Training BJJ Whilst Pregnant with Black Belt Emilia Lilius

Source: Instagram / @emilialilius – “Hopefully just few weeks left now 😅”

With more and more women getting involved in BJJ, it begs the question… can you train when you’re pregnant? Emilia Lilius was 37 weeks at the point of interview and was still training BJJ, so how does she do it?

Emilia Lilius, formerly Emilia Tuukkanen is a professional Black Belt BJJ competitor and European Champion from Finland, now living in Costa del Sol – in Spain, where she trains at Lilius Barnatt Martial Arts that her Husband Santeri Lilius and UFC veteran Luke Barnatt own, a gym located in Torremolinos (near Malaga).

Both Emilia and her husband devote their lives to BJJ, so Emilia had no plans to stop training (even if she couldn’t train exactly how she wanted to). Please bear in mind that Emilia is a black belt competitor and has trained BJJ for over 11 years – if anyone knows how to work their body – she most definitely does. Which leads me on to…

“Pregnancy Isn’t A Disease!”

Emilia says, “In Spain, they tell you to walk and do prenatal yoga – stuff like that – anything more than that is a bit frowned upon. I go to the gym to lift weights and I’ve never seen anybody else pregnant there and every time someone asks me, ‘how are you ok?’ ,‘You know you’re pregnant right?’, ‘You don’t have to be here’ – like pregnancy is not a disease! It’s a different case if you have a high risk pregnancy or some complications then of course – don’t do it.”

Being a professional athlete, Emilia knows her body more than anyone else does and knows how much she can handle/take – especially when it comes to jiu jitsu:

“For me, jiu jitsu is the most comfortable thing to do, for sure. When I’m lifting weights – I’m not that good at them – I just do it because I sort of have to, there aren’t many other (fitness) options. But with weights I have to be careful and I can’t do a proper workout because I don’t know that well what I’m doing, but in jiu jitsu I know what I’m doing.”

She expands on the judgement, “The funny thing is that people go to him (her Husband/ Santeri Lilius) like ‘how is she?’, ‘is she ok?’, ‘you should tell her she needs to be more careful’ and he would turn around and say ‘You try telling her that. Do you want to tell her she needs to be more careful? I’m not touching that!’ But he (Santeri) has been awesome.”

You Will Have to Upsize

If you train Gi BJJ in particular you will definitely be upsizing. Emelia states that she went from a F2 to F3 in the Gi and A1 to A4 in the belt, “even the A4 belt, you can barely close it and you can see it’s not the right size but now I’m not ordering any bigger ones.”

Rolling and Drilling Whilst Pregnant

Unfortunately for Emilia, she was unable to utilize training at the beginning of her pregnancy due to her all-day morning sickness, “In the beginning (of pregnancy) I would have really bad morning sickness that would last the whole day, so in the first trimester I could train maybe 3-4 times a week. You don’t have a belly or anything like that, so if you don’t have any nausea you can sort of train like you’re not pregnant – just be careful of your belly. I wasn’t able to really utilize that because I was just throwing up all the time.”

However, the second trimester was better for training and Emilia says she felt great, “My second trimester was probably my ‘golden time’ in training because I was feeling great. You’re not huge yet, you have a little belly but it’s not that bad and doesn’t really restrict your movements yet. I was able to train basically as much as I wanted to. I do some techniques, but at the end of the second trimester you start having a belly which means you can’t play guard anymore. It’s so creepy but your abs move to the side of your body, you can’t really lie on your back or get up from there. Which means it’s not really proper rolling anymore, just specific sparring or just passing people’s guard which is nice because I like guard passing more than guard playing.”

Emilia continues, “When I get to mount or side control we start again because they can’t push me on my belly so there’s no escaping.”

Telling Your Training Partners You’re Pregnant

Even though you should be safe to drill throughout your pregnancy, there will obviously be some points where you won’t able to train, for example, when you first find out – Emilia says, “For the two weeks when we didn’t know if everything was ok, me and my Husband told everybody I had a shoulder injury which is why I couldn’t train. Once we found out that everything was ok, then we told my training partners, and then I started to train; so I had two weeks of no jiu jitsu while we were waiting for the results. We told pretty early on, usually people tell around three months, but obviously I can’t train fully when pregnant so I had to tell people early.”

Emilia continues, “Before that, I did have a little shoulder injury so I said it came back. Once we had the ultrasound and the doctor said everything was fine and everything is how it is supposed to be, then we felt confident enough to tell people that I’m pregnant. Obviously there’s still a risk of miscarriage and things like that but we told people who – if there is a miscarriage – it wouldn’t matter if they knew, we told people we trusted.”

Picking Training Partners You Trust

Being confident enough to stop the roll at any point, being selective, and trusting your training partners is imperative when wanting to continue training BJJ when pregnant, Emilia says, “In a way it’s scary because you’re obviously a lot more aware of your body. You have to really trust your training partners, like really trust them. They have to be responsible, and good at jiu jitsu, so I’m very picky with who I roll with.”

“It’s not this monster that you have to avoid”

For anyone perhaps expecting, or who is thinking if they could continue training BJJ when pregnant Emilia advises, “If you’re a fresh white belt I wouldn’t roll – just drills. If you’re a bit more experienced, honestly if you know your body, if you know what jiu jitsu is already, you trust your training partners, and if jiu jitsu feels comfortable for you – just keep training. Do what feels comfortable. It’s not this monster that you have to avoid; which, if you google ‘martial arts and pregnancy’ it says “don’t do it or you and your baby will die”.

Emilia continues, “It’s a sport just like any other sport; you can fall down when you’re walking on the street but in jiu jitsu you just need to be confident enough to say to people ‘no I don’t want to roll with you’ and if you roll with someone you feel comfortable with, but the roll feels weird you have to be able to say ‘no, lets not finish the roll’. The confidence can be difficult as a woman in martial arts at some gyms. If you’re the only girl there, it might feel uncomfortable being assertive like that and if you know yourself and you know you can’t be like that then don’t roll but if you’re confident enough – then go for it!”

Emilia trained right up until the end of her pregnancy, and yesterday she finally gave birth to a baby boy called Ivar. Grappling Insider is very grateful for Emilia taking the time to talk to us during the end of her pregnancy and we wish Emilia and Santeri all the best with their family.

Source: Instagram / @emelialilius – “24 hours of Ivar ❤️”

Lucy Wynne

BJJ Purple Belt living in, London, England. I began training BJJ back in 2017, when I was at university, and have trained ever since. #OSS Instagram: @journowynne

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