Thursday 14 December 2017

Why I haven't let my pregnancy get in the way of my love of training

She's eight months pregnant with her third child, but Siobhan O'Dowd explains how this hasn't gotten in the way of her love of training

Siobhan O'Dowd training while eight months pregnant
Siobhan O'Dowd training while eight months pregnant
Siobhan climbing Croagh Patrick

I'm not a personal trainer, nor do I have a degree in sports science or a diploma in nutrition. But I am someone who loves to train most days and who does it with more enthusiasm than any great skill.

There are 14 months between my two children, Charlotte and Will, and all going well, there will be 17 months between Will and Number 3: I am now eight months pregnant and still training five or six days a week.

While I was pregnant with Charlotte, I was frustrated by the lack of contemporary, specific advice about training during pregnancy. In general, the consensus on guiding principles seemed to be that it was fine to keep up what you're already doing; don't take up anything new; drop any contact sports or anything where there's a relatively high risk of falling; and the very ambiguous 'listen to your body'.

The first time round, I worked with a personal trainer (PT), ran until I was 28 weeks gone, had a stress-free pregnancy, and was it not for an 'everything that can go wrong went wrong' delivery, I'm sure I would have been back in action quicker than you can say 'Kegel'.

After Charlotte's birth, I was back in my stride later than I would have liked, but was happily triathlon training three times a week, and doing a bit of running. I did a pregnancy test the morning of the Connemara Half Marathon and got two lines - and after a bit of soul searching, I decided that I'd trained for it, was fit, could have tested later and not known, and that I could pull out if I didn't feel good. So I went for it. I continued to swim, spin and circuit train until 32 weeks, when I developed sciatica and SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction, or pelvic girdle pain) and had a section at 39 weeks.

Despite the section, I was back in action in no time (much quicker than with the natural delivery, actually) after Will was born. For me, training is more a headspace thing than anything else. I work from home, and that hour a day is 'my time', where I'm not at the laptop, or with the kids, or in the house. It makes me feel good, it's social, and I enjoy it. There isn't the cash to do PT several times a week, so group training is where it's at: boxercise on Monday; circuits and aquafit on Tuesday; TRX and pre-natal Pilates on Wednesday; circuits on Thursday and spinning on Saturday.

I feel great, and with the exception of Pilates, the classes are regular non-pregnancy-specific group training classes at AlloverFitness in Rathfarnham, my local gym.

I modify where I need to - the kettlebells are lighter and squat jumps are a thing of the past - but for the most part, I'm happily doing everything I was doing before, albeit a little bit slower and more cautiously.

Siobhan climbing Croagh Patrick
Siobhan climbing Croagh Patrick

Damien Carey of AlloverFitness says that he sees a large drop-out rate, whereby fit women decide to not continue training during pregnancy and then find it difficult to return to regular training post-partum for a number of reasons. "It's lack of time and tiredness with a newborn to contend with; lack of self confidence, as fitness levels are low; and body shape has changed," he says. "I'm a great believer in fitness during pregnancy, and where there is no medical reason as to why a woman shouldn't train, it is absolutely possible to keep it up, adapting and modifying as pregnancy progresses.

"Providing a supportive environment is fundamental to encouraging woman to train while pregnant, and I would encourage all pregnant women to work with their class instructor so that they can facilitate training at a level that is comfortable, enjoyable and healthy for the individual."

There is definitely a taboo around training in pregnancy. In Ireland, it's more acceptable to 'eat for two' and when I was running with a bump, I used to feel terribly paranoid about what people thought. I'm lucky in that, at my gym, there is acceptance, encouragement and no special treatment other than advice on what to avoid or modify.

What's right for me isn't right for everyone else, and I do think every woman and every pregnancy will be different. But I also believe that if you love exercise and training, you don't need to automatically give it all up as soon as you pee on a stick and get a positive result. Neither should you be limited to PTs or expensive pre-natal classes - brilliant if you can afford them, obviously. You don't even need to invest in a special gym wardrobe - a pair of rolled down Nike capri pants, a bump band and a Penney's workout vest a few sizes bigger than normal are usually my staples.

If you're feeling good and if you've checked with the fitness instructor and your doctor, there's no reason as to why you can't hit the gym and wear your bump with pride.

Doctor's orders

Dr Peter McParland, consultant obstetrician/ gynaecologist and director of fetal medicine at the National Maternity Hospital, advises the following when training during pregnancy:

  • As recommended in the RCOG Statement Exercise in Pregnancy (January 2006), women should be encouraged to participate in some aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises to maintain their fitness levels. However, it is important to ensure that they do not seek to achieve peak athletic levels.


  • Pregnant women should engage in 30 mins of aerobic activity each day. This works out at 210 mins or three-and-a-half hours each week.


  • In general I encourage exercise, particularly swimming. Pilates, gentle kettlebells and yoga are all good.


  • Avoid heavy lifting and extreme exercise that causes heart rate to go above 150/160 for prolonged periods of time, such as extreme spinning. However, relaxed spinning is fine.


  • When exercising, pregnant women should make sure that they do not get overheated, as an increase in maternal temperature above 39.2˚C may harm the foetus. A measure of the intensity of physical activity is the 'talk test' - if women are able to maintain a conversation while exercising without feeling out of breath or uncomfortable, this is the correct level of activity.


  • Several conditions require medical supervision in pregnant women and if this is the case, they are advised to seek further advice on safe levels of exercise from their GP, midwife or obstetrician.

Irish Independent

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