Prenatal Fitness & Pregnancy Workouts (Interview with Instructor Mariam Sufi)
A lot of moms find prenatal fitness and pregnancy workouts troublesome. But, what many women don’t know is that these things are crucial not only to their health but also to their babies.
There are many reasons why engaging in pregnancy workouts is advisable. For starters, it helps prevent certain pregnancy issues like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and the possibility of congenital abnormalities. What’s more, prenatal fitness also helps reduce backaches and fatigue and helps prepare you for labor and delivery.
Prenatal fitness is awesome for many reasons, and this is why I decided to talk to an expert and collaborate with Mariam Sufi — a registered yoga teacher and an expert in general fitness as well as prenatal fitness.
Meet the Fitness Expert: Mariam Sufi
Mariam is a fitness instructor who has been teaching various fitness methods like belly dancing, barre, yoga, and Pilates. She’s also the creator of Belly Dance Core where she holds virtual fitness classes. She recently completed a training program for prenatal and postnatal yoga, and she holds a number of certificates, including a Fitness Nutrition Specialist certification.
Aside from her expertise, Mariam is a lot like us — having her own set of momma challenges and momma stories. I discovered her on Instagram, and I so loooove her content that goes out not only to her followers but to other moms as well.
So, in this article, I’ll let you inside our conversation. You can also access the full interview (and her exercise demonstrations!) when you join our momma community.
- What motivated you to specialize in prenatal fitness?
- What do fitness and being a healthy mom mean to you?
- Why should pregnant mommas take care of their bodies?
- What common challenges keep moms from exercising while pregnant?
- Are there any contraindications to pregnancy exercises?
- Are there any specific movements that are unique to each trimester?
- What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?
- Should you lift weights while pregnant?
- Aside from the physical activities, is there a diet that moms should follow?
- What remarkable feedback from mommas who exercise while pregnant?
What motivated you to specialize in prenatal fitness?
According to Mariam, she fell in love with fitness at a very young age and started teaching a belly-dance cardio class in college at the ARC (Anteater Recreation Center) in Irvine, California. She recognized the need for women to connect with other women who have this common goal of empowerment.
She didn’t specialize in prenatal fitness as early on as people would think. The fact that she had a baby during lockdown was an eye-opening experience — going from teaching crowds of people in a hot studio to seeing totally no one and not being able to engage in physical activities outside. It was two weeks before she was scheduled to give birth when she decided to do her prenatal/postnatal training, and she chose to go with Tri-Natal (which used to be called Utah Prenatal Yoga).
Mariam wasn’t really able to start doing prenatal yoga while she was pregnant, as she wanted – she began a week or two after giving birth. The lockdown actually helped since her husband was at home, unable to go out, so he was able to help her with the baby while she engaged in this 8-hours a day, three-days-a-week training. It was during this postnatal journey and lockdown that she saw the need for women to connect with other women, with those who can empower them and share in their struggles.
What do fitness and being a healthy mom mean to you?
Mariam views being healthy as feeling good in your body and having longevity. It’s about being able to move without pain and not feeling incapable of doing things. Fitness is both a mental thing and a physical thing — it is a lifestyle.
You can’t just say that you’ll try being healthy this one time and not follow through. You have to mentally prepare yourself, get in the right mindset, and inspire yourself from within. Sure, there may be external motivations, but, internally, you have to connect with yourself and be convinced that you can create healthy habits that will eventually build up into a lifestyle.
Mariam also explained that being healthy is about creating positive habits — habits that make you feel good in your skin, give you energy, and give you the ability to move freely and without pain. Such habits can help moms keep up with their children and even their grandchildren. They’ll also feel better despite having many things on their plate.
Why should pregnant mommas take care of their bodies? What are the benefits in store for them?
Fitness is important for many different reasons. According to Mariam, fitness can help mommas with many things, like nausea, insomnia, and joint pains. It also helps with one’s mood and mental state.
She believes that movement and exercise can heal. When you sit for so long, you end up feeling so stiff and, with the added weight of the child you’re carrying plus the weight you put on during pregnancy, it becomes even more challenging for your joints. Any type of exercise or movement, whether it’s swimming, walking, or dancing, helps your body adjust to these changes. It also helps with circulation and relieves some pressure off your lower back, your knees, and also your feet.
Mariam also stressed that exercise and fitness have mental benefits. It helps you clear your head – it helps you forget, for a moment, some of the pressures of being pregnant and of the thought of carrying a baby for months. It has such a positive impact on your mind and your body.
Exercise helps women experience a healthy pregnancy and there are studies that support this. As long as you don’t have any previous health issues or your doctor hasn’t warned you of it, regular exercise will help you with childbirth. Aside from reducing any possible complications that come with childbirth, it can also help you heal faster afterward.
RELATED: Pregnancy Checklist (Complete Guide to a Healthy, Happy Preggy Journey)
What common challenges keep moms from exercising while pregnant?
Based on Mariam’s own experience and that of her clients, the biggest challenge is exhaustion. Preggy mommas are creating a human, and that process takes a lot of energy. So, exhaustion is actually valid and natural.
Some other barriers to exercising while pregnant are nausea, joint pain, and even fear. Fear is pretty common, especially during the first trimester. This fear may make mommas ask themselves if certain movements will hurt their baby or put their pregnancy at risk.
