ADMA, Lebanon: Quick and painless birth sounds like an oxymoron, but that was how Pauline Baroudi, a self-titled “gym freak,” described her first delivery two years ago.
“I’m embarrassed to tell people,” Baroudi confides, worried about jinxing her next birth, one month away. “I didn’t feel anything.”
Baroudi credits her own physical fitness with helping make pregnancy and labor more tolerable. A big part of that, she explains, is the workout program she joined at Bouddha Cite Sportive in Adma that is designed specifically for pregnant women and is part of the growing range of fitness options available to expectant mothers.
Donna Saade developed the Preganacy Workout Program at Bouddha. Her program targets women with low-risk pregnancies in the second and third trimesters, as well as postnatal women who are ready to regain their shape. The idea to instruct pregnant women came while doing her regular fitness classes.
“One day it just came to me, ‘Why don’t pregnant ladies go to the gym?’ I started to learn about pregnancy,” says Saade, who joined several programs in Paris to learn about guiding pregnant women through fitness classes.
“In Lebanon, it’s not so familiar,” adds Saade, whose program is one of the few of its kind in the country.
“I have people who come from Beriut to Adma [north of Jounieh] for my class.”
Saade’s class is a combination of low-impact aerobics, stretching, light weight-lifting and positions that draw from yoga and Pilates. And while the classes are tailored for prenatal bodies, the workouts are no child’s play. Before walking into her studio, I thought that my baby bump-less, non-pregnant body would give me an advantage of sorts – not so.
Ten minutes into Saade’s class, I had already broken a sweat and was struggling to keep my form straight while doing Bosu ball-assisted pushups. What she takes away in impact, she makes up for in repetitions. The next day, my triceps were so sore I couldn’t fully bend my arms.
For most of the session, participants use yoga balls, which Saade explains are good for balance and acquainting women with their changing shapes. Sitting on a yoga ball with your legs spread is apparently good for the baby too.
“You usually find Swiss balls in the operation room. It makes the baby more comfortable by giving her more space,” Saade says.
“The ball is also good for doing abs, like crunches.”
Saade has her class members stay seated on the ball while they use resistance ropes and 1-2 kilo weights for upper-body toning, and sometimes moves her class to Bouddha’s pool for an aqua-gym session.
Saade’s is not the only fitness class targeting prenatal women. Local yogi Duna Abou Jaoude offers prenatal yoga through several of Beirut’s fitness studios, including Soul Spa in Verdun and at NOK Yoga Shala in Saifi Village.
The benefits of working out while pregnant are numerous. Maintaining fitness and building muscle strength reduce many of the undesirable symptoms associated with pregnancy. Exercise increases blood circulation, can alleviate stiff joints, boost energy levels and limit water retention and weight gain, Saade says.
During her first pregnancy, Baroudi gained a modest 13 kilos and snapped back into her old form through Saade’s postnatal program within three months of giving birth, Baroudi says.
“I try not to become lazy because of the aftermath. It really helped me get into shape afterward,” she says.
Like most of the women in Saade’s class, Baroudi’s doctor recommended she stay fit. Dr. Faysal al-Kak, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, emphasizes that women should be cleared by their doctor before working out.
The added stress on the body can be risky in the first trimester, the period in which most miscarriages occur, or in the case of serious complications like precancer or an incompetent cervix. Women with milder complications – those who smoke or are anemic or very overweight, for example – should also consult their doctor before working out.
“She should do the exercise according to her own health,” Kak explains. “If she’s experiencing shortness of breath, headache, muscle weakness, some vague contractions or cramps, if she can’t recall a fetal movement, these are signs that she should stop. Anytime she feels tired she should stop and rest.”
With a doctor’s clearance, Kak agrees that fitness can aid a mother during birth. Exercise creates good breathing habits, improves flexibility in joints and makes the pelvic muscles stronger and more resilient, he says.
The classes also offer an unofficial support group, Baroudi says.
“As a pregnant person you kind of feel fat sometimes, but seeing other women is a nice push for each other.”
For men and non-pregnant gym users like Saade, it adds a nice balance to the sports club to have them working out there, she says.
“When people in the gym walk by a room full of pregnant women it draws a smile on everyone’s face.”
To enroll in Donna Saade’s class, write to email@example.com or visit bouddhaclub.com/pregnancy. To enroll in prenatal yoga, contact Duna Abou Jaoude at firstname.lastname@example.org.