Earlier this year I released my first book: Mind, Body, Bump; The Complete Plan for an Active Pregnancy. I am so proud of the resulting product and its empowering content, which takes a pregnancy-progressive approach to the language and mindset of ante-natal training and helps you to feel informed and excited about the unique challenges and opportunities of training for two. I joked that in the year of birthing my first daughter, I also wrote and birthed a book baby. So I am unbelievably grateful that in the same year of releasing this book, I get to participate alongside other Mind Body Bumpers and help to bring the content off the page with a real-time account of my second pregnancy: this time with very unexpected twins! Clearly they heard my post-natal message “Stronger Together” and took the mantra to heart.
At 17 weeks today – with a bump nearly as big as my 24-week bump the first time around – I hope I’m in a position to highlight some of the highs and lows of my recent first trimester. What better way to summarise those whirlwind 12 weeks than with reference to the three pillars that define my pre-natal programme: the mind, the body and the (very big) bump! I’ll also touch on a few of the exceptional considerations for expectant mothers of multiples.
After having my daughter, Marnie, life changed so dramatically that I thought it would take some time before I felt ready to expand our family. Yet while the parenting learning curve is steep, it’s also rewarding and full of highs like no other. Possibly accelerated by the opportunity to coach strong mums alongside their beautiful babes as a post-natal personal trainer and a mum and baby fitness class instructor, the pangs of maternal longing kicked in a little sooner than expected. Lucky to conceive within weeks of trying again, my brain did remain a step behind my maternal instinct and the first few weeks of my pregnancy felt pretty much as surreal as they did the first time.
It wasn’t until around 10 weeks when the reality of growing a human really set in. While travelling for work and personal reasons, I started experiencing regular migraines – a regular feature of my monthly cycle that thankfully disappeared during my first pregnancy. Worried these symptoms suggested a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone – which should be nothing but rising in the first trimester – I booked an early scan and went along with my husband, clutching his hand as everything within me wished for a healthy heartbeat. “Heartbeat is fine,” said the sonographer. “In fact, there’s two!”.
My initial reaction was to sob – heavily – for a solid five minutes. I’m pretty sure the staff thought they’d have to wheel me off to the psych ward. Subsequent emotions in the days following the news included disbelief, denial, hilarity, excitement – the works. In short, this was not straightforward news to digest, and I went about easing my tumultuous mind in the only way I know how: through education, education, education. I had thought I would sail confidently through the emotions of early pregnancy, having done it once before, but the reality of words I myself had frequently uttered – “no one pregnancy is the same” – smacked me firmly in the face.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been around the merry-go-round, pregnancy can have surprising effects on both your mind and your body, so welcoming your feelings as they come rather than judging or critisising them really is the best way forward. Fast-forward 7 weeks and I’ve not only accepted that I have twins on the way, but I’m fully on board with them being on board. I have even made some brilliant twin mama friendships and I feel heard, reassured and supported during this transition.
Reading books such as The Holistic Guide to Twin Pregnancy also helped me feel productive and in control during a time when I felt things were happening to me rather than by me – a pretty universal feeling during every pregnancy. For a single pregnancy or otherwise, I also recommend Milli Hill’s maternally-minded books The Positive Birth Book and Give Birth Like a Feminist, which help you take ownership over your pregnancy and labour. Week-by-week tracking apps like Pregnancy + will also give you bite-sized, real-time updates you can digest as your pregnancy progresses. Mind, Body, Bump also offers trimester overviews like the extract below, plus month-by-month updates.
While the nausea was a little worse the second time, I found it manageable with regular snacking and light exercise. I did feel more light-headed in the first trimester, which I now know is likely due to the additional increase in blood volume that you experience with a multiple pregnancy, and the initial vascular underfill or low blood pressure caused by your blood vessels dilating in anticipation of this major physiological change. I adapted exercises by reducing impact, minimising overhead lifting and choosing more stable movements on two feet rather than extensive single-leg exercises like lunges or unsupported step-ups.
