Having gained a lot of baby weight during her first two pregnancies, Sadaf Majdy Khan, a Dubai-based mum from Pakistan, was determined to do things differently if she got pregnant for a third time.
“During my second pregnancy, I gained a whopping 20kg and it took me two years to shed that pregnancy weight,” says Sadaf. “After finally losing all my baby weight, I became certified as a fitness instructor, so that I’d be able to professionally train women get in shape after having kids.”
Newly qualified as a fitness instructor at 34, Sadaf began training to run her first marathon, with the aim of completing one before she turned 35.
“I wanted to show that becoming a mother doesn't have to stop you from going after your goals.”
Little did Sadaf know how dramatically she would be showcasing this.
Three weeks before the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon that she'd been training for was due to take place on 24 January 2020, Sadaf found out she was pregnant.
It came as a shock. But Sadaf wasn’t going to let it stand in the way of her marathon goals.
“I had heard of many women who had successfully run marathons during their pregnancy, some even in the last weeks of their pregnancy. I kept thinking if they could do it then I could do it too,” she says.
“I spoke to my doctor about my plan and, since I had no health complications and I had already been extensively training for the marathon, she gave me the go-ahead. Her only advice was to reduce my race pace and listen to my body. I did exactly the same.”
Sadaf and her husband completed the marathon together, going at a safe, steady speed and taking frequent breaks to refuel and use the bathroom. They finished the full 42km in 5 hours 45 minutes.
Although running her first marathon while being 8 weeks pregnant was an enormous feat in itself, it was when COVID-19 arrived – cancelling all fitness events and restricting the movements of pregnant women - that Sadaf’s remarkable determination really came into its own.
“I had just entered my second trimester when the pandemic hit, and the lockdown and movement restrictions severely impacted my pregnancy fitness plans,” says Sadaf.
“All running events were cancelled, and the disappointment of not being able to run any races during this pregnancy really hit me hard.”
It was particularly unfortunate because Sadaf had been planning to showcase her fitness journey not just for herself, but for other South Asian women like her who might be wary of exercise while expecting:
“Women from my culture are usually forced to quit all kinds of fitness-related activity the minute they conceive and this restriction continues until the time they deliver. I wanted to challenge this perception by documenting my own running and fitness journey during this pregnancy.”
Women from my culture are usually forced to quit all fitness-related activity the minute they conceive
“After accepting the fact that this pandemic is not going away any time soon, I tried to make the best use of the situation."
Thinking outside the box
Living in an apartment with no garden, and with no access to gyms or outdoor space over the Coronavirus lockdowns, