Prenatal Exercise: First Trimester

I didn't know it yet, but I was pregnant here! Assisting Kathryn Budig's workshop in London.

(Disclaimer: This was written pre-pandemic as I chronicled my pregnancy.)

I have been a yoga teacher since my early 20’s. Which, I guess, technically makes me a fitness professional. I have also already been pregnant before. I feel like I know my body fairly well.

Before finding out that I was pregnant this time around, I mostly did hot flow yoga 4-5x a week with an interspersing of light cardio in the form of walking and the elliptical machine. Just a couple weeks before finding out that I was pregnant, I upped my cardio because I found myself out of breath after climbing one flight of stairs. I figured I was out of shape after the holidays and I hoped nothing was wrong with my heart. My husband is always telling me to do more cardio (he’s a long distance runner that never does yoga so we are just built entirely differently) so I finally listened to him.

And then I found out I was pregnant. It all made sense! Shortness of breath is a sign/symptom of early pregnancy.

In the days leading up to finding out, I had also upped my caffeine intake. The afternoon slump has often got me, but over these last few weeks it has started to feel even more intense. On a given day I usually have one coffee and one matcha tea. But lately I've been taking a second coffee and sometimes even a second green tea. Now I understand that I was feeling first trimester pregnancy exhaustion.

As soon as I knew I was pregnant, it was as if my caffeine switch turned off. I instantly had no desire for coffee or tea. Those that know me know that this is a huge deal. I am obsessed with coffee. I love everything about it from the smell to the taste to the daily ritual of it. I’m the kind of coffee drinker that gets sad after I finish my last drop but then immediately gets excited about the coffee I’ll get to have the next day.

I know. It does sound rather like an addiction.

I would give up any other food/drink vice before I would give up coffee.

But once I knew I was pregnant, it was as if my caffeine switch simply turned off. In part it was because I felt terrible for the caffeine, alcohol, sushi, and deli meat that I had consumed in the prior few weeks before knowing I was pregnant. But mostly it has been effortless to stop drinking coffee. I just do not want it and now the smell of coffee actually makes me feel nauseous.

I know this is temporary. It’s just what my body is telling me is best for me right now.

I’ve made myself three cups of tea since and a few sips were all I could take. Who knows exactly why? I know it’s safe to have a bit of caffeine through your pregnancy. Maybe once I make it through the 12-week mark I’ll be back to it. But for now, I am caffeine-free.

Which means that that afternoon slump is something fierce. I basically fell asleep in the middle of a card game with my son the other day.

Over the first few days since confirming the pregnancy, I took it really easy and my family let me doze off randomly throughout the day. But then I started thinking about how my exercise routine would look. Hot yoga was out, at least for the first trimester, but I could do my own practice at home. I could carry on with the elliptical machine as it’s low impact. I figured I could go back to my Pilates Reformer class as well.

What I learned in prenatal yoga training and in my first pregnancy is that a pregnant mama can carry on doing most of what she did pre-pregnancy, assuming that everything is going fine with the pregnancy. So with hot yoga, assuming I will feel fine come second trimester, I am planning on going back to it. I am also ready to try it once and feel terrible and leave it until after the baby is born. I know that there are many unpredictable factors at play.

I also learned that a pregnant body is not necessarily super fragile. Sure, it’s prudent to exercise caution (pun intended). But it’s also prudent to not become overly anxious about every little thing. Doing a headstand, for example, is very likely not going to damage your baby, assuming your body already knew how to do a headstand before. Taking up learning headstand for the first time while pregnant, on the other hand, is not recommended because everyone falls while learning to stand on their head and falling could hurt both you and your baby. It’s all personal risk assessment and doctors will often err on the more conservative side of caution because yes, you never quite know what might negatively impact the pregnancy. But I think it's important to remember that our body is strong and intelligent, perhaps never more so than when it’s growing a baby.

With all this in mind, I booked to go to a Pilates class with one of my close friends yesterday. She’s a teacher and NYC public schools are on holiday this week. We rarely have the opportunity to spend any weekday time together one on one so I leapt at the opportunity. I told her I wasn’t going to tell the teacher that I was pregnant because I read on the studio’s website that I would first have to take a couple private lessons and I didn’t want to pay for private lessons when I was already familiar with the moves and, hello, I’m a yoga professional. Instead, I would just take it easy.

My friend replied, “You’re so early... does it even matter?”

“Well, I’m 6 weeks and the risk of miscarriage is still high until week 12.”

“Oh my gosh, then why are we going??”

“Don’t worry! I know my body. I’ll skip anything that doesn’t feel right.”

A few times throughout the class my friend looked at me with concern and asked if I was okay, as I was taking a break or a particularly deep breath. Yes, I assured her, I was fine.

This particular Pilates class incorporates a jump board for no impact jumping that is done on your back. I could feel from the first couple jumps that they didn’t feel great for me. While it’s true that there’s no impact on my joints, there’s still a fair amount of sharp, intense, and fast muscle engagement. In other moves, the resistance was definitely higher than I felt comfortable with. I modified and did fewer reps to keep myself safe and I definitely did not push my limits, but at the end of class, I decided that I’m going to wait until week 13 before trying Pilates again. It is a challenging workout even for my non-pregnant body and because it is so core centric, it seems wise to wait just a few weeks.

And when I do decide to go back, I’ll suck up the cost of the required private prenatal lessons before joining the group classes. Because even though I am a yoga teacher and I know my body, I definitely don’t know enough about Pilates.

My abs feel quite sore this morning and while I know those muscles having been worked hasn't hurt the baby, it being in the same vicinity as the baby does make me feel a little uneasy. I definitely don't ned any extra worries during this time. So I’m going to take it easy and stick with my own yoga practice, the elliptical machine, and walking. A big difference between yoga and Pilates on the reformer is that yoga doesn’t have outside resistance. For me it feels a little safer to just work with bearing my own body weight rather than trying to control a machine with resistance.

For pregnant mamas that don’t already have an at-home yoga practice, I would definitely recommend first finding a prenatal or beginner’s class. And whatever you end up figuring out is best for you, always remember that your body is already doing sooooo much as it creates literal life!

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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