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In Defense of Pregnant CrossFitting

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Triune Media
Triune Media

Wow. There's been a lot of backlash lately regarding CrossFitting and pregnancy. Funny how one picture or one article can start a wildfire. It's like that with anything, really. Especially things that are misunderstood or where there is a lot of fear or resistance to changing the norm.

Most people know what I do in life. But if you don't, I am first a mom of two. I am also a CrossFit coach (four years), birth doula (60+ births), and a childbirth educator (five years). So I would say I have a little experience in this arena. I don't know everything but I've seen a lot -- in my childbirth classes, in the gym, in the hospitals, and in talking with hundreds of pregnant and postpartum moms. It has shaped my thinking, the way I approach teaching and supporting pregnancy and birth, and has catapulted me into doing lots and lots of reading and research. I've developed personalized programs for pregnant and post-partum moms and have developed a CrossFit and Pregnancy seminar that I travel around presenting at various CrossFit gyms. This is my passion. My true path.

I would say my professional philosophy is fairly moderate. My personal choices and philosophy differ from what I think about birth as a whole. This is something that has been vital to my career in this field. After all, each woman is as varied as her fingerprint and each woman has a different desire for her birthing and pregnancy experience. It's not up to me to sway her to my side. I'm only here to guide and provide information.

Here are some of my core beliefs about pregnancy and childbirth. If you are thinking of getting pregnant or already are, this is a great exercise to do. What do you really think? What areas do you find you need more information about?

  • Birth is normal. It's not a medical emergency waiting to happen.
  • Women are strong. Much stronger than they realize.
  • Women have in them the deep-rooted inner strength and encoded blueprint of how to have a baby. Our bodies, as women, are made to do this. And nine times out of 10 birth will go off without a hitch if we just get out of the way and allow it to unfold on its own.
  • Moms have a monumental responsibility to their growing baby(ies) to provide them with the best environment possible: air, water, quality food, and exercise. It is irresponsible to lay around and use pregnancy as an excuse to eat crappy food and lay on the couch for 9 months.
  • What is good for one Woman may not be good for another. Just because your mom, best friend, or sister did things one way or used one particular care provider doesn't mean it's right for you.
  • Women must arm themselves with information. Care providers are people -- just like us. They know a lot but they don't know it all.
  • Thank God for doctors, nurses, and midwives. Here in Austin, we have some amazing medical professionals and I have had the pleasure of working with some really outstanding Birthing Professionals. Not all docs/nurses are out to get you...
  • Women must learn to trust themselves and their body. Tuning in to your Instincts will benefit you a million times over -- not only in pregnancy and Labor, but also when your baby is born and you're wondering if they are in some sort of pain, if they hate you, or if they just have gas. It's probably the last one.
  • Birth is 80 percent about mindset. Find a program (like hypnobirthing) that will help you get in the right frame of mind to tackle labor. If you CrossFit, you're already 50 percent of the way there.
  • There are quite a few factors that play into how your birth is going to play out. Some of them you can control, some you can't. If your goal is a natural birth, arm yourself with tools and knowledge on how to make that happen. But if things need to go a different way for safety or health- related reasons, it's okay.
  • YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. NO MATTER WHAT. BIRTH IS NOT A "TEST." THERE IS NO PASS OR FAIL.
  • See above. Read it again and tattoo it on your forehead.
  • There is a time and a place for everything -- inductions, interventions, epidurals, c-sections. They are overused. So be informed and ask questions. Your care provider, you, and your nurse are all a Team. Make decisions as a Team. Then see below.
  • The NUMBER ONE way to have the birth you desire is to find a care provider you are on the same page with. Be it a midwife or an OB/GYN -- this is the most important decision you'll make in your pregnancy. They don't just catch the baby at the end. Their policies and philosophy determine how your pregnancy and birth will go.
  • On the same line, hire a doula. I've never met anyone who said, "That was a waste of money." Most of the times it's the Dads that say "Dang. I was so against hiring you but I am sooooooo glad you were here!" Then we hug it out and they become my biggest advocate.
  • Know that birth is a business. Period. You are the consumer. From the shiny aisles at Babies R Us to vaccine info to the production of A Baby Story -- it's all marketed to you. Same with your provider. If you don't like what they are telling you -- leave. Find another one. I get it. They are "nice." You are not having them over for dinner. One of my students changed providers at 38 weeks. She ended up having the birth of her dreams. Be courageous. You may have other kids, but this is this baby's only time to be born.

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Crossfit and Pregnancy: Myths and Facts

First off, I will make the disclaimer that you should ultimately follow the advice of your Care Provider about anything pregnancy-related. It would be irresponsible of me to say to take matters into your own hands. But the reality of the situation regarding Pregnancy and Fitness is that most of the information handed down to you is outdated. And let's not forget, CrossFit has only been around for a pretty short while, all in all. Furthermore, CrossFit has become more "above ground" only in the last couple of years. So we have to remember that most people, doctors/midwives included, have only seen CrossFit on ESPN2 or heard about it from a friend. Just last month I was at a birth and when the OB found out what I did, she said, "Oh! You can do CrossFit while pregnant?!"

