Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I do not claim to have validated medical advice. I am only speaking from my own experiences and firsthand accounts from my friends. I encourage women to discuss the pursuit of training Jiu Jitsu while pregnant and/or nursing with their own doctors and decide for themselves whether or not they feel comfortable doing it.
I was a blue belt when I got pregnant with my first baby. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had trained BJJ through a pregnancy so I was hesitant. Even so early in motherhood, my instincts to protect the fetus above all else were eclipsing. However, I had read accounts of women who ran marathons or 6 minute miles at 9 months pregnant. I knew a woman who had run five miles a day every day throughout all three of her pregnancies and I knew another woman who rode horses through all six of hers. This last friend who rode horses told me that if your body can do something before pregnancy, it can do it during pregnancy. With all these accounts of other women doing strenuous things while very pregnant and everyone turning out safe and healthy, I decided to continue training and feel it out.
I ended up training and rolling hard (i.e. very nearly 100%) until about 22 weeks, at which point I slowed down. I finished that pregnancy out by drilling and flow rolling with my husband and a few other higher belts all the way through until the day before I went into labor.
I received my brown belt about 3 weeks after I got pregnant with the second, so I was a little farther along in my grappling journey. Because I had been through one BJJ pregnancy already and also because I was a little more advanced in my Jiu Jitsu journey, I was able to approach training while pregnant for the second time with more confidence. During this second pregnancy I rolled hard until about 36 weeks (yes I had a huge belly and was still rolling hard!). The last few weeks I developed some discomfort in my hips and groin and thus began to slow down and finished it out just drilling.
Both births were vaginal and in both cases I was training again 7-10 days after giving birth. I did not wait the full 6 weeks to train again and I do not feel that I needed to. I have a friend who waited 12 weeks after a vaginal birth to get back on the mats because she felt that her body called her to do so, so there is no one-size-fits-all prescription about any of this.
Tips to continue training safely while pregnant:
1. Hard impact is the thing to be most careful of (i.e. falling hard from standing). The placenta can separate from the inner wall of the uterus and result in an emergency situation. This happens sometimes when a pregnant woman is in a serious car accident or falls down a flight of stairs. It takes a lot of force to cause this, but it’s frightening enough that I would strongly discourage playing any standup games like wrestling or Judo.
2. While pregnant and training, it becomes especially important to choose high quality training partners. Avoid white belts and even most blue belts, if possible. Roll with upper belts around your same size who you have a history of rolling with. The more you and your training partner already know one another’s rolling style and the more you trust each other, the better.
3. If you are a white belt, proceed with caution. The primary assumption to safely training Jiu Jitsu while pregnant is that your body knew how to do it pre-pregnancy and therefore it can continue to do it now. As a white belt, your body is just starting to learn this new skill so everything is put at a higher risk.
4. Drink more water than you think you need to and consume enough calories to make up for the ones you’re burning. During pregnancy, our bodies need more water and calories anyway. Multiply that by Jiu Jitsu and it becomes super important to keep up with hydration and caloric intake.
5. Get a pair of Gaidama’s Maternity Spats! I felt like a crazy person googling “maternity spats for Jiu Jitsu” when I got pregnant with my first. Of course Google was like wtf and nothing relevant came up, so I decided to design my own. Gaidama now offers the first and only maternity grappling spats for pregnant women (I essentially lived in mine). Check them out here: Gaidama Maternity Spats for Jiu Jitsu
Nursing while pregnant is a whole different animal. Not all mothers can or choose to breastfeed and that’s totally fine, although I am an advocate because despite the difficulties it turned out to be the most precious thing I ever did.
Tips to continue training while nursing:
1. Drink way more water and eat way more calories than you think you need to. This is especially important while nursing because your body cannot make milk without water and the milk will not be substantial without calories. There were times when I had to force myself through eating even though I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to eat just to keep up with the necessary caloric intake. In some ways, nursing and training was more difficult for me than being pregnant and training.
2. Nurse or pump right before training and right after training. Mastitis is a serious condition that can occur when milk ducts get plugged. Wearing sweaty sports bras on full breasts can exacerbate this condition. I had mastitis 3 times and had to take antibiotics for it once. Twice I was able to clear the duct and mitigate the issue on my own. Mastitis is excruciatingly painful and causes high fevers and body aches. Clearing plugged ducts is like stripping searing hot cords out of your nipple. Better to avoid it altogether, and keeping your breasts as empty as possible during training is the best way to prevent it.
Natural supplements like Legendairy Milk’s Sunflower Lecithin Tablets can help prevent mastitis by supporting healthy milk flow. I highly recommend keeping some of these on hand if you plan to breastfeed and train. Another supplement I relied on heavily was Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea. Try it with honey to cut the strong flavor if it doesn’t suit you.
3. Opt for nursing sports bras that aren’t too compressive. The ones I favored while I was breastfeeding were these low impact nursing bras by Kindred Bravely.
Based on my own experiences I believe that most women can continue to train Jiu Jitsu and nurse a baby while pregnant. However, there are almost certainly conditions in which this is not safe, i.e. if a woman has some pre-existing medical condition, is otherwise a high-risk pregnancy, or is experiencing some unusual medical conditions after birth – whatever the case may be. Again, I am not a doctor and I do not claim to have medical advice. Please speak to your own doctor before training or nursing while pregnant.
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