Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) isn’t “easy” to begin with; and now, I’m adding being pregnant to the mix. People have asked me “why didn’t you just stop doing BJJ?”
As a 20-week, pregnant Blue Belt, there have been many times where I haven’t made it to class. But with a strategy, you’ll be able to train as much as YOU feel you can, throughout your pregnancy (of course, be sure to consult your physician prior to doing any type of exercise activity).
The first thing to do? Tell your professor, instructor or coach that you are pregnant…they will need to be okay with your choice to continue training. My gym has been very supportive, respectful, and adaptable to my “condition,” but it’s up to the gym itself.
CHOOSE A DRILLING PARTNER EARLY
I go to class early, and locate a drilling partner whom I trust. Why? Because I need to remind my partner every time a) that I’m pregnant, b) what moves cannot be done on me, c) what moves can be done on me.
Upper belts have more coordination, control, and can usually suggest alternatives to moves that you aren’t able to do while pregnant. Most of the time, your upper belt partner already knows the moves well, so you can drill double!
EXECUTE WARM-UPS MINDFULLY
When I returned to the gym post- vacation (then, at 10 weeks pregnant), I started constantly evaluating the instruction.
It IS mentally tiring; but, it makes me pay extra attention, since I have to think about alternatives. There are going to be moves that you simply cannot, or should not, do; break-falls, rolls, inversions, abdomen moves, knee pressure, and specifically chokes.
There ARE alternatives: leg lunges, modified v-style push-ups, shrimps, etc. While the class is doing their normal warm-ups, simply step to the side and do an alternative.
HYDRATE, AND STAY COOL
I’m always packing a full bottle of Gatorade, Powerade, or another sports drink plus a bottle of water for every class. Throughout the work day, I also drink close to a gallon of water. It’s VERY important to hydrate during pregnancy, and you probably dehydrate quicker than you think.
Ensure you do not overheat; step closer to a door or window, and take many breaks to cool off. You might be the only one doing this, but it’s super important for you and your baby!
FLOW-ROLLING IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Sparring time is my cue to find an upper belt to flow-roll with. I say farewell to my original drilling partner, and look for those who are either injured or sitting on the side. For me, it’s been anywhere from one roll to four “rolls” per class.
Remember that “tap early, tap often” is now your motto; certain moves could either restrict blood flow, and damage your already-weakening bone structures due to pregnancy. As soon as I feel it coming, I tap because now’s not the time to be a powerhouse on the mats.
EXPAND YOUR GEAR WITH YOU
It was around 14 weeks when I started “expanding” just enough to make my normal BJJ attire uncomfortable. I grabbed my husband’s old A-2 Blue Belt (I’m normally an A-1), found a roomier Gi that I owned, and one of my husband’s rash guards for class. Investing in sports bras that are a size up are also MUCH better, and you can often find these on sale throughout the year.
Although nobody is going to put pressure on you anymore, these fixes will make you feel more like yourself….and comfortable…during BJJ class.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR EMOTIONS
Pregnancy is, and will be, an internal battle at times; between not wanting to go to class, to adapting to a new lifestyle in a matter of seconds, your world has changed. While your family members continue as normal, your daily activities have completely changed.
But, you’re pregnant! I’ve had people too nervous to drill with me, and that’s fine; they realize that they are not as coordinated as others, and don’t want to hurt or injure me. I often feel bad if I ask an upper belt to roll, because I’m mindful that they probably want to get in a “hard, normal roll” vice a flow-roll with me; it’s out of respect that I don’t want to take their training time. Then again, at times they consider it to be a challenge!
YOUR PROGRESS WILL BE DELAYED, AND THAT’S NORMAL
Since I started my BJJ journey, I’ve done an Ironman triathlon, had surgery twice, moved countries and completed a Master’s degree while working full-time. BJJ has always taken a mild back seat, but that’s because I KNOW it will always be there for me. While it’s unfortunate that I’m now a 4-year Blue Belt, I keep getting thrown obstacles and continue to conquer them. As I was beginning to get steady progress again, I became pregnant. But, I still watch videos, watch instruction, ask questions or work in a group of three to drill. It’s going to get physically challenging, and I will keep going as long as I can until I’m forced to just watch class.
STAY POSITIVE, AND BREATHE
It’s very difficult to sit on the sidelines, feel some energy/muscle loss, and not be able to do moves as I once could. But, I’ve kept a smile on my face, and stayed positive; I am doing something that physically, NOBODY else in my gym is doing right now. And, hopefully my motivation is wearing off on others: some of those sore/tired from training no longer complain when they see me, and other females have told me that they admire me for being on the mats.
After all, I’m already five months into a nine-month journey; when you think about it, it’s only temporary.
In this male-dominated sport, females don’t need to stop training BJJ because they are pregnant; while it’s ultimately a personal (and physician-based) choice, I’m glad to show the option exists.
About the Author:
Elizabeth is a Blue Belt under Coach Mark Gutierrez at Elite Team Monterey located in Monterey, CA. Her husband is a BJJ Brown Belt, and teenage son is a Gray Belt. After getting her Master’s degree while working full-time as a Project Manager, She can now enjoy photography, good food, traveling, baseball games, and preparing for my incoming White Belt.
Wonderful, authentic article. Thank you for sharing this useful insights.
Keep going and believe in it!
I myself found out that I was pregnant a week or so after I achieved my brown belt (3rd kyu) in Shotokan Karate. But as you describe; with all the necessary precautions, it is still possible to train and to enjoy martial arts with a belly bump. In my Dojo it was quickly a joke to “go for her face, not the belly” and to laugh about my issues with push ups etc. But it was all with love and affection until I had to stop during my seventh month. It has proven much more difficult to get back afterwards – but finally after two years I am getting there.
Find your own way and best of luck
Thank you so much for sharing your story. My husband and I have been training for about 6 months now. We’re also trying for a family and I’ve been really upset because I thought “there’s no way I could do this while pregnant.” Clearly, it can be done. I feel better about it. Keep killin it!!
Thankfully for sharing this, I’m very early on but I was saddened by the thought of completely cutting out training! I’d like to stay current and get back after baby!
Thank you so much for reading! We are happy that the article was useful! Keep on rolling!
Love this article! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m in similar situation, so it was really nice to learn from your experience.
I’m curious to know how was your transition back to BJJ after baby was born?
How long after delivery the doctor cleared you to return to BJJ?
I’ll need a C-section, which I’m thinking I’ll likely need to wait a few months to completely heal before returning to BJJ?
Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and experience.
Hello! My apologies for responding so late.
I needed a few months post-birth (mine was natural) to get back into the swing of things, but returning to the mats after any break is similar. I felt good, but when you don’t do any sport, much less BJ, after a while, you feel as if a truck ran you over those first few weeks :) It was a few weeks until I was cleared for any type of exercise, but I did work with my doctors/OB for this because I had a natural birth. A C-section will DEFINITELY require longer and at the discretion of medical professionals.