“I was scared I’d hurt myself, and I felt too fat,” said Kate Doroszuk, a participant in a prenatal yoga class before the birth of her first child. “But I wasn’t the only one, and after a while, I felt like I was able to connect with the baby on a deeper level.”
In New York, prenatal exercise options are growing. Prenatal hula-hoop, water aerobics, Pilates, kickboxing and dance classes are offered at a variety of locations, enabling to-be moms to tailor their health goals to satisfy their personal interests.
Inside the midtown Sheraton, women cling tightly to bright colored floaties as they swim laps. These New York locals commute from across the city to attend Aqua Mom, a water aerobics class for pregnant women.
Andrea Pritchett, owner of Aqua Mom and former personal trainer, initially pursued a career in the prenatal, fitness industry because, she said, “literally, everyone just kept getting pregnant around me. It’s like I didn’t have a choice.”
The Aqua Mom class uses flotation weights, originally created for physical therapy and later adopted by water athletes, for resistance training in the pool. For example, the women do jumping jacks by standing shoulder-width-apart in the water and holding their arms out shoulder level with the weights in their hands. They slowly press the weights into the water down beside their hips as their feet jump together. They reverse the motion to complete one repetition. Water, according to Pritchett, is an ideal exercise environment during pregnancy because the resistance simultaneously increases the essential strength for birth and post-natal activities and helps avoid injury from jerky movements.
Guadalupe, a current participant in the class who declined to share her last name, said that she enrolled in both an Aqua Mom class and a yoga class for her previous pregnancy. “I felt like I was getting a real work out in the pool,” she said, “and it helped me recover quickly from my C-section.” Guadalupe only returned to Aqua Mom for her second pregnancy. She, unbeknownst at the time of her work out, was two weeks away from labor.
According to Robin Elise Weiss, a certified Childbirth Educator, in The Everything Pregnancy Fitness Book, Guadalupe’s assessment of her shortened recovery time was likely accurate. “Physical exercise in pregnancy has shown that these exercising moms tend to recover faster from whatever labor brings them—even if it’s a cesarean section or an episiotomy,” writes Weiss. Prenatal exercise also helps avoid birth pains, like vaginal tearing, because “Tearing is much more common in women who do not have good muscle tone in that area, or good control of those muscles.”
Pritchett consulted ob-gyns and other physicians before designing her class, one of the first, prenatal, water classes in the city. She credits the water for the socio and racial diversity the class attracts. “[Water] is the first environment that all of us know,” Pritchett explained. “We’re all in amniotic fluid when we’re first born, so everyone has a good time.”
Near New York University, Kelli Cruz teaches a small prenatal tower class at Core Pilates in Greenwich Village. Cruz explains that Pilates, contrasted with yoga, is beneficial to pregnant women because of its focus on strength.
“To me, it’s a better form of exercise than yoga [if pregnant] if you don’t have individualized instruction,” said Cruz. “The pregnancy hormone, Relaxin, allows the body to expand, so overstretching can be harmful.”
The four women in the Pilates class sit on top of pillows and work their upper bodies and match their breathing with the stretching of resistance bands. The last half of class is spent working strength and motion on a mini-tower of wooden and metal bars.
The class is much slower paced than the aqua class. Cruz explains that stress-control is a large motivation for attendance. “I have a client I work with at home, and she says it just makes her feel good,” said Cruz. “Less depressed. Less frustrated.”
Another prenatal workout in the city is MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique), a physical therapy, fitness adjunct designed to move the fluids evenly through the body through the alignment of natural rubber balls against the ligaments. Edya Kalev, a certified MELT and yoga instructor,teaches this method to pregnant women both one-on-one and in larger classes. She underwent the training during her own pregnancy.
MELT addresses the nervous system, according to Kalev, so frequent practice can help reduce discomfort common to pregnancies, like neck, shoulder and calf tension, as well as relieving bloating. “I was able to MELT my feet [during pregnancy] by using a soft MELT ball every morning,” said Kalev. “It really helped reintegrate the fluids that pooled in my ankles through the rest of my body. No one likes to look down and see that they have elephant ankles.”
“Because MELT is so gentle and adaptable, it really works well for the prenatal population because every woman and every pregnancy is so different, and we can adjust it to whatever stage of pregnancy or trimester they’re in,” said Kalev. “Because every day it’s like you have a new body when you’re pregnant.”
I attended my first Aqua Mom class, a water aerobics course for pregnant women, yesterday at 1:30 p.m. in midtown. I first went to the wrong floor in the hotel but eventually found my way to the pool on the 5th floor. I was given a towel and changed in the locker room into a bathing suit for the first time since I left Africa.
The class started with laps across the pool. I’m not a very good swimmer, so I struggled with my little floatation device and watched as the nine other (pregnant) swimmers surpassed me in the water. It didn’t take long before I realized prenatal fitness wasn’t inherently easier than its without-baby counterpart.
After the laps, we did some resistance training with small, floatation weights in the pool. We did jumping jacks by pushing the floaty down into the water beside our hips, ab exercises by laying on our sides with the weight fully extended and switching positions, and cardio by sprinting laps in a circle around the floaty.
Minus a few strained faces, most the women were smiling and continued to hang out in the pool after the class was over. The exercises were pretty fun and did have the effect on me that teacher, Andrea, Pritchett, described, i.e. the sudden, strange desire to want to be pregnant. No worries. It’ll be a while.
Today, I’ll be heading down by NYU to observe another prenatal class at Core Pilates on University Place.
To be whole:
my body's refusal
to let me be
Accepted by my own eyes
without the desire