Got the following e-mail from an aerial friend of mine. It inspired the blog below.
This Sunday I just discovered that I am pregnant. Definitely a surprise. How life can change so fast!
First of all, congratulations! What a beautiful gift. I have friends who have tried for years and years to get pregnant and have seen no luck. Seeing their heartache makes me realize all the more how much of a blessing it is to be pregnant. Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way at first. When I first found out I was pregnant, my emotions were all over the place. It was the last thing we expected at that point in time, but turns out, God knows how to plan things much better than I do. My daughter came at the perfectly appointed time in my life, and all is better than I ever could have planned myself. But anyways, what I want to dive into with this blog is what I learned through it all, the choices I made about training while pregnant, and so on.
Training While Pregnant
***Disclaimer: Get medical advice from a medical professional. Every pregnancy is different.***
The advice that my midwife gave me from the beginning of my pregnancy was this: Don’t start anything new, but you are welcome to do whatever activities you are used to doing (within safe limits). As you progress, modify and step off of the intensity. Listen to your body. When you are really low on energy, take it easy. Your body will need energy to work out and grow a baby at the same time. I remember my midwife recommending a maximum heart rate of 140. I would use the heart rate monitors at the gym to keep my heart rate right at 140 (loved the elliptical). While I didn’t necessarily pick up new activities, I did in fact revisit activities that I hadn’t done in years. I normally hate swimming and that was my saving grace during big belly days. It was such a relief to get in the water and have all that weight relieved from my back. I used one of those floatation devices and kicked and paddled my way through laps. It was heavenly. I gained more weight than normal because I am so small. I gained 40% of my body weight. That would be like a 150 pound person gaining 60 pounds. I’m less than 100 pounds, so it was less than 40 pounds for me, but it was still a lot to gain (and a lot to lose).
Most aerialists with healthy no issue pregnancies can train through the first trimester pretty normally, respecting all changes in the body as they grow. I was training hip key roll ups in my first trimester. In the second trimester, I started training less and gradually backing off moves that wrapped my belly, just for the sake of respecting the baby’s space. This was how I felt about it. I did inversions until around month 4. Then, I started to back off of aerial in general. I stuck more to dancing on the ground after that. I got diastasis recti (splitting of the abs) pretty bad. This prevented me from doing any sit-ups or abdominal work throughout a lot of my pregnancy. I knew I had it bad when I did a sit up and saw a mound appear in the middle of my stomach where my gut was pouring through the split of the abs. Yeah, it was time to back off…way off.
Concerns of Training While Pregnant
1. The height of it all.
A doctor would naturally be concerned about the height involved with aerial. It goes without saying that a fall would be bad. Working lower to the ground is a good choice, as is working moves that you can do without thinking and that require very little effort on your part. This is going to vary by your level of expertise with aerial prior to your pregnancy.
I want to start by recognizing that there is a difference between passing through an inversion when doing a straddle climb and hanging out in an inverted straddle in aerial yoga. In my personal experience, I couldn’t stand inverting in the aerial yoga kind as soon as I had gain a few pounds. I felt like I had too much fluid and other such crazy body changes to be hanging upside-down. As for moves like downward dog, I did those just fine since that is a gentler form of an inversion, but I made sure to stop that kind of movement in the third trimester (where you hang out for more than a moment in the inversion). The reason for that was that I had read that downward dog is exactly what to do if you want to turn a breach baby! I didn’t have a breach baby, and so I certainly didn’t want to be creating one. I like to play it safe, and since I did not want a breach baby, there was no getting me upside-down in that third trimester. The baby uses gravity to tell which way is down and I didn’t want to send mixed messaged. Now, as for those inversions that are the pass through for a moment kind – like those required to mount an aerial apparatus. I feel like the deterrent is simply going to be loss of abdominal recruitment. I loss the ability to recruit my abs fairly early in pregnancy, so I couldn’t invert with my strength. Plus I gained so much weight, I just couldn’t do it. But if I had the muscle and not split abs, I can see going for it. It all comes back to respecting the body’s changes and the new boundaries as they come. If you feel full of energy and can mount that hoop, no problem, well, then you go girl. If you’re body is saying, “this belly is all to big to be lifting up on that thing.” well, then there’s your answer.
3. Exhaustion & Effort.
Another concern about aerial is the strain that it puts on the body. The pure effort and exhaustion should be taken into account. Remember, you are growing another person. You are going to feel tired and now is NOT the time to be pushing boundaries. If you struggle with knowing when to stop, then stop long before some other event requires it. Strenuous occupational exercise has been shown to adversely affect fetal growth (Clapp, J.F. 1996. Pregnancy outcome: Physical activities inside versus outside the workplace). I would imagine that this study was on people such as construction workers, but there is certainly a caution to heed here.
Starting in the second trimester, lifting heavy objects can put you at risk for a miscarriage. This happened to a friend of mine, sadly. She was lifting a heavy object in month 5 and ended up losing the baby. She was trying to lift a washing machine, which isn’t necessarily the same as aerial, but lifting your own body weight certainly requires a large dose of effort (especially when you have gained 20 pounds!). Again, I like to play things safe, which is why I backed off of most of my aerial training after the first trimester, but every person is different. Every pregnancy is different. I’ve only been through one. Who’s to say the next one will leave me with totally different feelings and convictions?
