Originally published August 24, 2015.
In the past, I've had students come to me with this question: can they train during their pregnancy? Having never been pregnant, I struggled with what to tell them. I've invited author and aerialist Andrea Milne from Ontario, Canada to write this special guest post on the subject. Andrea continued training throughout her entire pregnancy. Read on to hear about her experiences throughout each trimester and after childbirth.
Aerials while pregnant? Yes. Throughout the course of my pregnancy I remained active. I ran, I biked, I trained in body weights, and in aerials. That’s not to say I went whole hog in everything up until delivery day, but I monitored how I felt and what my growing belly would allow, and modified my activities accordingly. I can only base this statement on my own experience, but I’m inclined to say that remaining active helped me not only have an easier pregnancy, but also an easier delivery.
Many people asked me what my health care provider thought about me doing aerials, and here I have to be honest: I didn’t tell her. I was afraid that if I told my midwife what I was doing, she’d immediately tell me to stop. I find that people who have no experience with aerials or aerialists, often assume it’s inherently dangerous or that we’re a bunch of daredevils. I’d been training on silks and rope for almost 3 years when I became pregnant, so I had a good grasp of what I was doing. I knew my strength and my stamina, I knew how long I could push it before my grip would give out.
I always told people, that if I’d just started, if I was still a beginner and could barely hold myself up, I would have stopped. That would have been dangerous. But I wasn’t a beginner, so I just listened to my body and kept going. I’m glad I did.
The first trimester was (for me) no big deal. No one knew I was pregnant and I kept going to classes as normal. I also lucked out, I had no morning sickness. Although, I prefer to believe that luck had nothing to do with it. I just carried on as though I wasn’t pregnant. I kept eating right, I woke up at my usual time, ran, or did body weights, etc. and I felt fine because of it. I do understand that some women have terrible morning sickness in the first trimester (or even all the way through), which would make things challenging. If this is you, I’d recommend monitoring yourself, or go with the common exercise mantra of, ‘listen to your body.’ If something makes you sick, stop. Take a breather. Do what you can, but don’t sweat it, you’ve got a long way yet to go.
By this point, my instructor and the other students in my class knew I was pregnant. Now that my belly was starting to stretch, I stopped doing dynamic moves that required belly wraps, so no windmills (aka wheeldowns), or stars, or anything that could possibly squeeze or injury my growing baby. What could be gained by risking it? One or two extra months of doing stars would likely have little impact on my long-term recovery/return to full-on aerials. I continued to do some salto-type drops where the wraps were positioned around my legs, although by six months I’d stopped those as well. At this time I switched out of the advanced silks class I’d been taking (it involved a lot of complex drops, which I didn’t feel comfortable doing), to a trapeze class. I hadn’t taken trapeze in over a year, so it was nice to learn new things. I also started to use a belly support wrap towards the end of the second trimester. I’d primarily purchased it for use while running, but I found it useful when doing things like a knee hangs, where gravity was pulling my baby in the opposite direction of normal. In particular I used the Maternity Fit Splint.
Third Trimester: The way scheduling worked out at Esh Aerial Arts (where I trained in Somerville), I took classes to shy of 8 months, but continued to go to open studio practices until the week my daughter was born.
By this time I couldn’t tuck under the trapeze bar, so I had to straddle up, then switch grips as required. I also remember trying to learn double legged Russian role ups, but couldn’t get around my belly. Other silks moves grew more difficult, too. Although I could get into ankle hangs okay, getting out of them proved more challenging as I had difficulty reaching over my stomach to turn myself upright.
To be perfectly honest, aerials felt laborious. I was hauling around an extra 20 pounds, my stamina was dropping (due to the extra weight, but also the decreased lung capacity), and I was envious of people who could still do the big tricks I dropped months ago. I kept going anyways. I climbed, I posed, I stayed in the air as much as I could, hopeful that once my baby was born, and I was ready to return, my re-acclimatization wouldn’t be too bad.
The Birth: I’m not going to recount the details of my daughter’s birth. Those of you who may have had terrible experiences would probably wish me harm. Yeah. Sorry. I was in labour for about 14 hours—total (that’s early, active, transition, and pushing altogether). What I do want to say (again, this is completely anecdotal, and can’t be taken as a rule) is, when it came to pushing, well, I could. I still had abdominal muscles because I’d continued to exercise them. My beautiful daughter, Ruth, was born on November 26th, 2014, at 6 pounds and 5 ounces.
The Recovery: The recovery phase was probably the worse for me. During my pregnancy I could be active, but for the first week after Ruth was born I had to continually ask my husband to slow down (while walking). I felt like I was taking baby-steps. A mere kilometre or two would tire me out. I know what any sane person would say, “you just had a baby, take it easy,” but often for me, getting outside or doing something active is almost as rejuvenating as a nap. I kept going out for walks, Ruth tucked in her cloth carrier (we used a Beco Butterfly 2, which is unfortunately no long made, or I would recommend it). I stretched the distance out little-by-little, until it was Ruth’s need to feed that limited the length of my walk.
But walking is low impact! And it’s not aerobic!
Getting Back Into Aerials: After a woman has had a baby, she’s assigned a series of exercise to re-strengthen her abdominal wall and pelvic floor, so naturally, I started there. Those are the Kegel exercises, along with other isometric exercises. They were to be done multiple times a day, gradually building the number of repetitions, length of hold, etc. After about a week I also started in on regular ab exercises (light crunches, leg lifts, bicycles), just a couple every night before I went to bed. I also got to work with push ups (from my knees to start—and I hate doing ‘girl’ push ups).
I went by the rule of thumb I’d heard (although I’m not sure I researched this myself), that it’s recommended not to get back into exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. So, I obediently (although impatiently) waited 6 weeks before going to my first aerials class. I went back to silks because really, trapeze isn’t my thing, but I also dropped down to a lower class level. After not having done much exercise since the birth, and not being at my full aerials capacity for months, it seemed foolish to try to get right back into an advanced class.
And there I was, back in class. I let my instructor know this was my first, but everyone at the studio knew I’d had a baby, so it’s not like I needed to say much else. It was understood that if I didn’t feel up to trying something right away, that way okay. No one was going to push me, and I would give whatever move was daunting me a go once I felt up to it. For anyone who’s returning to classes after pregnancy, make sure your teachers know your situation. Your body has a lot healing to do after pregnancy, and even if your experience is like mine, uncomplicated, you need to take things slow so you don’t do more harm than good during training.
The first couple of classes were definitely exhausting, especially for my grip, which had been untried for so long, but it was nice to be back. The first couple of double stars, something I hadn’t done since my first trimester, reminded me of when I’d first learned the move, that is, it was pretty scary.
As it turned out, the instructor I’d had all fall was now pregnant herself.
Aerials while pregnant. It can be done.
Did you like this post? You can read more from Andrea Milne on her blog, The Pegraelian. She is also the author of the young adult dystopian novel, The Cure (The Tales of Nora Watson), available on Amazon and Kobo. Be sure to "like" CircoFit on Facebook to ensure that you don't miss out on other cool articles about circus!