Independent Focus: Keeping fit during and after pregnancy with Birth & Beyond

birth & beyond

Having a baby is a wonderful time in any lady’s life, but with it come along a number of changes to the body. Versha Patel runs Birth & Beyond Fitness in Leicester and specialises in working with pre and post-natal women to both keep them safe and active during pregnancy and also to help them recover and get back into fitness after the birth.

We caught up with Versha to find out more.

Birth & Beyond specialises in fitness for pre and post-natal women, can you tell us a little more about it all?
Yes, we offer classes, small group workouts and 1-2-1 personal training for pregnancy, after the baby arrives and thereafter, supporting woman through all phases into motherhood.

During pregnancy many women fear that they can’t continue with their exercise so our Fit Pregnancy class was created to help woman maintain body strength, keep exercising – doing appropriate exercises that are safe for baby and mother and prepare physically and mentally for birth.

For post-natal women (the 4th trimester I like to call it) we offer guidance on nutrition and exercise, as women want to spring back to pre-pregnancy shape. Our advice is to be patient, offering the Ab Check Clinic (drop-in free abdominal assessments) as a place to seek advice. We also created the Post-natal Core Restore programme, offering a solution to rebuilding core strength, a place for postnatal woman to do suitable exercise all based around their conditions and all exercise is ‘pelvic floor friendly’ and, of course, you can bring your baby along too.

Thereafter we offer a mix of follow-on classes to keep exercise as a part of mums’ lives bring your babies along and classes without babies too. Something that overarches all these classes is the community that is created within each class, we organise out of class socials giving woman a real opportunity to create bonds with others going through the same experiences as they are at the same time.

What made you want to specialise in this field of fitness?
It was really because I couldn’t find any sound advice or fitness solutions out there locally in both my pregnancies, that could guide me or be part of a class. I’ve enjoyed keeping fit since graduating from university, and I struggled with what was safe for baby and me when I was in the gym during both my pregnancies. I recall getting strange looks when I was running at 23 weeks and equally so when I was in the gym. I felt uncomfortable in these situations, and then I decided to stop as I was too concerned at that point that it might be unsafe. So, after my second child I decided to get qualified and to trial some classes and see what ladies thought, and here I am 4 years later.

What specific challenges does working with pre and post-natal ladies bring about?
The most challenging (though also my favourite part) is adapting a class or programme to a person’s conditions on the spot. For example if a pregnant client tells us they are experiencing pain in the pelvis with lateral leg movement, then she needs to be given an alternative to any exercise with that movment pattern. Equally with postnatal if a client has a large abdominal separation and others in the class do not, it’s important to ensure all participants are equally challenged, which means different positions for the same exercise or a different exercise altogether. This all keeps you on your toes and ones brain ticking!  

What are your opinions on the pressure that society/the media sometimes seems to place on women to “recover their body” after having a baby?
This part of media is frustrating, not all media does this, but there is a big part that does imply woman should be able to have a baby and look pre-pregnancy figure straight away. It’s not until you have been through pregnancy, delivered a child and then breastfeed / bottle-feed them at all hours that you see it’s no easy feat. Motherhood is a tiring and thankless job, where you are often on your own for long bouts of the day, combined with tiredness food is often a go to for many postnatal woman. This is why we support our postnatal woman to make better choices and to support one another to encourage home exercise and motivate one another to eat whole foods and less of the beige kind. I think this part of the media will always do this and it’s about mindset and turning the volume down in your mind to these influences.

What is your favourite thing about your job?
Making a difference to another person’s life and seeing friendships being created – these make me so happy!

What top tips would you give to anyone expecting a baby about how to look after their body?
These would be:
– Eat well balanced meals with lots of vegetables
– No need to eat for 2 – only about 200-300 kcals extra are needed in the 3rd trimester – so not much!
– Keep moving through your pregnancy, both walking and maintaining leg muscle strength – all part of birth preparation.
– And, of course, pelvic floor is paramount throughout all trimesters to keep this muscle strong and flexible to help with delivery and these muscles recovery after birth.

What is the most common issue you see in women after they’ve given birth?
I’d say there are 3 main issues which I regularly see in clients:
Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation)
Pelvic floor weakness 
Knee pain and lower back pain
If we consider these issues to be severe and requiring further medical professional assistance in rehab we ask clients to see a woman’s specialist physio.

birth beyond fitness leicester

A lot of women are hesitant to continue exercising whilst pregnant, is it perfectly healthy for them to carry on hitting the gym or running, for example?
It is healthy and fine to continue to do exercises you have been doing pre-pregnancy all the way through your first trimester and second trimester. Then depending how you’re feeling, many woman at this point feel unsure what is ok to continue with. It’s important to say pregnancy is not a time to start hitting the gym hard, woman should aim to be able to talk throughout all exercise and keep as cool as possible, ensuring their environment is well ventilated whilst exercising.

You yourself have 2 children, what did you find the most challenging part of recovery after having children?
My recovery after my first child was a lot longer and harder as I wasn’t very knowledgeable then, and it felt like a long time before my body began to start changing – over a year. Then after my second child there were different issues I had to deal with, that were unpleasant and issues related to re-occurring piles (not something anyone usually wants to talk about). I had the necessary procedure op done and that was actually worse pain than giving birth!! It took a while for me to recover and then I had 2 children and school runs to manage as well, thankfully I had family to come and assist in the early days and I was then on the track with my fitness training.

Do you also offer 1 to 1 sessions?
Yes I do, and I come to people’s homes or clients are welcome to come to my newly built studio. Plus I also offer small group training too.

What’s your favourite track to work out to?
I love Boom Boom Boom by Black Eyed Peas – old but gets you going!

Versha Patel runs Birth & Beyond Fitness

What sessions do you have coming up that people can get involved in?
Oh there’s lots going on and which class to come to really depends what stage of life you are.

Prenatal – we have ongoing Fit Pregnancy Classes, which run on Thursday evenings

Postnatal – women are welcome to drop in to the Free Ab Check Clinic after 6 weeks of giving birth to have an assessment of the abdominal muscles and get advise on appropriate exercise. Plus we also offer our Postnatal Core Restore programme for postnatal women.

We also hold female only fitness classes which everyone is welcome to attend. These classes are held in the evenings and mornings and consist consist of mainly kettlebell workouts and other equipment. Then from September we will be offering Fit Pregnancy classes in Market Harborough and small group prenatal exercise classes in the daytime in the purpose built studio.  

How can people find out more about what you do? (website, socials, email etc)

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Birth & Beyond classes are held in Clarendon Park LE2 with new sessions soon to be launched in Market Harborough. Visit the website for the latest details.