This "issue" of whether CrossFit is safe or not or if moms are harming their babies and putting them at risk has about 50 percent to do with exercise itself, but it also has to do with, in my very vocal opinion, trusting that women know what they are doing with regard to their bodies. Sure, there are lots of women who aren't sure how to go about exercising during pregnancy. I'm sure there are even women who go about it recklessly. What I have seen is this:

Women don't usually take their pregnancy lightly. For most, pregnancy is a long-awaited, exciting event and they are so nervous about doing everything just right so as to not harm the baby or themselves. Pregnant moms are research queens.

And most women err on the side of caution. Period.

Having said all that, let's look at CrossFit.

What Is the Definition of CrossFit?

"Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive ... The Crossfit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience ... We've used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart conditions and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don't change programs ... The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind." -from CrossFit.com

Okay. I don't believe for a second that pregnant women are sick or injured, but just as coaches will scale for an injury, a good CrossFit coach will also scale for a pregnant woman's growing and changing body. As it says above, we scale load and intensity. As a pregnant woman's body grows, she can no longer keep perfect form for barbell snatches and cleans. So we modify. She uses dumbells or kettlebells in order to keep good form and prevent injuries to her back from an unavoidable arc in the bar path. She also may lower the weight -- all depending on how she feels that particular day. As her pregnancy progresses, the weight may get lighter and lighter. She may even choose to not even do that movement anymore.

Because of the hormone, Relaxin, which courses through a pregnant woman's body throughout pregnancy and for months after, ballistic movements are modified in CrossFit as well and as needed. Some women feel comfortable running and jumping rope, others may choose to row or walk. As the definition above states, "We scale load and intensity, we don't change the program." This is why you'll see a pregnant woman doing the exact same workout along with the rest of the class, albeit at her own pace and with scaled movements and load.

The main point I want to get across is that women are smart and intuitive. If they've been in our community (CrossFit as a whole) for any length of time they tend to know their bodies, their limitations, and probably spend more time scouring the internet for Pregnancy resources than you can imagine. Are there women who take it too far? Most likely. Are there women who do CrossFit throughout their pregnancy? Definitely. There have been multiple Moms at our gym who worked out the day of delivery. One even worked out the morning of her delivery with her OB in the same class!

Which brings me to my next point.

The majority of the women who have continued to do CrossFit throughout their pregnancy have had extremely short, relatively easy labors. Hands down. In all the births I've attended I've noticed CrossFit Moms having a great deal of stamina, mental focus and endurance, and with all the squats we do -- shorter pushing times. Oh and let's not forget recovery. CrossFit moms have shorter, easier recoveries. All of this can be attributed to exercise but let's not forget about diet. CrossFitters usually eat very clean, minimally processed, high quality diets. THIS MATTERS.

Okay, But What Does the Research Say?

In 2002, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) lifted the advisory for keeping a pregnant woman's heartbeat below 140 beats per minute. Now, the thinking is that if you have been doing a form of exercise for at least six months prior to getting pregnant, you can continue to do it as long as you don't feel too exerted. According to the ACOG website:

"Twenty years ago, very little research was done on the effects of exercise on the pregnant woman and fetus. Therefore, doctors erred on the side of caution and recommended a sedentary lifestyle for pregnant women.

Now, numerous scientific studies have shown no correlation between moderate or even vigorous exercise and miscarriage or pregnancy-related complications. In fact, ACOG says if a woman is accustomed to vigorous exercise, she can continue to do it as long as she feels okay."

Wow. So we should be letting women set the pace for deciding how much and what kind of exercise to do during pregnancy? Maybe we should also allow them to vote and drive a car. Oh wait...

To end this post, I want to know where the articles and outrage is towards the moms who are eating McDonald's every day while pregnant? Drinking soda after soda after soda? Smoke? Yeah, people still smoke while pregnant. When do they get shamed and called names for endangering their babies? Why do they get a free pass?

When something is misunderstood there is fear. Where there is fear there is unnecessary and uneducated backlash.Let's start trusting women. Let's believe that they are doing their best for their pregnancies and their baby's health.

This is why I started presenting CrossFit and Pregnancy workshops. This is why I want to help women in our community. The way a woman gives birth matters. It sets her on a certain path to parenthood and can really affect the way she sees herself both as a woman and as a mother. Now, more than ever, I am called to work with these women. It's my passion. It's my one thing.

Check out "PregoFit" -- a video by Triune Media -- here:

PregoFit - CrossFitting & Pregnancy from CrossFit Central on Vimeo.

Visit Kat's Tumblr here at katgrosshaupt.tumblr.com.

To sign up for Kat's next CrossFit Pregnancy Workshop on November 2 in Austin, Tx, please go here.

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