- Sadie Nicholas gets tetchy and on-edge if she hasn’t worked out hard
- Addiction hasn’t ceased at all during pregnancy
- Fears carrying child is making her fat and unattractive
16:15 EST, 11 August 2013
11:41 EST, 14 August 2013
Sadie gets tetchy and on-edge if she hasn’t worked out hard – even now
This morning I was in the gym at 7am as usual, pushing my body as hard as I could. A workout is part of my routine six days out of seven.
I’ll stay for an hour – up to two when there’s time – and unless I leave drenched with sweat, my muscles smarting and feel-good endorphins rushing through my body, I’m tetchy and on edge for the rest of the day.
Even now: when I’m eight months pregnant with my first baby.
At a time when many women use their condition as an excuse to lounge on the sofa scoffing chocolate biscuits, I’m as disciplined about diet and fitness as I’ve ever been. I’m not an athlete, so there’s no professional reason why I need to keep my body in shape.
My outlook is more controversial. I’m terrified that pregnancy will leave me fat and unfit.
I’ve been a slender size ten and extremely fit for my entire adult life. It’s such an integral part of my identity that the prospect of losing my figure makes me incredibly anxious.
While I know I’m not alone – from posts on online parenting forums I can see there are countless other women who feel just as I do – admitting that you are actively trying to maintain your figure in pregnancy seems to be taboo.
Until I was 17 weeks pregnant, I was running 10km several times a week, just as I have done for years.
When that became too uncomfortable due to ligament pains as my body expanded, I hung up my running shoes and took on additional gym sessions – working up a sweat on the bike, rowing machine and cross trainer, as well as lifting weights and doing push-ups and leg lunges.
While no one has said anything negative to me, I’ve come across several other expectant mothers who have been subjected to vile comments from strangers who object to seeing a pregnant woman running, cycling or working out. I’m just as disciplined about what I eat, too. I’ve never been on a diet or suffered from an eating disorder, but since my teens I’ve been controlled about what I eat to ensure I don’t put on weight.
My diet is balanced, including plenty of lean protein, fruit and veg, but I eschew bread, pasta and rice. Chips, cake and – pre-pregnancy – alcoholic drinks are for weekends only.
I’ve never eaten a bag of crisps or sweets in my adult life because I don’t like either and – other than alcohol – I’ve only ever drunk water. No fruit juice, fizzy drinks, tea or coffee: I simply don’t like the taste. It’s still the same now. There’s been no pigging out on stodge for me, baby or no baby.
Of course, my unborn child is my priority. Like any mum-to-be I’m mainly concerned that he or she will be born healthy and my mothering skills will be up to scratch. But, while I’ve revelled in discovering how my baby is developing inside me – the first scan reduced me and my husband, Jonathan, to tears of joyful disbelief, as did the baby’s first fluttery kicks – I’ve been equally horrified by the changes happening on the outside.
Sadie, pictured left and right at 30 weeks pregnant, says despite all her efforts there is still sponginess to her arms
Compared to many women my age – 40 – I know I’m extremely fit and, usually, in good shape, but almost from the moment I discovered I was pregnant my bust got bigger and my waist thickened, making me feel self-conscious.
And, despite all my efforts, there’s a sponginess softening my usually defined biceps and shoulders, a smattering of cellulite on my bottom that didn’t exist before and a fullness in my face which all lead to one conclusion: pregnancy is making me fat and unattractive.
And I’m far from alone in my outlook. A recent study by University College London found that a quarter of pregnant British women are ‘highly concerned about their weight and shape’.
One in 14 expectant mums develop an eating disorder during pregnancy – often dubbed ‘pregorexia’ – where they exercise and limit food intake to extremes.
One poll asked women what they feared most during pregnancy. While 10 per cent said their greatest concern was complications with the birth, a staggering 65 per cent said that not losing the weight after their baby was born was far more worrying.
The medical and academic worlds are finally acknowledging that fear of putting on weight while pregnant is not merely a matter of vanity, but a serious issue that can affect a woman’s mental health when she already feels vulnerable.