Mariam also noted that most of her clients never feel bad after they move. However, she stressed the importance of choosing a movement that makes you feel relaxed or connected with your body and your baby. In other words, choose a movement that empowers you.
She further expounds that you shouldn’t do an exercise that you don’t enjoy. If you didn’t like a certain movement before your pregnancy, then why do it while you’re pregnant? Do something that you connect with, that makes you happy — that will give you more motivation.
As long as you don’t have any pre-existing conditions and your doctor has given you clearance to exercise, then you can go do it freely and enjoy it. It’s another way to connect with your baby, with your energy, and to recognize that you’re powerful.
Are there any contraindications to pregnancy exercises that moms need to know?
Concerns on contraindications should be brought up to your doctor. Mariam explained that she always asks her clients to get clearance from their doctors before they exercise. After all, it is your doctor who has an in-depth knowledge of your health and medical history and whether something is safe for you or not.
She also explained that exercise is always evolving. In the old times, our moms were told not to do anything since it may hurt the baby — don’t lift weights, don’t do strenuous stuff, don’t do this, don’t do that. These days, your doctor will tell you that if you’re in the pink of health, what you did before in terms of exercise, you can continue to do.
Exercise is also great for your mental health as it is for your physical wellbeing. She advises that you should try to stay away from activities that hurt your joints and those that may hit your tummy or put force on your belly (like contact football or any other similar physical activities).
RELATED: Pregnancy Meditation Prompts to Beat Anxiety and Stress
Are there any specific movements that are unique to each trimester?
Here’s what Mariam lives by: If during your first trimester you still feel comfortable with the movements you were doing before and your doctor says that they’re okay, then go ahead and keep doing them. Just be mindful and be more careful that you don’t overdo any routine. With proper caution, dances, yoga, and other light exercises are generally okay.
She also said that during the first trimester, you will be more nauseous and your equilibrium will be off, so be careful of inversions. Regardless of the kind of exercise you’re doing, remember not to push yourself past your limit or comfort.
It’s during the second trimester when you need to stay away from certain exercises, like ab work and twists – you need to watch out for any exercise that will put pressure on the abdomen. Anything that aims to flatten the stomach (you’re growing a child in there, so you don’t need to flatten your stomach), you need to stay away from.
RELATED: Stages of Pregnancy & What to Expect per Trimester
What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?
Any exercise that puts pressure on your belly, like twisting while standing, should be avoided. Massive jumping up and down is also a no-no. Doing burpees may be okay, but not on the floor — these should be done on a desk or a table or something that’s sturdy.
Mariam doesn’t recommend doing anything with compression (like crunches) or any exercise that involves twisting or jumping up into the air (like box jumps). She clarifies, however, that she isn’t here to tell you what to do or don’t do. Mariam’s role is to support and guide, and mommas know what feels good for them and what doesn’t. Your doctor is also there to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do based on your medical history, so she’s just here to help ensure that what you do is safe.
Should you lift weights while pregnant?
For Mariam, weights are good tools for your workouts since these help you build muscle strength and balance. They can also help prepare you for all the lifting you’ll be doing once your baby arrives. Additionally, they help you connect with your center and with all the muscles in your body, strengthening your upper body with the help of the lower half of your body.
She stresses that there is one thing to keep in mind when doing weights while pregnant, and that is to avoid using your abdominal muscles when pulling the weights up. Make sure to use your glutes, your lower half, your inner thighs, and your pelvic floor when lifting. You shouldn’t push from your belly, so be mindful of where your energy is coming from.
Aside from the physical activities, is there a diet that moms should follow? What foods will be supportive for a pregnant mom’s road to fitness?
While Mariam isn’t a doctor, she is a certified nutrition specialist. So, she has a few things to say about a mom’s diet. According to her, one of the most important things that mommas should always remember is that their baby is still developing — and their diet will affect that development. Healthy fats help with brain development. Proteins are also good and may even help mommas with nausea.
Mommas may deal with cravings for random foods. When this happens, one thing to keep in mind is balance. You are creating a life, so it’s important to nourish your body in such a way that it gives you longevity while providing your child with the proper building blocks they need. She also advocates for real food, healthy fats, protein, and less processed food.
Mariam admits that she was vegan before she got pregnant, but she chose to eat meat when she found out that a baby was on the way. She is an advocate for healthy fat foods like nuts, avocados, wild salmon, and eggs. Eggs with avocado toast was her go-to food at that time. Other foods she recommends, particularly for vegans, include chia seeds, sweet potato, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and tofu. These are all good for the development of your baby.
What are some remarkable feedback from mommas who exercise while pregnant?
According to Mariam, the biggest feedback she gets from moms, pregnant women, or anyone that she’s guiding in their momma journey, is that they feel empowered. She asks them how she can support them and makes sure that they know they’re not alone – that they’re capable, and that they’ve got this. She also reminds them that every day they move, they’re one step closer to that finish line.
She lets them know that every day they continue to move, they’re committing to health, not just for them but for their baby too. It’s important that moms and soon-to-be moms see that, and her clients find that they get the support they need, from Mariam and from a group of moms who don’t judge and who are like them.
Connect with Mariam Sufi
You’d be glad to hear that there are several ways to connect with Mariam. You may reach her through her personal Instagram account, Belly Dance Core, or her fitness account, Belly Dance Core Studio. You may also check out here website BellyDanceCore.com. Let’s go and be healthier, momma!