My bump did show earlier than it did in my first pregnancy, but what was even more noticeable was the sudden increase in pelvic pressure. With the weight of two babies and two placentas (my pregnancy is diamniotic, dichorionic, for those of you twin mamas reading!), the strain on my pelvic floor was greater and more sudden from the early weeks of pregnancy.
This sudden shift in pressure also resulted in an extra anterior tilt on my pelvis – imagine a full bowl of water that is tilted, so water spills over the front, rather than tucked, so the water balances carefully along its edges. Cue more sensations in my lower back. These changes are also common in many second pregnancies, or even in first pregnancies where babe grows more quickly or the amniotic sack contains more fluid.
I responded to these early niggles (lovingly nicknamed ‘sciatic-ouch’) by reducing impact activities (no jogging, despite feeling up to light running until five months into my first pregnancy) and focusing on exercises that strengthen my glutes and my deep-set transverse abdominals to help stabilise a more vulnerable lumbar spine. Unilateral exercises, which work one side of the body at a time – think split squats, single arm rows and paloff presses, to name just a few – help to reinforce healthy communication between the pelvis and spine, too.
I’ve mentioned some of the unique considerations of a twin pregnancy in the pillars above, but, in summary, the most notable differences I found in the first trimester include:
- Feelings of overwhelm or ineptitude to deal with the unexpected challenges of a twin pregnancy, extra considerations regarding labour and the uncertainty about life post-delivery.
- My best advice is to make connections with other twin mums and expectant twin mums as early as possible. It is an extremely supportive community and you’ll feel like you’ve already earned an extra-special “super-mum” badge by joining it.
- Increased stress on the pelvic floor.
- Start your daily kegel exercises as early as possible, and be particularly mindful to incorporate the support muscles including your pelvic floor and transverse abs during your workouts. As you exhale, you can visualise rolling and scooping the ‘four corners’ of your pelvic opening (back, front and sides) and gently belt-buckling your core so your lower tummy hugs up and in. Do this as you rise up from a squat, lunge or deadlift and during the phase of any exercise that requires the most effort.
- NICE guidelines suggest expectant twin mums are referred to pelvic health physiotherapists during their pregnancies. If you do feel uncomfortable heaviness or experience leaking, ask your GP for a referral or your health insurer to fund an appointment. The reassurance that you’re correctly engaging your pelvic floor is infinitely useful biofeedback during the early stages of your pre-natal training.
- Extra hormonal symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and joint pain.
- Listen to your body and hold yourself accountable only to the sensations you’re currently experiencing – not to any standard set by others, or by yourself in earlier pregnancies.
- If you feel the need to pull back on impact or simplify movements, do that now. The extra surge of relaxin in your body will destabilise your joints earlier and more dramatically, while a physiological drop in blood pressure may throw you off-balance in the early weeks. Think of these modifications as pregnancy-progressive with enhanced benefits for you and your babies rather than regressions that reflect a reduced physical ability.
- Frequent hunger or low blood sugar.
- If you feel the need to eat more, do that now. Your body’s nutritional demands are much higher during a twin pregnancy – particularly as multiple babies’ absorb even more of your essential vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium. Eating first thing in the morning and more frequently throughout the day are good habits to help you stave off quick-fix cravings induced by low blood sugar and make more considered, healthier choices from the outset.
- Advice is inconsistent regarding additional folic acid intake; I read around and decided to double my intake to 800mcg, but seek advice from your GP or midwives.
- Where possible, include proteins and healthy fats in each meal to prioritise the heavyweight nutrients over less substantial filler foods. You’ll need all the energy you can get, so carbs still play a role too, but try to focus on unrefined carbs that will go the distance over quick fixes. Extra fibre from eating lots of veg and fruit will help reduce any unwanted ‘relaxing’ of the digestive tract thanks to the influx of relaxin, too!
For more pre-natal wellness support, pick up your copy of Mind, Body, Bump today. And make sure to sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already. I will preview an online course to support Mind, Body, Bumpers in the near future, and you won’t want to miss it!