CrossFit Athlete Emily Breeze on Why Workout-Shaming Pregnant Women Needs to Stop
The trainer and athlete has been shamed for working out during both of her pregnancies. Here’s why that’s just not okay.
Working out has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I played sports as a kid and in high school, was a Division I athlete in college, and then became a trainer. I've been a serious runner. I've owned my own yoga studio, and I've competed in two CrossFit games. Fitness has been my career for the past 10 years—it's 100 percent a habit and a lifestyle for me.
So much of being an athlete is about respecting your body and just listening to it. When I got pregnant with my first child in 2016, I tried to abide by the same motto. I didn't know what to expect, but I had a really good and longstanding relationship with my ob-gyn, so he was able to help me navigate what's safe and what my body's capable of when it comes to exercising while pregnant. One thing he always said that has stuck with me is that there isn't a lifestyle prescription for pregnancy. It's not one-size-fits-all for every woman or even for each pregnancy. It's all about just really being in tune with your body and taking it one day at a time. I followed that rule with my first pregnancy and felt fantastic. And now that I'm 36 weeks along with my second, I'm doing the same.
Something I'll never quite understand though? Why others feel the need to shame pregnant women for simply doing what makes them feel best.
My first exposure to the shaming began when I was about 34 weeks along into my first pregnancy and my belly popped. I had just competed in my first CrossFit games while eight months pregnant, and when the media caught on to my story and my Instagram account, I started to get some negative feedback on my fitness posts. It probably did seem like a lot of weight to some people, who were thinking, "how can this eight-months-pregnant trainer deadlift 155 pounds?" But what they didn't know was that I was actually working at 50 percent of my normal pre-pregnancy rep max. Still, I understand that it can look drastic and crazy from the outside.
I went into my second pregnancy a bit more prepared for the criticism. Offline, when I'm working out in my gym, the reaction is still mostly positive. People will come up to me and say, "Wow! I can't believe you just did those handstand push-ups upside down pregnant!" They're just kind of shocked or amazed. But online, there have been so many mean comments I've received on my Instagram posts or in DMs like, "This is an easy way for an abortion or miscarriage" or "You know, if you didn't want a child you shouldn't have had sex in the first place." It's awful. It's just so odd to me because I would never say anything like that to any other person, let alone a woman who is going through such a powerful and emotional experience of growing a human inside of them.
Many men will make comments to me too, as though I don't know what I'm doing. I'm always mind-blown by that, especially because they don't carry babies! In fact, I just got a direct message the other day from a male doctor that I know in my community questioning my technique and telling me it's unsafe. Of course, when you have a 30-pound weight gain and a swollen basketball right there in your belly, you are going to have to modify or shift movements. But to question what my own ob-gyn is telling me is safe? (Related: 10 Women Detail How They Were Mansplained at the Gym)
It's terrible that so many women have to experience shaming (of any kind and about anything) because everyone has feelings. No matter who you are and no matter how many followers you have, no one (including me) wants to hear somebody who doesn't know them or their fitness background make negative comments or imply they're hurting their child. Especially woman to woman, we should be empowering, not judging, each other. (Related: Why Body-Shaming Is Such a Big Problem—and What You Can Do to Stop It)
A big misconception about me is that I'm just trying to endorse heavy lifting or CrossFit. But that's not the case. I use the hashtag #moveyourbump because I want people to know that moving while pregnant can be anything—walking the dog or playing with other kids if you have them. Or it could be a class like Orangetheory or Flywheel, or yes, it can be CrossFit. It's just about doing any kind of movement that makes you happy—any movement that fosters good physical and mental health. I truly believe a healthy mom will create a healthy baby. That was the case for me with my first child and I feel fantastic this time around, too. It's unbelievable to me that there are still some doctors (and pseudo-"doctors") telling expecting women they can't lift 20 pounds over their head or these other old wives' tales about not working out while pregnant. There's a lot of misinformation out there. (Related: Emily Skye Responds to Critics During Pregnancy)
So, I'm happy to lead by example—to show people that exercise while pregnant looks different at every age, every ability, and every size. Just this year alone I've trained four different pregnant women. All of them have been pregnant before (some are expecting their third or fourth child), and they've each expressed how staying in shape and moving during their pregnancies helped them feel their best throughout the nine-month process. (Related: 7 Science-Backed Reasons Why Sweating While Pregnant Is a Good Idea)
The coolest part of fitness is that everyone is working toward a goal of great health and great wellness, and how you get there is your own journey. And hey, if you want to relax and just soak up the next nine months on the couch, that's fine too. Just don't hurt somebody else with harsh words or opinions in the process. Instead, focus on supporting other moms along their individual paths.
This is exactly why I wrote an Instagram post last week basically saying, before you watch this video and go crazy on me, realize that I am a real person over here with feelings. Just because I choose to document my journey doesn't mean I'm trying to force it on anyone else. What keeps me going and so engaged in the fitness community are the messages I get every day from women who tell me they are thankful that I am proving how powerful a woman can be and helping them love their bodies and themselves. Women reach out to me from Middle Eastern countries and say, "I love watching you and watching these videos. We're not allowed to do this in public here, but we go into our basement and we do bodyweight movements and you make us feel empowered." So no matter how many hateful comments I get, I'm going to continue to show women they can be strong and powerful. (Related: The Creators of Brave Body Project Have a Message for Online Body-Shamers)
My biggest thing I want other women—moms or otherwise—to take away from my experiences is that you should respect everybody's journey and not shame them or put them down because it's different from yours. Simply think before you speak.