4. Elevated body temperature.
The main studies done in this area has been on animals. Females exposed to heat in the first trimester have shown an increase in fetal neural tube defects (Milunsky, Ulicickas, rothman, Willet, Jick & Jick, 1992). However, there are no human studies showing that exercise can elevate core body temperature to the extent that the fetus would be affected. Most experts recommend that core temperature not exceed 101 degrees Fahrenheit. The real concern lies with competing sources for blood flow. If all your blood is going to your working muscles, then it will decrease the utero-placental blood flow and may compromise fetal oxygen supply. Again, scientist knowledge here comes from animal studies. In the animal studies, this resulted in altered fetal growth. There is no evidence that this is the case in humans. All we have is a collection of stories and the wisdom of the body. That suits me just fine.
5. Loosening Ligaments & Other Changes
At the moment of conception the hormone relaxin is released to “soften” connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage – making a pregnant woman feel more loose and flexible. To better protect your hormonally loosened joints at this time, getting reacquainted with your body on a daily basis is a necessity. Big Picture: You will go through a million changes during pregnancy and every day something will be different. You don’t want to get caught off guard by your center of gravity shifting to a brand new spot – or whatever it is on that day – so a good warm-up helps you get to know the new body that you are working in as you grow every day. In my own experience, I didn’t really notice any gains in flexibility. I kept waiting for them and the chance to capitalize on some free gains in my range of motion, but they never came. I did notice the change in the center of gravity. I worked on a dance piece for a show (performed at 7 months) and the piece had to morph each rehearsal because my balancing capabilities were too different each week.
Now, I think it’s time for a little encouragement:
1. Shift your focus.
We all know how much work you have put in to become an awesome and graceful aerial dancer. Don’t feel the pressure to fight for this all the way through pregnancy. Take advantage of an excuse to try something new. Try working out moves on the ground. Use your brain in a new way: Attach your fabric to the wall and work with the fabric horizontally as if you were vertical. Get into a wrap for something and see if you can find a new place to go. Ask a more mobile friend to work out your idea in the air. Or…find new ways to improve your ground act. Every aerialist needs to have a nice ground portion to compliment their air time.
2. It’s only temporary.
While you might feel like you’re never going to be in the air again, and you might feel like you’re never going to be able to lift your big butt into the air again, and you might feel like you’re never going to feel like you can straddle climb with energy up the fabric again, these are symptoms of a perfectly normal pregnancy. All those feelings are just that. Feelings. Not truth. Not in the least. You WILL get back to being at the top of your game – perhaps even better than before! You WILL get back to skinny, or the healthy plump that makes you look awesome. Even when your pelvis spreads out and you can’t fit into your own underwear – don’t worry. It WILL come back. You WILL get that straddle climb back with tons of energy. It may take time, and it may feel like forever when you’re going through it, but it will come back. The only reason that people don’t come back is because their priorities may shift after having a child. They might devote less time to training, but with the right amount of time and effort, there is nothing physically stopping you from being right back where you started as if you never had a baby. That’s how I feel now. I can’t believe I was really big once. I can’t even imagine that. And while I don’t commit as much time to training now as I did prior to having my daughter, I make my training time effective and efficient so that I am at the top of my game now. I can do dead hang meathooks now and could NEVER even dream of doing that in the years leading up prior to getting pregnant.
This is my last 2 cents on the subject of pregnancy. (And then I’ll let you add your own 2 cents in the comments! Please consider sharing your experience. There is so much encouragement to be had and given through sharing and reading each other’s stories.)
If you are an aerialist, then you know about beauty pain. It’s the kind of pain that is different than injury pain. It’s the pain that you are willing to go through to create something beautiful. Ankle hangs come to mind…as well as a host of other aerial moves. As an aerialist, you have been through pinches and uncomfortable pressure, but situated yourself in a mental place to hunker down and bear it because you knew you were creating a work of art. This is what birthing is all about. I firmly believe all aerialists should go for a natural birth. We are the type of person who can most handle it physically, mentally, and not only will handle it, push through and enjoy the process. I am one of those. My daughter was sunny side up, which is a particularly painful position to birth. I tore the most amount that you are allowed to tear and not be transferred to the hospital, but I would go through natural birth 10 times again in a heartbeat for the joy received at the end. No doubt about it. It is beauty pain, and as an aerialist, you know all about that. You are all over that!
Below is a video of my favorite trapeze artist performing aerial at 28 weeks pregnant. It is beautiful to see what she does! The second video below that is what I was doing at 1 month farther along. It’s not as cool, but it’s where my body was at, and I gotta respect that.
Much thanks to Jennifer Thies for letting me use the pictures of her pregnancy. These pictures actually span two pregnancies. I’ve attached a picture of her while not pregnant to reinforce the fact that she is an awesome aerialist and has bounced back to awesome after both pregnancies.