After giving birth to her first child, Clare Schexnyder, a former CNN producer and co-founder/owner of Oh Baby! Fitness, suffered from severe postpartum depression — a form of clinical depression that affects hundreds of women, and sometimes men, across the country every year. “I couldn’t get off the couch, couldn’t shower and didn’t want to take care of my baby,” said Schexnyder. After attending a parent support group and incorporating exercise into her daily routine, Schexnyder’s depression took a turn for the better. “The moms I met asked me to go for a walk every day,” she said. “It was the exercise and the friends I made that literally saved my life.”
Because of her experience with postpartum depression, Schexnyder realized the importance of a place for pregnant women and new moms to work out in an environment where they felt comfortable and secure — she decided to launch Oh! Baby Fitness. Partnering with fitness clubs to provide classes specifically tailored to pregnant women’s needs, “We are a great club solution,” said Schexnyder. Oh Baby! Fitness doesn’t only provide clubs with classes such as Pilates, water aerobics and yoga, but also sets the monthly schedule, pays rent in order to use the studio’s facilities and trains and pays their own instructors. “We run a complete operation that allows clubs to offer these classes, and they don’t have to lift a finger.
“I think we are revolutionizing the perinatal (the period before and after birth) fitness industry. Everybody tells a pregnant woman what she can’t do. They can’t drink, they can’t eat sushi … it’s no, no, no, all the time. Women are scared and don’t know what’s safe to do when exercising. At Oh Baby! Fitness, we give them a trained instructor and a specially designed class, so they know what they’re doing is safe.”
Oh Baby! Fitness provides clubs with a way to say yes to pregnant women who may question whether or not exercise is beneficial to themselves and their baby. “Women who exercise have healthier pregnancies, faster deliveries and quicker recoveries,” said Schexnyder. While working as a producer for CNN, Schexnyder discovered the benefits of perinatal exercise after doing a series of stories on newborns. “[Exercising while pregnant] relieves almost all the common complaints of pregnancy,” she said — complaints such as trouble sleeping and back pain.
The City Club of Buckhead Athletic Club and Spa has partnered with Oh Baby! Fitness for two years. “It’s been great,” said Terri Harof, the club manager. “Clare does a great job at managing their part of the business. We get quite a few new faces in the club because of the program, and quite a few new members as well. I think women who are pregnant for their first time especially are nervous — and it makes them feel very comfortable to work out with someone who is specifically trained to work with them.” Oh Baby! Fitness partners with more than 25 other locations in the Atlanta area, and plans to continue to expand nationally.
The Midtown Athletic Club in Atlanta, Ga. is a new partnership with Oh Baby! Fitness with classes having started at the beginning of 2012. The club has already received positive feedback from members. “In any health club it’s really hard to start a group exercise class solely for pregnant women, because there’s usually only one or two at a small health club,” said Catherine Luciano, the fitness director at Midtown Athletic Club. “Its great that [Oh Baby! Fitness] gives us the ability to offer classes to our members who are pregnant.” Since January, over 25 women from the Atlanta area have come to the Midtown Athletic Club to participate in Oh Baby! Fitness classes, and Luciano hopes to gain members as a result.
Oh Baby! Fitness may be the perfect answer for clubs to target a group that may have been out of their reach before. According to Schexnyder, there are multiple ways that clubs can make exercising more comfortable for pregnant women and new mothers by making sure they have trained instructors who specialize in perinatal fitness classes. “If you offer a class for all pregnant women with an instructor who knows what they’re doing, you’re getting off to a good start.”
Jocelyn Burleson, who was 30 weeks pregnant with her first child, started taking Oh Baby! Fitness classes after her doctor encouraged her to stay fit during her pregnancy. After Burleson has her child, she will have the opportunity the take Oh Baby! Fitness Mom and Baby classes, which allow mothers to incorporate their babies into their exercise routine. “Moms are more likely to continue or get started with exercise if they learn ones they can do with their baby [after pregnancy],” said Schexnyder.
The support that Schexnyder received after her battle with postpartum depression has been what she strived to provide for the women who have taken her classes. “The key to our success is that these women have a positive experience during their pregnancy and afterwards,” she said. “We create a community. We don’t even play music in most of our classes — we talk. We help them gain confidence about becoming mothers.”
The mothers who take Oh Baby! Fitness classes feel that support. “One of the things I didn’t expect to get out of the classes that I really appreciate is the community of all the women,” said Burleson. “It’s great that we can share our pregnancy experiences with each other and support each other through this exciting time in our lives.
“In addition to the fitness and community I have experienced at Oh Baby! Fitness, the instructors have been tremendous in educating me on prenatal issues such as nutrition, preparing for labor and tips on how to alleviate minor pregnancy symptoms.”
Deb Flashenberg, the owner and director of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York, N.Y. understands the importance of a place for new and expectant moms to create a sense of community. “I really wanted a place that fosters community,” she said. “I think if the moms can relate to one another they feel supported. I think its important to take away some of the fear of the experience.”
However, new and expectant mothers may have a hard time finding alternatives to perinatal fitness besides yoga and Pilates. 501F1T in Minneapolis, Minn. was able to offer fitness options for its members that became pregnant via the G-Werx program, a small group-training program that sets a maximum number of participants in the program to 10 to provide more focus on the individual. “As a result we can make modifications,” and can cater to pregnant women by tailoring to their needs, “according to doctors specifications,” said Phil Martens, the co-owner and Fitness Director at 501 F1T.
Providing classes solely for prenatal fitness is a great way for clubs to support both pregnant and new mothers, and is a great way to both encourage fitness and bring in potential clients. “I don’t think I would be as comfortable if the classes weren’t solely for pregnant women. I appreciate the fact that everyone in the class is going through similar experiences, which I believe allows us to feel more comfortable about sharing our stories and anxieties about being pregnant,” said Burleson.
“I am very much looking forward to bonding with my baby while getting my body back and spending time with other new moms,” she said. Burleson is considering joining the Piedmont Hospital Health and Fitness club after her mom and baby classes come to an end. -CS
By Rachel Zabonick