Opinions on women’s bodies and staying in shape are a dime a dozen. But when it comes to preparing your body for pregnancy (and beyond), many moms-to-be face information overload. What’s actually the right way to get ready for all of the physical (and emotional) demands of having a baby?
Enter PROnatal Fitness, a New York company that trains women for the event of their lives: motherhood. It offers prenatal and postpartum classes along with mom-focused personal training and core rehabilitation.
Founder Brittany Citron designed the fitness regimen to address the specific needs of women’s bodies during pregnancy, labor, and early motherhood. You won’t find talk about dropping the baby weight in this studio. Instead, trainers emphasize staying strong and feeling your best during nine months of changes, preparing for labor, recovering safely, and adapting to the 24/7 physical and emotional demands of caring for a baby. They also help women build support networks with other moms.
To learn more about PROnatal’s mom-positive approach to staying fit, HealthyWay sat down with Citron to ask her about the right way to work out when pregnant, building the core strength you’ll need for labor, and finding the energy to exercise—even after sleepless nights with your newborn.
HealthyWay: What first interested you about fitness for moms?
Citron: I was actually in the corporate world for over 11 years, and I was always into fitness but never thought of it as a career. Everything really changed during my first pregnancy. I had a difficult time getting pregnant—it took me two and a half years. I wanted to do everything right to give this child a great start at life, and I knew exercise was really important for that.
I wanted to learn not just what I should avoid doing, but what I should be doing. But I couldn’t get a clear answer. Every fitness professional told me something different, and my doctor wasn’t helpful at all. So I began researching and getting interested in learning about the stresses my body was going through and figuring out how to prepare myself for that. I created a training system, had a very easy labor, pushed my son out in 10 minutes, and had a relatively easy recovery.
But my experience was very different from what happened to friends of mine, who were also pregnant at the time. We all made different choices. My friend who “played it safe” and didn’t do any exercise ended up with a horrible delivery, while another friend pushed herself to do everything and she had a bunch of complications. Here’s a group of women who are motivated to do what’s best, yet we all suffered from a lack of resources. For a mom, that’s disempowering.
So that’s when you opened PROnatal Fitness?
Yes. Any woman that has the desire to be fit and healthy for herself and her child should have the right resources to do that—that became our mission.
I brought in people from the fitness industry and built a team. We offer our own personal training and classes. We’re also focusing on educating other fitness pros so we can make a bigger impact for women everywhere. We prepare women for pregnancy, labor, and early motherhood like you would prepare for an athletic event. There’s no greater physical challenge than childbirth—it’s the most physically and mentally challenging event of our lives. We prepare women specifically to meet those demands.
Tell us about the mom fitness classes. How are they designed to help women on their journeys to becoming moms?
The prenatal and postpartum classes have a similar format. We teach rehabilitative techniques that will help you rebuild your core after childbirth, which can help speed up recovery. Both classes alternate between three sections of cardio and strength, focusing first on the lower body, then the upper body, and finally the glutes and core.
The main differences are that prenatal classes are indoors and set to music. Postpartum classes are done outdoors with a stroller. In the last section of the postpartum class, the babies go out on the grass and play.
Women like that the classes are full-body workouts, and they’re constantly working and moving for an hour. There’s also a gentle stretch and release at the end.
Can these kinds of workouts help reduce pain during labor? How?
Our classes use intervals that mimic the contractions of delivery. When you’re having contractions, that’s essentially nature’s interval training of work to rest to work to rest. We teach women how to go through periods of intense work and immediately quiet their bodies to go into recovery. We also practice birthing and labor positions.
Deep squatting can be a labor position. We train women to mentally focus on diaphragmatic breathing—not on the physical pain or discomfort. It’s kind of like HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but we call it LIIT (labor-intensive interval training).
Pregnancy is as much an emotional experience as it is physical. Does your studio offer any techniques to help women mentally prepare?
There’s no blanket way to deal with the psychological piece, since no two women experience pregnancy the same way. In general, one of the things we help women learn during pregnancy is that having a plan is good, but you need to be adaptable. You can do everything by the book for nine months only to find that the baby’s not positioned the right way and your birth plan’s out the window—that can make you feel like a failure. The ability to mentally shift and go with it is success.
After the baby comes, it’s all about the baby. But our classes focus on the mom—she’s our priority. She may have completely lost her sense of self and feel like her body’s a slave to the child. We want women to know that they’re important—that’s what our postpartum classes focus on. It needs to be an experience that mothers really enjoy and feel like they’re doing for themselves.
