles – Toby being the breadwinner and me the housewife. I don’t mind. Sure, laundry in and of itself isn’t an inspiring job, but the fact that I’m doing it while baking another human being and the fact that it allows us to relax together for the few minutes Toby has each evening make it worthy of my time.

And, as Toby quoted from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “the man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” That’s what I’ll think of if the mundane activities of running a household ever leave me uninspired.