Sadie thinks pregnancy is making her unattractive
I know there are people who will read this and assume I care more about staying slim than I do about my unborn baby. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel hugely responsible for its wellbeing and would never do anything that might harm it.
My husband – who, after 15 years together, has long understood my physical and emotional need to exercise each day – has been supportive, while reassuring me he still thinks I look great. And my GP, obstetrician and midwife have all said – as NHS guidelines do – that since my body is so used to intense daily exercise it would be more dangerous to stop, unless I feel unwell or there was a medical reason to do so.
People who say I’m putting my needs before my baby’s welfare should focus on the expectant mums I see smoking outside the local maternity unit and those who eat for two (you actually need only an extra 200 calories a day during pregnancy and only then in the final trimester).
Research shows overweight women are not only more likely to have babies who go on to be obese adults, but that excess weight gain can trigger diabetes and life-threatening pre-eclampsia, and lead to foetal abnormalities.
Dr Jessamy Hibberd, a consultant psychologist who is pregnant with her second child, believes there are several reasons why modern women are increasingly distressed by the way pregnancy changes our bodies.
‘We’re used to being able to control all the elements of our lives and our figures, but during pregnancy we can’t do that,’ she says.
‘Social taboos play a part, too. There’s still this message that pregnancy’s a wonderful thing, yet the truth can be very different.
‘Your hormones are all over the place
and you feel out of control, but saying anything negative is seen as a
sign you don’t realise how lucky you are.
‘Yet the happiness you feel
about your unborn baby and the anxiety about your changing body are two
Still, I have to admit I’m well aware
there have been times when I’ve pushed myself too far and made myself
feel ill because my fear of getting fat has outweighed the nausea,
fatigue and often crippling pains that have beset my pregnancy.
So is pregnancy exercise safe?
Consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician Clive Spence-Jones says exercising when pregnant is safe, though he urges caution.
‘I advise pregnant women not to let
their pulse rate get above 140 beats per minute – you should still be
able to hold a conversation – and to be careful not to overheat or get
dehydrated,’ he says.
‘But if you’re inactive while
pregnant then the chances are you’re going to gain excess weight, which
puts you at higher risk of developing diabetes, requiring a caesarean
birth, losing blood after labour and needing an emergency
There’s also plenty of evidence that
exercising and keeping weight gain within 21lb to 28lb is best for the
baby, too, as exercise increases blood flow to the foetus, strengthening
its heart, as well as minimising complications at birth.
There have been occasions when it was tempting to lie in bed and do nothing but gorge on toast oozing with melted butter. I should have done that one morning last month when, instead, I went to the gym and then had to pull into a layby on the way home feeling dizzy and sick. Despite waking up feeling below par that morning, my terror of fatness had over-ruled my fatigue.
It was a wake-up call. Now I accept that some days I need to take it easy. I’ll still go to the gym, but I’ll sit on the exercise bike rather than pump weights. Health willing, however, I’ll still be in the gym the day before I give birth.
How much weight have I gained? I have no idea and don’t want to know. In fact, my midwife has weighed me only once, right at the start of my pregnancy, and was quite happy when I asked her not to tell me what the scales showed.
Although I can still fit my legs into my size-ten designer jeans, at 23 weeks pregnant I had to admit defeat. After a weekend in France wearing the jeans with a hair bobble holding the fly together because I could no longer do them up, I ordered a stash of maternity jeans.
I know that the pressure I feel to be slim and fit comes entirely from me, not from friends or a family who abhor the very word ‘diet’. Neither do I feel any desire to look like celebrities. It’s simply that I’m a perfectionist – always have been – and put myself under pressure to achieve in all areas of my life. That said, I do take notice of fellow fitness fanatics such as singers Pink and Beyonce, who are in incredible shape after recently having babies.
Far from condemning them for heaping pressure on ordinary women, I applaud them and find them inspiring. Sure, the celebs have more time and money than the rest of us to indulge in personal trainers, chefs and home gyms after birth, but ultimately you can’t buy willpower.
I’m not ashamed to admit I fully intend to be back in my skinny jeans within 12 weeks of my baby’s arrival. Maximum. And I’ll be exercising again as soon as is medically safe.