Monday 19 February 2018

Why being pregnant doesn’t prevent us from keeping fit

Sarah McGovern with Jude. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sarah McGovern with Jude. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Tanya Sweeney

How much exercise should you do while pregnant and when should you return to the treadmill after the baby arrives? Find out with a mother and a mum-to-be

Though she’s made her name as a lithe and leggy model, Sarah McGovern admits that she’s had to work hard to achieve the body beautiful. And when she started her family two years ago, Sarah, now mum to Jude (2) and newborn Robyn (who arrived on January 12), she was even more mindful of keeping in top shape.

“My plan was to make sure I was really fit to get pregnant,” explains the Dubliner. “I’d always been a bit of a gym bunny anyway, but with Stuart (Ward, her personal trainer,, I ended up pushing myself harder than I would have on my own. I don’t know if I was lucky or what because I was pregnant within a few months of trying. And when I was pregnant with Jude, I kept up going twice a week. He knew what to do with a pregnant person so I trusted him.”

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Opting for a birth through Holles Street’s Domino scheme (where a community |midwife is used and natural labour is encouraged), Sarah was advised by experts that labour was like a marathon; therefore she must train adequately for childbirthValeria Higgins just as runners might for a marathon.

“I was advised to be as fit as possible for labour, and it worked, thank God,” she laughs.

Sarah admits that Stuart still pushed her to her limits; in fact, she was still exercising 39 weeks into her first pregnancy. For those who are already used to training extensively, carrying on in a similar vein is often greenlit by experts.

Catherina McKiernan (www.catherina|, formerly a long-distance runner and now a running instructor, says she “kept moving” all the way through her two pregnancies in 2002 and 2006.


“Once you’re used to that level of |running, doctors would say that it’s okay to run,” she says. “It’s just a question of being sensible, watching the heart rate and running simply to maintain fitness.

There will probably come a stage when (that rate of exercise) is too much, but there’s no hard and fast rule. For me, I was always used to running so as I got bigger and bigger during the pregnancy I just adapted to that. Also, it helps to shorten the nine months as you feel good about yourself.”

Recalls Sarah: “We turned it down a notch nearing the end of the pregnancy, but he was still tough on me. He’s the type of trainer who makes you do five more,” recalls Sarah. “On top of circuit training sessions (designed especially for pregnant women), I did Pilates, swimming and walking. When I was pregnant with Robyn, I did some pregnancy yoga too. It all just makes you feel so much better, and I slept so well |during my pregnancies too.

“I ate my fair share of chocolate during the pregnancies — I like the 80/20 rule — so I’d say if I sat back and did nothing I’d personally have felt like a slob. The bigger I’d get, the worse I would have felt if I |didn’t exercise,” she adds.

“I like to get up at 7am to get it out of the way. Believe me I never thought I’d be one of those people who got up for 7am workouts, but it was the only way before my |husband went to work.”

Due in part to her height (she’s 5ft 11in), Sarah put on three and a half stone when she was pregnant with Jude and two stone while pregnant with Robyn.

Eight weeks after Jude’s birth two years ago, she returned to Stuart’s gym to get her figure back.

“I really had to work at that too,” she admits. “It took a good six months to lose the baby weight and feel good again.”

This time around, however, Sarah is determined to enjoy being a mother-of-two for a while before getting back on the treadmill.

“I’m sure in a few weeks I’ll be itching to get back to the gym, but I’ve been told to wait 6-8 weeks before exercising.”

How does she feel about the prospect |of juggling a regime with not one, but two small babies?

“I’m lucky that Stuart is in a small private gym, so I was able to bring Jude along and I’ll be able to bring Robyn,” she explains. “Granted, not everyone has that facility, but this is like my treat to me. I don’t spend money on a lot of things so I don’t feel too bad about having a personal trainer.”

Personal trainer Pat Henry ( offers his guidelines for pregnancy |exercise: “Avoid exercising in hot and humid conditions,” he advises. “All jerky, bouncing movements are to be avoided, and wear shock absorbent footwear. Adequate stretching is required after exercise. Also, wear a jogging bra, or extra |supportive bra, to minimise |discomfort.”

According to Pat, a gentle yet regular routine is the key to being healthy and happy in the first stages of motherhood.

“After childbirth, high-|intensity workouts absolutely need to be started slowly,” he notes. “Walking briskly is fine, but in my opinion it is not good for the body to push yourself too hard too quickly.

“I know you see so many of the so-called celebs getting their figures back within weeks, but that’s not the norm,” he explains.

“You will find that during their pregnancy their weight gain was minimum and they probably |exercised right up to the birth, so don’t compare yourself to those women you see in magazines.

“Once you let the body readjust slowly, you will avoid stretch marks and loose skin on the tummy.”

Dublin-based bank official Orla Mulligan, meanwhile, is relatively new to the brave new world of being pregnant.

Now almost five months pregnant with her first baby, Orla — who has been attending Pat’s city centre gym for a year — is also planning a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

“I’m more determined than ever to stay active,” she says.

“I’m hoping for as pain-free a delivery, and to recover as quickly as possible. I was told by the doctor to go to the gym as much as I wanted.

“Sometimes, your body tells you to stop doing something anyway. Sometimes, for example, if I’m doing squats, I’ll just feel a small ‘spark’ in my side, and I know that’s when I need to stop.”

Currently, Orla is attending 30-minute |conditioning classes in the gym three days a week and walks regularly around the city during the working day.

“I’m just going to keep going as long as I can,” she smiles.

“This is my first pregnancy, so it’s very new to me. I’m a little terrified, but being fit will help in the delivery room.

“It’s not about weight — I can worry about that afterwards — it’s about having a healthy baby and being a healthy me.”


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