MomTalk Talks Mommy Bellies and Baby Weight
Continuing with our theme of one article/4 responses, we bring you some wise words from Melissa Schools. Join the discussion on Mommy Bellies and Baby Weight. Paul Simpson, our MomTalk Papa, felt it would be safest for him to refrain from comment. :)
Feeling harrumph-y and peevish tonight, and my whipping boy is refusing to play his role, so this may not be the best time to be delivering my Public Service Announcement on pregnancy-related info-gems, but I will make an effort to be truly helpful. A reminder to our dear readers that this article is not meant to take the place of real research or professional medical opinion: the following is a small compilation of stuff that I’ve learned personally (or through other child-bearing friends) that I wish I had known from the beginning of my first pregnancy. If even one person benefits, I count this PSA worthwhile.
I am 40 years old and this is my fifth pregnancy. We are expecting our fifth boy in seven short weeks. I state emphatically that this is my best pregnancy yet to anyone who asks, and pregnancy has been pretty kind to me in general. Whereas I’ve gained 25 to 35 pounds in previous pregnancies, at thirty-three weeks, my total weight gain tops out at 8.6 pounds. The two biggest changes I see from previous pregnancies are a commitment to exercise that includes strength training and maintaining a gluten free diet.
Yes, for goodness’ sake, check with your doctor or midwife before beginning any exercise regimen, but don’t fall for any cop-out myth that tells you to take it too easy. I agree with my husband’s encouraging analogy that labor and delivery should be viewed as a strenuous athletic event to train for rather than a torture to endure or avoid. It doesn’t make me look forward to labor in the least, but it helps spur me on to exercise when I don’t feel like it. While I have fallen far short of my plans to exercise regularly, nevertheless I have reaped great benefits from two DVDs however semi-regularly I’ve worked out. I use Lizbeth Garcia’s 10 Minute Solution: Prenatal Pilates primarily for the flexibility workout. It’s quick and effective.
I’ve done a couple of Garcia’s other ten minute workouts on the DVD, but I much prefer Joy Southworth’s Body By Trimester for exercise. There are three workouts to choose from for each trimester that combine super-sets geared toward strength-training for core, upper body (to counter-act the pull of the baby belly in front) and the pelvic floor. Southworth is peppy and encouraging without being over the top, and she gets the job done in thirty quick minutes. She has shown me that I’m capable of way more than I thought possible, all while staying within the range of safe prenatal exercise, and even providing modifications for women like myself with diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles that is much more common condition than is known. It is common in women who have been pregnant, but also can occur in men (think belly size) and even children. Here is a good explanation by the authority on the matter, Julie Tupler. Think about those fit people you see who still have a pregnancy-like belly, no matter how many crunches they do: turns out that crunches are the worst thing one can do with diastasis recti. I am a less-than-fit person who was asked regularly if I was expecting because, pregnant or not, my belly measures five-to-six months’ gestation. Sigh. Suspect you have diastasis recti? Here’s a link to a self-test, or you can print out this card to take to your healthcare provider. In the meantime, practice holding your gut in- it’s good for you, strengthens core and improves posture.
As for the gluten free diet, I started that when my fourth son was four months old and have never returned to gluten. Three of my four boys are gluten intolerant, but until my fourth son, I didn’t realize that gluten passes from mom to baby in breast milk. (Ooops! Sorry to my other gluten intolerant boys!) Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley (also malt) and rye, and can contaminate oats, depending on how they are harvested and processed. The gluten intolerant body will attack gluten in the system as foreign and take all other nutrients with it. Left untreated, it can lead to a host of problems, including malnutrition, neurological problems and infertility. Yep. I said, “Infertility.”
Despite leading to malnutrition, gluten also causes inflammation, making it a primary villain in conditions such auto-immune disorders as arthritis and psoriasis. Dr. Joel Fuhrman has an interesting blog that discusses the role good nutrition (including avoidance of wheat/gluten) plays in successful treatment of inflammatory conditions.
