When I was pregnant with my first child in 2005, I lived a very active life. I was teaching swimming lessons at the Meriden YMCA, teaching gymnastics classes at the Wheeler YMCA in Plainville and running the sports, wellness and gymnastics programs at Girls Incorporated here in Meriden as my full-time job. I stretched every day, several times a day, while I was teaching, I moved around a lot, did a lot of weight-bearing activity all as part of my job(s). What I didn't have, however, and what I very much wanted, was a great Prenatal Fitness class, preferably one that included Yoga, and/or Belly Dance (which originated, in part, to help women prepare physically for pregnancy and birth). I looked everywhere, called every area gym and YMCA, even called a bunch of childbirth educators, midwifery and OB/GYN groups and no one even had a place to refer me that was closer than Milford.
When I was pregnant with my second child two years later, things were not much better. Southington has a great yoga studio that offers a program called Blooming Bellies, now, but there still wasn't anything in the Meriden area at that time. So, being the take-charge person that I am (for better and for worse), when a nationally recognized fitness organization was finally offering its Perinatal Fitness Instructor training “near by,” I jumped at the chance to bring classes to our town. I did my training in New Jersey about a year and a half ago and have been teaching BabyShape Pre/Postnatal Fitness Classes at the Meriden YMCA.
In my BabyShape class, we begin with just a couple of minutes to center ourselves with a simple, seated relaxation exercise. We then stand up, put some music on and get moving with some dynamic stretching routines, many of which are based in Belly Dance. We then move right into our cardio set and continue on with strengthening exercises and core work. Each week we focus on a different area (upper body, lower body, core, balance, pelvic floor etc.) and I teach a couple of exercises, yoga-based poses and activities that moms can continue to do daily at home to tone and strengthen muscle groups they need to have a healthy pregnancy, stay strong through birth, and continue to gain strength and recover after baby's/babies' birth. We then step away from the equipment we used (stability/birth balls, hand weights, resistance bands, ballet barre) to workout, grab a mat and maybe some pillows or a jacket to get comfy with and do a longer relaxation exercise. I always include a positive message of support for moms as we begin the relaxation work, and then moms are free to drift off in their own private meditations as the music plays. As everyone slowly “returns to the room,” I am always so glad to see the relaxed, often bliss-filled expressions on my students faces as we conclude class and bid each other goodbye. I find this so much more connected than the experiences I had as a pregnant mom using prenatal fitness and yoga videos alone in my home. If I didn't love offering to others what I didn't get to have myself I might be jealous. As it is, though, I am blessed and lucky to have a great group of women every session, and sharing this with them is more than enough for me.
Now you have an idea of what BabyShape offers to Pre/Postnatal moms, but why is taking Pregnancy Fitness Classes a Good Move? Here are some key points courtesy of a lovely and evidence-based site, Childbirth Connection and other sources: (http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=1029)
1) Relieve mom's stress, anxiety and depression
2) Improve mom's sleep
3) Boost mom's energy levels
4) Boost mom's immune system to help your body naturally prevent illnesses like colds and flu (and other viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites)
5) Provide mom with strength and endurance to carry your baby (both internally while pregnant and externally, once baby's born!)
6) Prepare mom's body for the physical (and physiological) demands of the birthing process (aka labor)
7) Improve mom's overall quality of life
Additional resources also suggest that prenatal fitness can
8) Help baby deal with the physical demands of the birthing process
9) Help keep mom low-risk
10) Hasten postpartum recovery and help mom "bounce back"
And my personal favorite reason for taking classes:
11) MEET OTHER MOMS! This can help a new mom build a support network as she enters this new phase, and it can help "return" moms find some new friends too.
Why take Postnatal Fitness Classes after baby's born?
1) Let's face it, many of us would just rather be with other folks who are postpartum when we begin our "bounce back." This may be especially true between 8 weeks postpartum (a time by which most moms are officially "cleared" for exercise by their midwives or doctors) and about 36 weeks postpartum when many moms begin to feel like they're on top of things with the new baby.
2) Trained postnatal instructors can help new moms (and new-again moms) with modifications and avoiding contraindicated exercises.
3) Continuing with Pre/Post classes can help keep new moms connected to their prenatal fitness routine and the other moms in class.
4) Help moms with separation of abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) learn to properly perform abdominal exercises without causing further damage.
5) Continue to reduce mom's stress, anxiety and depression
6) Continue to provide additional energy for mom
7) Keep mom's immune system functioning at an improved level
8) Help mom gain strength as baby gains weight so mom can keep up with baby's growth
9) Help prevent stress injuries and discomforts related to caring for new baby by reinforcing positive ergonomics and posture for mom
10) It can be a way to connect with other parents with kids of a similar age for playgroups and playdates.
And another great reason to join a Postpartum Fitness Class, even if you did NOT participate in a Prenatal one...
It is a chance to get out of the house and take one hour to do something for yourself! In my classes, this is often most appreciated by women who have just had their second or third child. The stay-at-home parents especially will see where I'm coming from with this ;).
By the way, many facilities, such as the Meriden YMCA, offer Prenatal/Postpartum classes combined. This is certainly a social benefit for the mothers, and I offer many modifications as we go, so moms can adapt and get the most out of the work out at their own pace. I often have moms of varied fitness levels, and that is something that, in this setting, is very easy to work with.
One thing that I did not mention above: Many of my students have told me that relaxation is their favorite part of my classes, as much as they benefit from the cardio, the dynamic stretching, the core exercises, pelvic floor, balance work and strengthening work. From where I stand the world could use more relaxed people, especially people who have kids to love and nurture at home. Especially me. Especially everybody this time of year, really.
Speaking of which, have a blessed holiday season, whatever you celebrate in your life.
If you are interested in signing up for BabyShape at the Meriden YMCA, held on Wednesday Evenings from 6:45-7:45pm, details may be found at http://www.meridenymca.org/Content/Pre_and_Post_Natal_Workout_Program.asp . Note that Childwatch is available for children ages three months to nine years during class time. If you need additional information, you can contact Carrie Marquardt at 203.235.6386 ext.18.