***Always speak with your doctor about beginning or continuing a fitness regimen while pregnant.***
A gaggle of geese.
A murder of crows.
A colony of penguins.
A pride of lions.
We’re not sure what the right collective noun is for a large group of pregnant women, but whatever it is…we’ve got that. Something must be in the Granger water, because as of late we’ve seen one expectant mama after another sashay through the doors here at B Present–and we love seeing so many baby bumps at the barre!
Many of us struggle under even normal circumstances to find the motivation for exercising, and being pregnant adds a new dimension to that struggle. You’re exhausted, nauseous, craving things you can’t have (like wine, sushi, and actually being able to see what you’re doing while shaving your legs). It’s pretty understandable that so many pregnant women say “nah” to working out and instead crawl into bed with nine pillows and a pint of ice cream. But Future You (and your Future Mini-Me) will say “Thanks, mama!” for continuing to get a move on it throughout these nine months whenever you can. The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are no secret: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most if not all days of the week unless you have certain high-risk factors or complications. What’s more: researchers are learning more every day about the advantages of maintaining an active lifestyle for both mom and baby.
Women who are active during pregnancy have a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, mostly because they tend to stay within the healthy recommended range of weight gain. Avoiding excessive weight gain during pregnancy also lowers your risk of obesity and obesity-related disease down the road. That little bun in the oven stands to benefit from your booty-blasting, too: babies of moms who worked out while pregnant may have healthier hearts and cardiovascular systems at birth, an effect that can carry over throughout their lives. They’re less likely to be born overweight or develop childhood obesity. One study even showed that babies born to active moms showed improved brain function maturity. Move over, Baby Einstein; Baby Buff is in the house!
Exercise also helps alleviate common pregnancy plagues like low back pain, digestive issues, swelling, trouble sleeping, and low energy (that’s right–paradoxically, getting some exercise actually helps boost energy levels). Barre Beauty Ginny V. has tried it both ways–not exercising at all while pregnant with her first son, and exercising all the way through pregnancy with her second–and she can attest to this. “I felt stronger than ever with this pregnancy, no swelling like before, no bed rest or sciatic pain, and I was 20 pounds lighter,” she says after giving birth to baby Duke this past November. If exercise has always been built into your day, then the biggest benefit may just be still feeling a bit like yourself. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life,” says Courtney, who played basketball at Notre Dame. “Maintaining an active lifestyle has always been part of my routine, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t change when I got pregnant.”
You won’t regret having been active throughout your pregnancy when it’s “go time” either: some studies suggest that physically fit women may enjoy shorter labor periods, require fewer medical interventions, and have more stamina and endurance during labor. This last one is huge: in no uncertain terms, the pushing phase of labor–2.5 hours for yours truly–was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done. It is a true test of endurance, and all those plank holds and cardio bursts make for excellent prep work. Ginny agrees: “Labor was much easier while staying active. I was able to endure labor for 27 hours without an epidural.”
To be clear: there is absolutely nothing, nada, zilch wrong with using pain medication during labor. Some women cross the finish line with nary a Tylenol, while others would get their epidurals placed in the hospital parking garage if they could. (Personally, after getting my epidural seven hours into labor, I wanted to give All of the Medals Ever to the person who invented epidurals.) But if a non-medicated birth is something that’s important to you, then a prenatal exercise routine can play a big role in preparing you for it. Whether you’re using pain relief or not, labor is hard work–and you won’t be sorry that you spent this time training for it. “I’m hoping that it will help to keep me mentally and physically strong throughout the arduous process,” said Courtney H. before welcoming baby boy Sawyer last month. “I’ve even secretly been practicing my breathing techniques during those crazy five-minute plank holds that the instructors love to throw in a workout every now and then!”
CRAZY?! Okay, maybe that’s a fair description of our classes. But they also make a great and non-crazy prenatal workout, and the secret is that it’s all about the modifications. Courtney says, “It’s a real testament to Tammy, the studio, and its practice that every move is modifiable while still maintaining the integrity of the workout. I eliminated jumping and lying on my back, and I do walking burpees. (I’m determined to continue this until I can no longer get down to the floor–and more importantly, get back up!) I know I’m still getting great benefits from the workout even if I’m not pushing myself to the limit.”
“It’s a real testament to Tammy and the studio that every move is modifiable while still maintaining the integrity of the workout.”
Ginny found this to be true, too: “When I reached 34 weeks, I would talk to the teachers before class about the plan and they would provide me with modifications.” That’s the beauty of the method here: the exact same class can provide a great workout for both a woman in her third trimester and the woman next to her who is training for a marathon. It’s like the Sisterhood of the Traveling (Maternity) Pants! Even with modifications, barre provides heart-healthy cardio along with an emphasis on core strength and balance–two areas that pregnancy can really throw a wrench in.
There’s another reason that B Present is such a great fit for prenatal and postpartum exercise, though, and that’s all of you. “Being surrounded by women who are encouraging and supportive during such an emotional time is amazing,” says Ginny. You can sometimes feel like you’re “on display” as a pregnant woman at the gym or studio–and you may feel even more vulnerable coming back after delivery. Basically: postpartum bodies are weird, yo. I was eight weeks postpartum the first time I set foot in B Present. I had exercised consistently throughout my pregnancy and had started easing back into it after getting the “all clear” from my doctor, but I was looking for something new to jumpstart shedding the baby weight. I’ll be frank–it took me a month to come back to the studio after that first class. I was more self-conscious about my body than ever, and frustrated that I couldn’t immediately “ace” the workout. At least when I was pregnant, it was obvious to everyone why I wasn’t quite keeping up. But what did they think now? Could everyone tell I had just had a baby, or did they think I was just flabby and out of shape? My pelvic floor was shot; jumping was out of the question. My tummy was soft, my pants were still a little too snug, and “the girls” were about three times bigger than normal thanks to nursing. And hello–there are MIRRORS. EVERYWHERE.
“Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.”
And then after a few times of braving it, I started to notice something: no one, as far as I can tell, was grading my workout. No one was whispering behind my back. No one was looking at me with scorn while I took my seventeenth water break. It finally started to sink in that you really can’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle–and that these women working out next to me believed that, too. They may have been in their “middle,” or just starting out (or starting over) like me, but either way–they certainly weren’t worried about whether or not I was lifting my leg high enough or holding my plank long enough. What they were doing was laughing, smiling, and chatting with me and others on the way into and out of class. And now over a year later, many of these women have become friends. It feels like home, surrounded by lots of other women who know exactly why you’re hesitating when the instructor says we’re doing tuck jumps now. (“Do I need to go to the bathroom first?” The mom bladder struggle is real.) As Courtney puts it, “There really isn’t another place out there where you can not only get the best workout–pregnant or not–but also be surrounded by motivated, caring, and compassionate people on a daily basis.”
Pregnancy can sometimes make you feel like a stranger in your own body, but establishing a habit of taking care of yourself can help reclaim some of that control–and will also set the stage for you to continue taking care of yourself after baby is here. New mamas are notorious for self-neglect; there’s a reason that the old “can’t remember the last time I took a shower” joke is such a new mom cliche. But carving out “me” time is not selfish. You don’t just deserve an hour to yourself–you need it if you’re going to be at the top of your game all day. Leave that little nugget with dad or grandma, and see how much better you feel after an hour of sweating and de-stressing. And then, you know…go take a shower. You deserve that too. 😉
So belly up to the barre, mamas–and know that once baby is here, little eyes are watching and learning from your example. As Ginny’s oldest son Finn always says, “Mom’s going to B Present to get healthy!”