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The FitMama Method: The Complete Guide to Confidence and Fitness for Birth

The FitMama Method: The Complete Guide to Confidence and Fitness for Birth

by Marie Behenna

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Providing expectant mothers with expert advice on exercise, diet, and overall health, this accessible guide reveals the unique FitMama method, a program that ensures a calm and confident approach to the delivery experience. Acknowledging that labor can take as much effort as running a marathon, this handbook helps women stay fit and focused during pregnancy,


Providing expectant mothers with expert advice on exercise, diet, and overall health, this accessible guide reveals the unique FitMama method, a program that ensures a calm and confident approach to the delivery experience. Acknowledging that labor can take as much effort as running a marathon, this handbook helps women stay fit and focused during pregnancy, promising them the mental and physical preparation they require. Core and stability exercises are offered, and straightforward explanations of how the body changes through pregnancy and birth are included. Avoiding an overwhelming use of scientific terms, the book utilizes an empowering approach for every woman, providing them with the knowledge to cope with the challenge of childbirth while smoothing the way for a full recovery afterwards. Tips from the hundreds of mothers who have already given birth using the FitMama method are also featured.

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Souvenir Press
Publication date:
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5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

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The FitMama Method

The Complete Guide to Confidence and Fitness for Birth

By Marie Behenna

Souvenir Press

Copyright © 2012 Marie Behenna
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-285-64104-4


It started with a kiss

Ever since I was a young girl, I have been intrigued by pregnant women. I used to pass a pregnancy exercise studio on my walk home from school, and I would press my nose against the window to get a glimpse of these amazing women. I wanted to be like them one day, going through the motions of keeping well during this spectacular, life-creating period of their lives. I was completely unaware how this fascination would evolve into a passion for me once mother hood came into my own life.

My own journey began on a sunny winter's day in London Docklands, as I sat in great anticipation for my first home visit from my new midwife. (Yes, in those days we had home visits!) I was brimming with excitement, anxious to hear what she had to say and what wonderful advice she would share with me. When the doorbell rang, I leaped from the sofa and rushed to the door to let her in. A lovely lady, with an aura of wise woman about her, strolled into my lounge and sat down with her folder on her lap. I bounded in behind her with my 13-week-old bump on board, only to be stopped in my tracks with her unexpected words: 'Sit down, my dear!' Stunned, I sat beside her on the sofa, at which point she poked me on the shoulder and said, 'Now sit back and put your feet up! You must not exert yourself!'

In those days, I was a young and naïve city worker. I did as I was told, finding it difficult to relax to the extent she had indicated. But eventually, pregnancy tiredness took over and I gave in. However, my natural desire to exercise came storming back the day I went into labour with my baby boy, and I was overcome with a desire to break into a sprint while walking my dogs. Hey presto! The start of labour!

But that one moment of exercise was not enough to prepare me for the exertion of delivery. After 26 hours, and threats of forceps, I finally managed to push my 7lb 3oz baby out, with severe tearing. Ouch! No one tells you how hard the pushing is – but that is another conversation for later in this book.

Seven years later, my experience delivering my 8lb 13oz baby girl was the complete opposite. Fortunately, opinions within the mid-wifery and gynaecological fields had evolved since my first pregnancy, and I was not encouraged to simply put my feet up, relax and eat for two. On the contrary, I was encouraged to exercise throughout my pregnancy. I walked twice a day, every day, up and down a steep hill to take my son to and from school, then rested while he was at school (I had lost my job in early pregnancy, so had the luxury of rest time). I took much more notice of my pelvic floor muscles, and paid attention to my food consumption – although my cravings for chocolate and gold top Jersey milk were overwhelming! My labour was more manageable, lasting only two hours; my recovery was so much quicker; and my milk flowed more freely than first time around.

Eleven months later, I embarked on my journey to bring knowledge and fitness to pregnant women everywhere. After qualifying to work with pregnant women in exercise classes, I spent all my free time researching pregnancy exercise, mobility and birthing techniques. I continue to attend regular workshops hosted by professionals in the field of maternity health and exercise.

After all my investigations, it is clear to me that exercise alone is not enough to give women the toolbox to a successful pregnancy, labour and delivery. Women need confidence and knowledge to understand how their labour and delivery will be affected by their health and wellbeing. Understanding simple facts, such as which muscles help to push a baby out, can give a labouring woman a great advantage as she uses her body to bring her child into this world.

As a pregnancy exercise and education specialist, I have worked with hundreds of pregnant women, helping them through their pregnancies and into motherhood. I witness the miracle of developing life on a daily basis. My life with these women was not an accident! It was born of a desire to give women what I wanted during my pregnancies: knowledge, choice, confidence and fitness for childbirth.


• Keeping fit and healthy makes all the difference to the comfort and confidence of labour and delivery.

• Understanding your body will help to get your baby out.

• Breathing correctly is the accelerator for pushing.

• There is no set formula for a perfect delivery.

• Your body knows what to do, your baby knows how to be born: use the tools you have to give body and baby a smoother ride.