The stroller workouts also foster a sense of community, and the importance of that can’t be underestimated during the postpartum period. Moms find that it becomes a great support network for them.
Why are you passionate about helping women prepare their bodies for motherhood?
There are so many reasons. During the nine months leading up to motherhood, your body goes through massive changes. Women who don’t prepare appropriately can get injured and end up in a lot of pain. Pregnancy then becomes something you don’t enjoy but something to endure. I want to help women prepare for this incredibly challenging event so they can enjoy it as much as possible.
The other piece of it is from the baby’s perspective. Research shows that exercising during pregnancy and in the early stages of motherhood offers immense health benefits to the baby from birth, extending into childhood, and even the adult years. There are benefits to the heart, brain, and weight for both mom and baby.
What’s the most important thing moms-to-be should focus on when exercising?
The biggest thing is building deep core strength. A lot of women think we shouldn’t work our abs during pregnancy, but core work is the most important thing you can do.
You should also focus on strength training. Women are often told they should decrease their resistance levels as their pregnancy progresses. But if you take that approach, you’re at your weakest when you’re at the end of your pregnancy and carrying around 30 to 40 pounds of extra weight. We actually push them to increase their resistance levels to help them build strength. They’ll need it to carry around their extra load and maneuver through life.
How does exercise change when you’re expecting?
It’s different for everyone. In the beginning, you might be doing the same routine for a while. But as you go through pregnancy, there will be some things you need to taper down. You’ll probably have to cut back on high-impact moves, like running, jumping, and deep lunging. By the third trimester, you’ll naturally reduce the intensity of a lot of your activities to balance out the extra weight you’re already lifting all the time. The belly will have lots of pressure on it, so you won’t be doing sit-ups.
But it’s not only about avoiding, it’s also about what you should start to do when you’re pregnant. One of the things we focus on in the prenatal class is functional training for the typical activities of motherhood. We practice moves like the crib reach and the bath-time kneel. How many times a day is she going to be on the ground changing a diaper and need to get up, carrying her child without using her hands? We practice proper hinging to help keep the body safe when lifting the baby. We teach how to maintain a neutral spine. Preparing for this during pregnancy will help you get ready for the demands of having a newborn.
How should pregnant women prepare for exercise?
Just do it! A lot of women who may not have exercised before feel like pregnancy is not the time to start, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are so many benefits to doing it, and it doesn’t matter when you start—as long as you start! Some women walk into our classes and they’re embarrassed that they have never exercised before. I congratulate them for taking the first step.
How soon should women plan to get back into their exercise routines after childbirth?
You can’t begin an exercise routine until you’re officially cleared by your doctor. Normally this happens 4 to 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery or 6 to 8 weeks after a C-section, but it really depends on the doctor and the woman’s experience. You need to give your body time to heal. And when you finally are cleared, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to go back to Barry’s Bootcamp now. Your body has been through so much trauma, and you need to be patient or you’ll end up injured. It’s a slow and gradual return.
Taking care of a newborn is exhausting. Got any tips for new moms on finding the time, energy, and motivation to take care of their own bodies, even when they’re worn out?
You have to be patient during the first several weeks. But if you can make a little time for yourself, you’ll feel the difference in your mind, body, and ability to care for your little one. You don’t have to start hitting the gym every day, but can you take your baby out for a walk in the stroller? Just set little goals, and try to increase your activity as time goes on. Do something without the baby every once in a while as well. It’s good for your own mental health. Make it something you enjoy. If it’s something you look forward to, you’ll prioritize it because it feels good.
If you could share once piece of advice for new moms, what would it be?
Well, I really have two big things to say about this. First, remember not to lose your sense of self. When you become a mom, it’s easy for everything to become all about the baby. Exercise and doing something for you isn’t selfish. You’ll be a healthier, stronger, better mother when you take care of yourself. It’s an exciting time to redefine yourself, so once you get over the sleep deprivation and craziness of the first 12 weeks, remember not to let go of yourself.
Equally important is finding a community you can use as a support network—but never comparing yourself to people in that community. A lot of times in mom groups and on social media it becomes a big game of comparison about who lost the baby weight fastest and whose baby is sleeping through the night. But the reality is that no woman has figured it out, no matter what it looks like on Instagram and Facebook. Every mom struggles. It’s a roller coaster, so make sure you enjoy the ride and have a good support network to rely on when things are difficult.