1276 miles. That’s how many miles I traversed, sometimes foolishly, sometimes in an unsightly, slow, and painful manner, during pregnancy number one.
But as they say, every pregnancy is different, and this time around I’ll be lucky to hit 800 miles. I was doing well for the first two trimesters, logging 40-mile weeks and participating in half-marathons, but now that I’m in the homestretch and the weight has crept on and baby is front and centre, running is simply not fun anymore, it’s just painful.
But while last time I felt like I had to run (i.e. I underwent an identity crisis, afraid that my peers and my muscle fibers would forget that I was still a runner despite my physique), this time around I have the confidence of knowing that I will be back on the road again soon if I can just be patient.
The third trimester can be a trying time for many of us mother runners. Certainly, excitement abounds as the light at the end of the tunnel draws nearer, but during the last few months there can be many obstacles to overcome and a great deal of discomfort to push through. To put it in “running terms” the last trimester is analogous to the last few miles of a marathon; your nutrition and hydration needs are high, and you’ve just about had it with the entire event. But hang in there, the finish line and award are in sight. Here are some tips to help you survive and thrive during the last few months of running and gestating.
To start with, it may finally be time to talk about the elephant in the room: weight. I’ve blatantly ignored this topic up until now because, well, it’s simply not all that pleasant to think about. But gaining weight is essential to a healthy pregnancy, despite the fact that the extra pounds are the aspect of pregnancy that many of us runners dread. While weight gain during the first few weeks is typically minimal, weight gain during the second and third trimesters is not. According to data from the Institute of Medicine, the recommended rate of weight gain is approximately 1-1.3lb/week for women who enter pregnancy underweight (BMI<18.5), 0.8-1lb/week for normal weight women (BMI 18.5-24.9), and 0.5-0.7lb/week for overweight women (BMI 25-29.9). Which means the total recommended weight gain for normal weight women over the course of 40 weeks is 25-35 pounds.
Where does all of this weight go? Hint: not the butt and thighs. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, an increase of approximately 30 pounds is distributed in the following manner: 7.5 pounds of actual baby weight; 1.5 pounds for the placenta; 2 pounds each for amniotic fluid, uterus, and breasts; 4 pounds each for body fluids and blood; and 7 pounds or so for maternal stores of fat, protein, and miscellaneous nutrients.
The amount of weight gained impacts baby’s health and mom’s well-being during and after pregnancy. Ignoring the recommendations to gain weight increases risk for preterm birth, delivering a low birth weight infant, and difficulty initiating breastfeeding. Conversely, gaining too much weight increases the risk of delivering a baby who weighs in at more than 4,500 g (9 lb, 14.7 oz) and therefore might require caesarean-section delivery, difficulty losing weight after pregnancy, and possible gestational diabetes and/or hypertension. The right amount of pregnancy weight gain varies for each woman and is based on starting weight and your doctor’s recommendations (so be sure to ask your doctor to help you determine the right amount of maternity weight gain for you).
Now that the weight discussion is over, it’s time to talk nutrient donation. During the third trimester, baby is accumulating as much stored nutrition as possible before his or her arrival. In preparation for the big day, there is an enormous transfer of nutrients from mom to baby across the placenta and via the umbilical cord. There is a transfer of just about every major vitamin and mineral you can think of, and the major players include calcium, iron, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E, and carotenoids, such as lutein. This ongoing transfer from your stores to your baby’s further explains why you may be feeling run down and exhausted during the last few weeks of gestation. In order to meet your needs and baby’s, a healthy diet is absolutely critical. So here are some tips to sneak in extra nutrients to meet your needs for health, running, and baby.
Protein needs remain high, and you’ll need at least 70 grams per day, more if you’re logging mileage and workouts. Aim for some protein at every meal. Keep it simple by topping your salad or sandwich with just a few more slices of roasted chicken or steamed fish, drinking skim milk rather than water, or adding mild-flavored vanilla protein powder to smoothies and shakes, as well as baked goods, homemade waffles, and pancakes.
Boost your calcium intake and fend off stress fractures by making oatmeal, soups, mashed potatoes, and rice with skim milk rather than water or broth. Choose calcium and vitamin D-fortified items and low-fat dairy whenever the option arises.
Boost your iron intake by adding iron-rich foods (legumes, red meat, canned spinach, fortified cereals and grains) to most all meals and coupling these foods with vitamin C, which will help your body to better absorb the iron.
Take in more nutrients overall by eating a colorful diet. Natural color equates to critical nutrients like vitamins A and C and carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene.
Aim to take in at least 2-1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit each day by trying some of the following: Add chopped fresh fruit to a salad; order sandwiches with a double dose of lettuce, tomato, and any other available vegetables; add convenient, frozen veggies to soups; and choose a side of vegetables rather than potatoes or another starch when dining out.
Finally, with baby’s arrival right around the corner, be sure to stock up the precious commodity of sleep. Your diet can help bring on the ZZZs when you take the following tips into account:
• Aim for light and early dinners. Big dinners tend to prolong digestion, which can disrupt sleep patterns (and the volume can certainly lead to heartburn). Avoid discomfort by eating your biggest meal before midafternoon and a much lighter evening meal.
• Fend off fullness (and bloating and heartburn!) and meet your energy needs by consuming frequent mini-meals and allowing for plenty of time to digest before lying down at night. This may mean that you have to back up the clock and eat much earlier than usual.
• Finally, no matter what, remember that no matter how much your mileage might decrease over nine months of gestation, no matter how slow or awkward you may become, the end goal is completely worth the journey. Keep your eyes on the prize and know that it may take time but you will most certainly return to your former running self. But from now on, whenever you head out the door for a run, you’ll have the most wonderful gift to return home to.