• Share this knowledge with other mums to prevent unnecessary complications during pregnancy and delivery and to empower women everywhere!


So what is the evidence behind exercising during pregnancy? Research has proven that exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, but beneficial to the health and wellbeing of both mum and baby.

Helping to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, fitness during pregnancy also gives mums the physical advantage in actual delivery. A fitter mum finds she can push her baby out with more confidence and less strain on the heart. A healthy heart can handle the intensity of pushing far more easily than a heart which has not been exercised and challenged during pregnancy.

A stronger mum can handle the ever-evolving pregnant shape, which, without strength and stability through exercise, can become a painful and restrictive burden. Mums who have continued to exercise their core abdominal muscles appropriately will find pushing far more effective. Based on feedback from my participants and the midwives I work with, I can say that mums with good levels of strength, stability and fitness will push for less time than mums who have not been active during pregnancy. It is impossible to convey to first-time mums how intense and difficult the pushing is. Pushing your baby out is probably one of the hardest natural challenges you will face in your healthy female physical life. I can only compare it to pushing a piano up a staircase by yourself, or running the London Marathon – and you would not contemplate running the London Marathon without training your body to complete the challenge. The same applies to pregnancy and delivery: train your body to cope with the challenge, and empower your pregnant mind with knowledge, understanding and self-awareness.


There will always be women who have worked hard at staying healthy and well, but still require assistance during delivery – by forceps, ventouse, or emergency caesarean section. Sometimes events can be out of our control: for example, if your baby has broad shoulders and is facing the wrong way during delivery, this could require medical intervention, particularly if your baby becomes distressed. My method does not prevent you from needing assistance, but gives you the physical tools to better cope with any challenges your delivery poses. Imagine if you had not exercised or educated yourself at all: you would probably need assistance much sooner than if you had kept yourself aware, fit and strong.

What if you are planning a caesarean section anyway; does this mean you won't need to exercise or learn the breathing techniques? No: they will still be of benefit to you, because they'll aid your recovery from the surgical procedure. The breathing will help you to cope if you have stress in your pregnancy, and while having the anaesthetic administered for your caesarean section. These skills are completely transferable to your situation.

Knowledge is power, and is the key to facing delivery with calm confidence. This book is designed to help you find that natural womanly ability which is deep inside you. Women have been delivering babies since humans first evolved, and even though childbirth is now a clinical procedure you can still use your natural body and maternal instincts to help you survive the plethora of opinion and 'helpful' advice you will hear throughout your pregnancy and beyond. Use exercise to enjoy and empower the journey of your pregnancy and delivery!

Even if you fall into the category of women who cannot exercise during pregnancy, this book will show you some basic techniques to help you manage your labour more effectively.


Aside from keeping fit and well during pregnancy, it is also essential to understand your body and how it works during labour. The FitMama™ Method will give you simple and straightforward explanations as to how your body works, what it needs and how to use it to your advantage. That includes muscles for pushing; breathing for pregnancy, labour and delivery; and relaxation techniques to help you and your baby find calm in what can be a very stressful time in your life.

Exercise and knowledge also help women to feel positive about the changes their body is undergoing. The natural endorphins released during exercise are good for both you and your baby. It is particularly hard to feel positive during the early stages when you feel ill and don't quite look pregnant, but all your clothes are too tight and it is perhaps too soon to tell the world. It's easy to feel down during this phase. Exercise will go some way to helping you focus on your growing baby and help you to feel better about yourself.

If you are exercising by attending a pregnancy excercise class, or with a group of pregnant friends and a trainer, you will find that the sense of community will help you get through the difficult times of your pregnancy too. It's not all about the physical changes; sometimes the support of other women going through the same as you is an incredible stabiliser during what can be an extremely emotional time. In the FitMama™ classes and groups women have forged long-term and meaningful friendships, and this gives me enormous fulfilment to observe – particularly in this modern world where families often live far away from each other, and the traditional support network of grandparents, aunties, sisters, your own mum, may not be close enough to help you through this time.


In support of guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggests that:

• All women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy.

• Reasonable goals of aerobic conditioning in pregnancy should be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness level or train for athletic competition.

• Women should choose activities that will minimise the risk of loss of balance and foetal trauma (no impact or contact sports).

• Women should be advised that adverse pregnancy or neonatal outcomes are not increased for exercising women.

• Initiation of pelvic floor exercises in the immediate postpartum period may reduce the risk of future urinary incontinence.

• Women should be advised that moderate exercise during lactation does not affect the quantity or composition of breast milk or impact on foetal growth.

RCOG Online

Even though, during pregnancy, we will be faced with aches, pains, nausea, vomiting, cravings, emotional ups and downs, fears, anxiety, swelling, skin problems, vaginal discharge, gas and bloating, bleeding gums, constipation, excessive salivation, haemorrhoids, itchy skin, nosebleeds and yeast infections ... it's still an amazing journey!

So, let's work together to take you forward into motherhood with calm confidence, and to use your empowered self to bring your child into this world.


So you think you can put your feet up and eat for two?

