This is me, one week before I went into labour with our son, Isaac, who is now nine. For the record, this is not how I looked at the beginning of my pregnancy (swollen belly aside). This is me more than 60 pounds heavier than when I first got pregnant and, believe me, I did not give birth to a 60-pound baby.
Although I’m smiling in the photo (taken at an office Christmas party), the truth is I didn’t smile a lot during this pregnancy. My smiles stopped in the first trimester, when I started to bleed unexpectedly. Ultrasounds ruled out any complications, and I went on to have a healthy pregnancy, though my doctor told me to stop exercising immediately.
As a runner and triathlete who dreamed of being that cute pregnant woman who doesn’t get fat, the news was devastating. I was already being treated for chronic depression at the time and my doctor did her best to manage my medication and mental health. I spent most of my pregnancy curled up on the couch, usually with a chocolate bar, doughnuts or something equally fat-filled—I’d hoped the sugar would ward off my sadness. Of course, carbs can’t cure depression, but I didn’t care at the time. It was a vicious cycle.
The link between exercise and positive mental health for those without a bun in the oven has long existed, but emerging research ties long periods of sitting down with depression in pregnant woman. Study findings were recently presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference in Edinburgh.
Researchers from the University of Warwick, led by Dr. Nithya Sukumar, worked with 1,263 pregnant women who reported on their physical activity and emotional well-being during their first trimesters. They followed up again in the later stages of their second trimesters. Study leaders found that women who suffered from symptoms of depression during pregnancy were more likely to sit for longer periods of time during their second trimesters. This put women at an increased risk of gaining weight and developing gestational diabetes, with sedentary study participants having higher blood glucose levels and significant weight gain than those not suffering from depression.
Dr. Ponnusamy Saravanan, another researcher with the University of Warwick, says public health policies could be put in place to encourage women to take a break from sitting down—a policy that’s easier to implement than having women increase their physical activity. “We believe that reducing sitting time has the potential to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes for pregnant women and reduce the metabolic risk factors of their newborns,” adds Dr. Saravanan. The UK currently doesn’t have exercise guidelines in place for pregnant woman.
After my first pregnancy, I vowed to not gain that much weight again. Sure, I still indulged my sweet tooth, but I kept active when I got pregnant again. My mental health and waistline were much better off for it.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.