By Adrienne Mays, aerial student and soon-to-be mother

“I’m so excited I’m pregnant! Oh, I still have 5 weeks of this session of aerials left. And there’s that class I really want to take next session, plus I just started rehearsing for a new act. Hmmm, what to do?” There’s a lot of information out there on exercising while pregnant, but not really anything specific for aerials. I’ve put together some of the information that seemed the most relevant to me, combined a bit with my experience of being pregnant (so far) and how that’s impacted my workouts. I’ve broken it down into what I view as the salient points. No matter what you decide, always tell your health care provider about your aerials and get their opinion, and for sure let your instructors know immediately, as that will affect your training and their decisions in class for you.

#1. Hormones are making your ligaments and joints crazy, whatever may be happening to your moods.

So my midwife cautioned me right away that my ligaments were going to be getting loose from the relaxin and estrogen, and I thought, “Well, sure, but not really noticeably until towards the end, right?” Turns out, no. There is actually a relaxin peak at 12 weeks in, as well as the build in the 3rd trimester. The increased estrogen and progesterone start loosening everything RIGHT AWAY.  The risk of dislocations and strains happens pretty immediately.  I really noticed this one day, probably only about 11 weeks in, when I was carrying a couple bags of groceries up to my apartment. In only two flights of stairs I noticed my elbow joints were starting to separate! Eek! I’d already stopped aerials, mostly because of the wanting to vomit every second of the day, but I was grateful not to be suspending myself on a trapeze right about then. Good strength and keeping your muscles engaged when doing any activity or carrying things will help prevent dislocation.

#2. Blood pressure, lung capacity, and passing out.

So now you’re growing another person, and your body is providing for that person. One of the effects is a massive increase in blood volume, also starting immediately. Most women notice a drop in blood pressure, resulting in dizziness when standing or moving too quickly. If you have a dramatic drop in blood pressure, this can lead to fainting with very little provocation. Your health care provider should be able to tell you how your blood pressure is doing, but be aware that if you are getting dizzy standing up, the exertion of aerials may cause you to pass right out, possibly at elevation. Bev would be pissed, so if you’re getting dizzy, faint, or blurry vision, get down and rest.

As the baby grows, there’s also the shoving of your organs out of it’s way. Many of your organs get pushed upwards, compressing your lungs and leading to difficulty breathing and again, the danger of dizziness and passing out. Same rules apply.

#3. The Great Inversion Debate

There is a lot of different viewpoints on inversions while pregnant. My midwife told me no inversions beginning immediately. My acro instructor was also not pleased that I was still in class in the first trimester, and he was actually the first one to tell me why. Inversions are actually most dangerous in your first trimester because your placenta isn’t full formed yet, and the body isn’t really set up to support the weight of bigger uterus +baby+plancenta  while upside down. This can lead to placental abruption, ie. Your placenta ripping partly or completely off of or out of your uterus. If it doesn’t lead to a miscarriage right away, it can still cause blood or oxygen supply problems to the baby down the road.

Once in the second and third trimesters, there seems to be some arguments that gentle, supported inversions of short duration (under 1 minute) can actually help with back pain, and preparing the ligaments to stretch for birth. Many yoga traditions support this practice, others say no inversions while pregnant at all. Health care practitioners (that I’ve spoken to on this) seem to be against all inversions, but you should speak to yours and make the decision that feels right to you.

#4. General risks of falling and abdominal compression.

Sure, falling is bad. When you’re pregnant though, it’s REALLY BAD. The first trimester warning for inversions is extra true when adding falling to the equation. Don’t rip your placenta! It’s not only the unplanned fall either, but any drop with an abrupt halt, even planned, can cause problems.  After the first trimester we’re less concerned about the placenta and more about abdominal compression and possibly damaging your uterus itself, ripped abdominal muscles that are trying to stretch out, and possible damage to the baby itself.  Twists are similarly concerning for that reason, and my acro instructor wouldn’t let me do any twists at all as soon as he knew. In my pregnancy yoga class there are some gentle twists for the upper body that minimize abdominal twisting, but overall, twists are taboo for the pregnant lady. Also, with your balance point shifting, your blood pressure dropping, your ligaments stretching, even the most balanced and strong of us may find that even going down a set of stairs a bit challenging.

#5. Core strength and abdominal stretching.

I couldn’t find much documentation to support this point, all I have is what my midwife told me specifically and some personal stories. Most advice for newly pregnant women is to make sure you get enough exercise and tone up for giving birth. This is not really a concern for an aerialist. We have tone, particularly core strength. After my initial exam, my midwife actually told me that I was no longer allowed to do any core work because I had too much tone. I needed to let those muscles relax a bit so they could stretch to accommodate the baby without tearing. Evidently if you’re in too good of shape your muscles may just rip apart instead of stretching. Ew. That would also lead to a much longer healing time after the birth that you couldn’t get back to exercising for, which I know I don’t want. I also have a friend who is a professional dancer who kept dancing all through pregnancy, and then found that her pelvic muscles were so strong that they wouldn’t stretch enough to let her pelvis open for the baby to get out, and so had to get a C section. Every body is different, and proportions and flexibility vary, but I did want to share that info. Please talk to your health care provider as to what they think is best for you. I’m following my midwife’s advice of only prenatal yoga, swimming and walking until the baby is out.

Always most important is listen to your body, your health care practitioners, and your instructors. Sad as it may be to decide to take a break from aerials, it’s better to take good care of yourself so you can get back to it as soon as possible after the baby is born.