You may feel pressure, as many pregnant women do, to cancel your gym membership, eat for two, and fall prey to your cravings. Okay, some cravings are all right, but craving chocolate and apple pie is just asking for trouble!

Well-intended words of advice to eat up and take it easy are old wives' tales and myths that can cause us to put ourselves in a vulnerable position for delivery.

It is important to keep mobile and eat a wide variety of nutritious foods during pregnancy, and to take supplements if recommended by your health carer. Prenatal supplements will contain the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals which help your body to curb your cravings. For example, if you crave chocolate, I have found that this is often an indication of low levels of magnesium in the system, among other nutrients.

I want you to avoid obesity during your pregnancy, and if you have entered pregnancy overweight already, then use the tips in this book to help avoid worsening your condition. Obesity in pregnancy will create extra work for your body, and make your pregnancy, labour and delivery so much more complicated. This book will help you find basic coping strategies and alternative options.

Below, you can see the official nutrition diagram as published by the Food Standards Agency in the UK. This is a clear guide to the kind of food balance you should be working into your maternal eating plan. It is never a good idea to go on extreme diets during pregnancy. Rather, find a good balance of healthy foods.

The 'balance of good health' template above is published by the Food Council as a guide to healthy eating. Some nutritionists, however, believe that the foods depicted on the plate aren't very good examples (for instance, white bread/pasta/rice are shown, whereas the wholemeal/wheat varieties would be better). The diagram is a good visual aid, but try to have less white starch, and more wholemeal and whole wheat as replacements.

If you are gluten, dairy, nut or egg intolerant, please seek advice from your health carer for suitable alternatives to the 'balance of good health' chart.

It is essential to your changing body and growing baby to consume '5 a day' fruit and vegetables. It is something very easy to monitor. If you go for a variety of colours of fruit and vegetables, that will help provide you with a variety of different vitamins and minerals. You could keep a daily chart (maybe on the fridge door) to mark off each time you have one of your 5 a day.


In order to accommodate your growing tummy and restrictions to your digestive area, frequent small meals are easier to manage than two or three large meals each day. This is considered better for your metabolism anyway, so consider following a pattern like this:

• Small carbohydrate and water upon rising to combat nausea

• Breakfast

• Morning snack

• Lunch

• Afternoon snack

• Supper

• Evening snack (a small amount of carbohydrate just before bed can help to alleviate your morning sickness if you are prone to feeling unwell upon waking)

• You may find a middle of the night snack is in order when your baby is going through growth phases. Listen to your body, but try to keep it a healthy snack

Iron during pregnancy is often needed in supplementation form. But an easy way to ensure you get a good intake of iron is through eating an iron-rich breakfast cereal. Iron needs to be teamed with vitamin C in order to help the body absorb it, so fresh (not from concentrate) fruit juice at breakfast is also very important. Likewise, hot drinks may prevent the absorption of iron so are best avoided for an hour before and after eating breakfast.

Eating well does not need to be expensive. A little can go a long way if you shop carefully and cook bulk meals you can freeze. This is a clever practice too for preparing meals for when your baby arrives, as cooking will not be your priority.


Cravings are usually your body's way of telling you that you're lacking in something. An extreme example of this is when you hear of pregnant women sucking on lumps of coal – not so much nowadays, more prevalent decades ago. This would have been due to a lack of iron in the diet.

People who crave sweet foods could be in need of more energy. The craving suggests that the consumption of more complex carbohydrates found in wholegrain foods (as these release their energy more slowly throughout the day) would be preferable to consuming simple sugars such as chocolate, which only provide a 'quick fix' and a massive energy crash once you come down from the sugar high.


We know that some people need a little guidance regarding when and how to eat, so here is an eating plan which you can adapt to the types of food you enjoy. If you are not a plan person, then just ignore this section and follow our 'little and often' motto!

The FitMama™ pregnancy eating plan that follows is an example of one day only; please use your own recipe ideas to add variety to your healthy eating plan, or use some of the healing recipes in chapter 17.

Remember, pregnancy is no time for diets. Your body needs nourishment and hydration. Don't neglect your nutrition by eating too much sugar, or by not eating frequently enough.

If you suffer from any form of eating disorder, please be honest with your midwife so that she can support you throughout your pregnancy. An eating disorder can cover a variety of conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder. If you feel too embarrassed to seek support via your midwife, contact the National Centre for Eating Disorders: www.eatingdisorders.org.uk

Some nutritional professionals believe that supplements aren't essential in pregnancy unless recommended by your health carer, as all the nutrients your body needs can be supplied by eating a proper and varied diet. The term 'supplement' means just that: they are to supplement something lacking in your diet, not to be taken as a replacement for something you can get from eating a sensible diet.


Excerpted from The FitMama Method by Marie Behenna. Copyright © 2012 Marie Behenna. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marie Behenna is a personal trainer with more than 20 years of experience. She is the founder of FitMama™, which specializes in antenatal fitness classes designed to make the experience of labor easier. She has written for Prima Baby magazine.

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