This brings me back to the startling difference in weight gain for me this pregnancy versus my others. Now, there is no surprise that if one no longer eats muffins, pizza, cake, bagels and other carbohydrates, that person will see a difference in the number on the scale. But in my three gluten free years, I have learned to bake very satisfying, gluten free substitutes for my favorite carb-vices. I don’t eat processed food, but I stink at portion control, so the lack of gluten seems to prevent retention of weight as well. In addition to my own limited weight-gain story, I have a friend who gained probably forty-ish pounds in her prior pregnancies. Her weight gain during her first gluten free pregnancy? Sixteen pounds. 1-6.
I also used to spend my pregnancies wearing wrist splints at night to combat painful carpal tunnel syndrome, sporting impressive “cankles” and having to remove my wedding rings within about a month of conception. This pregnancy has seen none of these problems. For both my friend and me, the only measurable difference in our lives between former and present pregnancies was the exclusion of gluten in our diets.
So, there you have it. I guess it’s not as earth shattering as I imagined, but I think it’s worth considering. With a host of pregnancy complications women deal with and the general increase in obesity in America, I think it’s important to share the benefits of strength training in exercise and eating a gluten free diet. I also like thinking there’s nonsurgical hope for those of us who have a perma-pooch! Check yourself for diastasis recti! The results of following this advice won’t exactly hurt the ego, either!
Jillian Sallee weighs in...
Thanks for all the info, Melissa! I’ve often flirted with the gluten free diet, but never made a strong commitment. My mother in law has Celiac disease and so the whole family has become more informed about a gluten free diet. When she comes to visit, I always make sure to have a gluten free meal but it’s definitely hard on variety! Do you have any websites or books that have recipes that you may have tried for you and your family?
I think there needs to be a whole paragraph applauding the fact that you have only gained 8.6 lbs during this pregnancy. I mean, you are the definition of looking “all baby”! Being able do so through diet and exercise is natural and so healthy for you and that little boy. You are a terrific example of not only healthy eating but determination and perseverance in your exercise routine! Keep up the good work, Mama and we can’t wait to meet the new little guy!
Tasha Schlake Festel always has something to say...
I love MomTalk! I have diastasis recti! Thank you, Melissa MD!
This explains so much! I have a really strong core, hard abs (though more insulated than I would prefer) and am quite active. I can do sit-ups for hours and crunches until the cows come home, but yet, the “pooch” remains. I know what is missing from my exercise regimen.
I did the test referenced above and found that the gap at the top of my abs is fairly small, but as you go down the line, it gets wider and wider. While it’s only 2½-ish fingers wide at its widest, I need to close that sucker up. Woo hoo! Next summer, it’s all half-shirts, all the time.
Those of you with weak constitutions have been warned…
As for the gluten-free thing, I couldn’t agree with you more, Mrs. Schools. While I never tried this with pregnancy – and will absolutely not get pregnant again just to confirm your theory – I know that many of the side effects you talked about are things I’ve experienced in my non bun-in-the-oven life. I do not live a gluten-free lifestyle, but I have greatly reduced the grains I consume. I used to feel like an old lady every morning when I woke up, every joint aching, sluggish and puffy. After cutting grains and a whole lot of sugar, I have eliminated joint pain completely, reduced the puffiness and have more energy than I did as a teenager. I am a new woman!
And once I get that diastasis recti closed up, I’ll be able to say goodbye to SPANX forever!
And never one to stay quiet, Regina Martine speaks up...
Ok, so I did the Diastasis recti self-test and it looks like I don’t have it, so now I am disappointed. I have never had a flat stomach in my life — even before birthing three babies and it would have been so nice to have a real, medical reason why my tummy has always been rounder than I would like. But alas, it was not meant to be. I guess I just have to do more crunches. Rats.
I ate very differently with each pregnancy and although I was never “free” of any
particular food, I definitely ate more bready, carby things like pizza and calzones (whole calzones, by myself. Ugh) with my third pregnancy. And, not surprisingly, I gained the most weight, had swollen fingers and cankles and at least three chins. My eating habits with each pregnancy were actually a sneak preview of the food preferences each of my children have now. I kept thinking that ideally, my baby would draw all of his caloric needs from the “reserves” I had and I would give birth and be thinner than before the pregnancy. It never happened. You, Melissa, are livin’ the dream.