One in five pregnant women in Birmingham is overweight and so run a higher risk of complications during pregnancy. So the Maternal Lighten Up service is here to help women maintain a healthy weight in the months leading up to birth.
Unlike the general Lighten Up service, Maternal Lighten Up isn’t about weight loss – as Liz Barber, the Maternal Lighten Up Administrator, explains: “It’s probably a bit weird to be told ‘you’re overweight, but you can’t lose it’ – but, during your pregnancy, it’s all about helping you limit your weight gain. The services we refer our clients to can help them to do that in a healthy way.”
The city-wide service gets the majority of its referrals – women who are up to 28 weeks pregnant with a BMI of over 30 – from midwives. Clients are given the choice of three services to take up:
- Maternal Health Trainers give one to one advice and a tailored programme of healthy eating and exercise to help maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- Birthfit is a programme of gentle exercise tailored to each stage of pregnancy and to individual needs, including specific advice about preparing for the birth
- Slimming World offers classes for general weight loss, but pregnant women can join the classes to learn general healthy eating and exercise tips
Liz says, “going by the latest figures, nearly half the clients choose to go with the Maternal Health Trainer service. But whichever path they take, we will offer regular calls to see how they’re getting on and to offer extra support should they need it. Sometimes, if there are other issues besides their weight, this can mean putting them in touch with other services, such as our Pregnancy Outreach Workers”.
And after the other services finish, the support from Gateway continues. “Even after the birth, we encourage mums to carry on their healthy regime, and lose weight, by joining our general Lighten Up service”.
Kerry started with the Maternal Lighten Up programme in December 2012, at 13 weeks pregnant, after being referred by her Midwife for support with her weight management. Pregnancy was nothing new, as this was her third baby, but in previous pregnancies she had put on a lot of weight and this time round she wanted to be better prepared.
After a discussion with Liz about the options available, Kerry opted for Birthfit, a weekly antenatal exercise class run by a former midwife, that would help keep her active during her pregnancy.
When Kerry began the course with Birthfit in January she was nearly 17st and, after attending every week, her weight gain remained stable. At 35 weeks she had gained just under a stone.
In April, Kerry said “I wish this service had been around in my previous pregnancies, where I put on two or three stone”. She says that the support from Maternal Lighten Up was “brilliant”, and that the tailored exercises she practiced through Birthfit helped her back problems more than physiotherapy sessions had done.
Kerry, who had her baby in June, also said that, being a third time mum, she really didn’t expect to learn anything new, but “I was amazed to be learning new things every week. I thought the programme was brilliant and would recommend the service to any mums to be”.
After Rachel was referred to Maternal Lighten Up, she chose to work with a Maternal Health Trainer, Richard McKenzie, who helped her to come up with her own healthy eating and exercise plan. She saw the benefits straight away, and made this statement just two weeks after her initial appointment: “I’m finding it motivating keeping the behaviour diary and monitoring my food and activity. I feel that my diet and exercise level has been good over the last two weeks and in balance.”
Richard has helped Rachel to stick to her healthy eating plan and regular sessions of yoga, and now she’s on track to give birth without having put on too much extra weight. In this video, taken just last week, she tells us, “I’m feeling really positive!”