The 6-month-old smiled and giggled as his mother, MacKenzie Oakley, held him in her outstretched hands while she did a strengthening yoga chair pose at a public beach in Islamorada.
Oakley was getting a great workout and her baby boy, Worth, was enjoying the activity and attention.
“The heavier he gets, the harder the exercise is for me,” she said. “And he’s already up to 24 pounds.”
Oakley, 33, also worked out with Worth while he was developing inside her womb, getting guidance from physical therapist Micky Marie Morrison to make sure the exercise was safe for both of them.
Over the past seven years, Morrison has become an expert on safe and effective pre- and post-natal exercise. She developed a program called CoreMama that she will present in a free session Saturday morning at the University of Miami Health System’s Wellness Center, which began offering the program last fall taught by instructors Morrison trained.
“A lot of women would freeze their membership when they got pregnant, thinking they couldn’t keep working out because it wasn’t safe,” said Catherine Bernath, accounting manager for the 2,800-member Wellness Center. “We wanted to have a specific offering for pregnant mothers. We also wanted to have something that would lure new moms back in the facility sooner, and offer a class where they feel more comfortable.”
Morrison, who splits her time between the Florida Keys and Guatemala, said it all started during her own pregnancy when she modified a core workout class she had been teaching. Soon, pregnant women in the small Guatemalan mountain community of La Antigua— mostly expatriates working for diplomats and non-governmental organizations — sought her advice on exercise.
“Because of my medical background, I kept getting asked questions and realized a lot of women wanted to know what they could and could not do,” Morrison said. “I felt it would be simple and easy to write a book.”
After three years of research and writing, she produced Baby Weight: The Complete Guide to Prenatal & Postpartum Fitness (Body Works, 2011). It details her CoreMama program, which focuses on muscles weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, especially in the abdomen and pelvic floor.
“Everyone who reviewed it, and a lot of the consumer feedback, said: ‘You need videos,’ ” Morrison said.
And so, on Wednesday, she launches BabyWeight.TV, a digital library of 70 streaming fitness videos that offer beginner, intermediate and advanced workouts for moms-to-be and new moms.
The first batch of videos was filmed in La Antigua, where she owns the Healing Hands Therapy Spa, with a volcano as the backdrop. Another 10 videos were taped on a beach in the Keys, and are scheduled to go online in the next few weeks.
“Most were shot outdoors because it’s much more peaceful and interesting to watch,” said Morrison, 39, who has a 7-year-old son and 10-year-old stepson.
She said she hopes to address the needs of women of all fitness levels throughout their pregnancies and post-partum recovery, whether they deliver naturally or by Caesarean section.
Like many women, Oakley experienced too much morning sickness early in her pregnancy to even think about exercising. She’d been a jogger, swimmer and tennis player before conceiving, but by the time she started wanting to exercise again, two months before her due date, she was out of shape and much heavier.
Other women bring no fitness routine into pregnancy but decide they need to start doing something healthy for themselves and their babies. Either way, said Morrison, the important thing is to know and listen to your body.
For example, she said, many women don’t understand how the hormonal changes of pregnancy affect them.
“Ligaments soften so the pelvis can open to have the baby. But it affects all the joints in the body,” she said. “So knees are looser, ankles are looser. You’re more prone to have joint injury, so you just have to be careful and especially avoid impact movements or impact activities.”
Low-impact aerobic activities like swimming, walking or the stationary bike are often the best choice. “Senior classes are also great because they protect the joints,” Morrison said.
It’s also important for pregnant women to strengthen their abdominal muscles, she said, but not to push it too far.
“Your six-pack muscle has two strips on either side of your belly button, and it can open like a zipper once it’s stretched over the uterus.”
Then there are Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor.
The potential benefits of exercise during pregnancy include decreased aches, pains and leg cramps, greater energy and less weight gain. It also helps prepare women for the ordeal of delivering a child. Morrison said studies show that exercise can also shorten labor.
Oakley gave birth to Worth in just six hours, she said. “I think a lot of the exercises helped strengthen my pelvic area. I just felt stronger and didn’t feel I needed medication. … There was a time I wanted it, but it was too late.”
Exercise also can help new moms combat post-partum depression and bond with their babies, Morrison said.
Even with exercise, many women battle their baby weight. Oakley, who is 5-7, saw her weight balloon from 133 to 177 pounds over the course of her pregnancy and drop to the 150s soon after giving birth. Now, after six months, she’s down to 138.
“I tell everyone, ‘It took nine months to gain it and you should give yourself the same amount of time to lose it,’ ” Morrison said. “But while my company is called Baby Weight, I try not to focus so much on the numbers on the scale. It’s really about health and wellness.”