Pregnancy and new motherhood can be incredibly challenging, as many aspects of life change suddenly and dramatically. Without the right support and guidance, safely maintaining fitness during pregnancy can be difficult, and with a new baby, demands on time, sleep deprivation, and the physical and mental drain that come with these can make a workout feel like an impossible task.
Physical fitness however, is an important aspect of maintaining overall health and wellbeing during and after pregnancy. For women serving in the Royal Navy there is an additional dimension to this, as a certain level of fitness is a requirement of their job. As a parent to a toddler and with another child on the way, Lt Cdr Marie Whitehouse knows personally how much this can weigh on new mothers serving in the Royal Navy: “One of the big things when you come back from maternity leave is passing that fitness test, and a lot of people get really nervous about it,”. Returning to fitness can be exacerbated by the fact that exercise environments are often unsuitable and unwelcoming for expectant and new mothers.
To help support women in the Royal Navy, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) have stepped in to help develop a range of specialist maternity fitness suites across the RN estate. Contributing over £20,000 in grant funding, the RNRMC have helped establish maternity suites on HMS Excellent, HMS Nelson, HMS Sultan, HMS Collingwood, and most recently HMS Drake. These suites provide a quiet, safe and private environment for pregnant women and new mothers to exercise. Along with weights and fitness machines, these facilities are equipped with change tables, comfortable seating and baby toys allowing mothers to bring their babies with them and have everything they need to feed, change and entertain their little ones.
The maternity fitness suits are managed by the base’s Physical Training team, and all Physical Training Instructors (PTI) now have pre and post natal fitness qualifications. “It’s about building back confidence, as well as fitness,” said LPT Lee Owens, who is based at HMS Collingwood. “We’re here for advice and guidance, and these facilities allow mothers to slowly work their way back up to a point where they are comfortable returning to the main gym.”
When gyms closed during COVID lockdowns the maternity suites were unable to open. Post-lockdown, LPT Owens feels that there is work to do in raising awareness of these facilitates: “These areas are being underused at the moment, but they are still here and ready to go.” For Lt Cdr Whitehouse, the opportunity to use her local maternity suite is something she is looking forward to: “When I returned to work after my first child I just used to go to the gym when I knew it would be empty, now I’m pregnant again and I know this is here I’ll be coming a lot to make use of it.”