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Walking Through Pregnancy

Most of the information posted at www.walkingresource.com is a combination of research and firsthand training/coaching experience. Therefore, I asked one of the first people I taught to race walk, Jennifer Marlborough, to write the section explaining Walking through Pregnancy to give a firsthand women’s perspective. She learned to race walk in high school and has remained active in the sport through her adult life. Now 40 years old, she understands firsthand the balance needed for a successful family/business life while trying to remain fit and healthy. You can learn more about her and her newly formed dispute resolution business at www.jlmdisputeresolution.com

Please note, Jennifer is not a doctor and neither am I. We are providing a first person account of her story as well as well researched information about walking for exercise during your pregnancy. However, ALWAYS check with a doctor before starting an exercise program. This is especially true during pregnancy.

My Story

When I found out that I was pregnant in early June 2012, I knew that I wanted to stay as healthy as possible, and also maintain cardiovascular strength. At that time, I was more than my racewalking “racing weight”, and therefore, I felt that I should be conscious of gaining too much weight during pregnancy. During my first pregnancy ultrasound, at 6 weeks and 6 days, I found out that I was having twins! This was even more reason to make sure that I stayed in fairly good shape because twin pregnancies are usually very difficult; women often end up on bed rest, in the hospital multiple times, or giving birth prematurely.

However, at my first appointment with the obstetrician, he told me not to be too worried about how much weight I gained; but gave a general guideline for weight gain for twin pregnancies of 35-45 pounds. At that appointment, I asked my obstetrician if I could exercise. I knew from reading books and sites online that there are certain exercises to avoid such as horseback riding, skiing, and contact sports; none of which I was too eager to participate in anyway. My obstetrician told me that I could walk and swim but to be careful because of the higher risks in twin pregnancies. He also said that I should make sure that my pulse did not exceed 140 beats per minute.  I did not plan to race walk, just to go on brisk walks so did not believe at that time that that admonition would really hold me back.

I began to walk about 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. Please note, that if you have not been walking previously, this is not a realistic starting point. Since at this point I was so early in the pregnancy, and although I was tired, it was not too hard to walk 12-13 minute miles. Remember, I am a race walker and even my normal brisk walk is faster than most people’s gait. I really did feel invigorated and strong from the walking. I maintained that schedule until I was 12 weeks pregnant. At that time, I started to have some bleeding due to placenta previa. Placenta previa is a condition where the placenta covers all or part of the cervix. There are different degrees of previa; I had complete placenta previa whereby the placenta of Baby “A” was completely covering the cervix. A woman can also have partial placenta previa, where the placenta is covering a portion of the cervix, or marginal placenta previa, where is it is covering just the corner of the cervix.  In a normal pregnancy, the placenta is attached to the top of the uterus, and not the bottom (as is the case with previa).

When a woman has placenta previa, she must follow certain restrictions. I was diagnosed with placenta previa at the first ultrasound so I knew that I could not lift weights or heavy objects. However, I was instructed that I could walk as long as there weren’t any problems. When I started to bleed at the 12 week mark the obstetrician took it seriously, even though bleeding is very common with placenta previa. After having the first bleed, I was placed on modified bed rest which meant that I had to stay home, could only make one trip up and down the stairs each day, and was to sit or lay down unless preparing a meal or going to the bathroom. Luckily for me, I was only on bed rest for 4 weeks until I was at 16 weeks because I only had a few bleeds. Please note that each woman’s situation is different, and therefore, a doctor might prescribe a stricter form of bed rest for someone with placenta previa and/or someone who has experienced bleeding; the woman should always consult with her doctor to discuss previa and/or bleeding.

Just being on bed rest for 4 weeks definitely made me feel weaker. My back started to hurt, presumably from the sitting, as I had only gained 2 pounds at the 16 week mark. I asked my obstetrician if I could start walking again. He told me that I should start walking just a few blocks in the neighborhood and progress carefully. I did that for a few days, but after just a few days of walking I felt so much stronger, that I decided to progress to a mile and quickly up to 2 miles, then 2.5 miles and then 3.2 miles. I am sufficiently tired after 3.2 miles and therefore, have not tried to walk a longer distance than that since returning from bed rest.

I maintained the schedule of 3.2 miles per day, 4-5 days per week through 30 weeks of pregnancy. Then I started to feel more fatigued and pain in my feet, and therefore, I reduced my walking to a few days a week. I walk slower than I did in first trimester, mostly due to the increase in weight, the decreased ability to breathe comfortably and not wanting to tire myself out for the whole day. I average approximately 14:30 to 15 minute miles and try to maintain a consistent pace over the whole distance.

I gained less than the average woman pregnant with twins, and feel like the walking improved my ability to breathe, strengthened my legs and core, and aided in digestion. I gained most of the weight in the belly, and maintained a good blood pressure. I also feel that the walking reduced the swelling in my extremities that is common with pregnancy.

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