SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

May 2016

How Athlete Mums Stay Fit through Pregnancy and Motherhood

Motherhood can be a tough balancing act, and sometimes in the busy-ness of it all we let physical fitness fall by the wayside. Not these mums though. They were active before, during, and after pregnancy, and they’ve passed on those fit genes to their children as well.

Gladys Leong, 36, has three children. She’s also a competitive fitness model and founder of online community No Flab Mommas. Kareen Lai, 33, mum to five-year-old twins, is a certified fitness trainer who started Mums in Sync. How do they balance the multiple roles of sportswoman, wife, mother and all-round achiever, while staying fit and fabulous? Read on and learn.

Staying Fit with Pregnancy Trade-offs

It’s a fact. Pregnancy changes your body. Not only may you have to battle morning (and noon and night!) sickness, your skin and muscles will be stretched to accommodate the little one as she grows in your belly. For some women, the weight gain due to pregnancy can be a deterring factor when it comes to growing a family.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair, a sports psychologist at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre, says that there is a definite apprehension about getting pregnant among female athletes of child-bearing age. “Becoming a mum is a huge life change, and for all women with career plans, becoming pregnant can be a concern,” she notes.

“It was definitely a concern for me! Pregnancy will make you lethargic and less able to keep up with a rigorous sports regime,” says Gladys, whose boys are 12, 7 and 4. “During pregnancy, hormonal changes bring about a certain amount of muscle loss. Because we have to reduce the intensity of our training, we end up losing muscle strength as well. Just the thought of having to work extra hard to regain lost ground and lose all the post-pregnancy weight was nerve wracking for me.”

“But it was all worth the while,” she adds with a heartfelt grin.


Kareen Lai of Mums in Sync also admits to having inertia over the decision to have children. “The idea of losing my fitness level, developing a bulging tummy (that may never subside) and putting on excessive weight was haunting. Being an active climber, I kept putting off having kids. Looking back, my unplanned pregnancy was probably a blessing in disguise,” says the certified climbing instructor.

Apart from unexpected blessings, planning for pregnancy has helped athlete mums come to terms with their changing bodies, says Dr Nair. “Having planned for the pregnancy helps the athlete mom accept disruptions to their life that pregnancy and motherhood brings.”

Staying fit throughout pregnancy can also help make things easier on D-day: exercise has been linked to a shorter and easier labour and delivery. And if you’ve never touched a dumbbell before this? Start slow. You could consider prenatal yoga or prenatal pilates, with your gynae’s blessing.

Staying Fit during Pregnancy

With sports featuring so prominently in their everyday lives, staying fit during pregnancy was a no-brainer for these athlete moms. (See why you should exercise during pregnancy)

Even though she scaled back the intensity of her workouts, Gladys stayed active through swimming and brisk walking. “Swimming helps to ease the soreness and strengthen your back muscles to handle the extra weight from your baby. I also recommend squats, reverse planking (forming an “n” facing the sky) and side leg raises to strengthen and prepare the body for childbirth.”

A certified pre- and post-natal fitness trainer, Gladys encourages women to stay fit during pregnancy because “being physically fit and active speeds up delivery and helps the body get back into shape a lot faster. I find that it also helps in tightening of loose skin.”

However, having a sporting background does not mean you get immunity from pregnancy discomforts. Kareen, who had twins, found her pregnancy tough. “I threw up after every meal up to my 20th week of gestation, and got breathless easily. Then when I was just starting to feel better, I was admitted to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital at 27 weeks and stayed there till I delivered via C-section at 32 weeks.”


Even with these discomforts, Kareen tried to remain active by swimming at least once a week. “As my tummy grew bigger, swimming was the only exercise I could handle,” she explains. “When I was about 16 weeks pregnant, I participated in Shape Run 2010 with my girlfriends. We brisk walked for 5 km. It was fun!”

She also continued to conduct lessons as a Physical Education teacher up to her 27th week of gestation. Moral of the story? Be as active as you can but don’t feel like you need to live up to your pre-pregnancy standards. Even athlete moms find it hard!

Staying Fit after Pregnancy

The transition into motherhood involves so many adjustments. It’s totally understandable if you’ve been neglecting fitness. It certainly takes a lot of conviction to stick to a fitness routine when you’re trying to juggle breastfeeding, older children, and more. Here’s where your previous fitness training can help.

Dr Jay-Lee believes that athletes, being mentally tough from their years of training, “love challenges and may be more inclined to look at motherhood as a growth experience, rather than a stressful life experience.”

Even if you’re not an athlete, adopting these athlete mums’ strategies can help.

“Becoming a mother does not mean you have to lose your physique and youth. You can retain them with proper eating habits and workouts, and look better than you were before pregnancy,” says Gladys, who works out at least five times a week. “On busier days, I try to make time for a workout after putting my boys to bed.”

With long to-do lists and a flourishing business, Kareen plans her training, keeping it “ smart, effective and time-efficient”. In a week, this busy mum does three days of weight training and two days of high-intensity training or cardio like swimming, running, or stair-climbing.

Do Fit Moms = Fit Kids?

Parents are the best role models for their children. So if you’re a fit momma, does it mean that your little ones will be fit for life? It can be.

When Gladys was preparing for a competition a year ago, her (then) two-year-old son tried her meal of boiled chicken breast. He enjoyed it so much and kept asking for more that she ended up cooking another portion for him. “I believe my kids are influenced by me. I maintain healthy eating habits as a lifestyle choice, and my kids are not into junk food, soft drinks or food that is overly sweet or salty,” says Gladys.

Kareen’s children love eating healthy as well. She tells us that they have been trained right from the start to eat their greens and their fruits. “People always exclaim in awe when my kids pick out the red peppers to munch on at the dinner table; I tell them they did not do this from day one, it was through consistent encouragement and exposure.”

“Exercise” has become such a household word that whenever they see their mum in workout attire, they’ll ask, “‘Mummy, are you going to exercise?”

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How Athlete Mums Stay Fit through Pregnancy and Motherhood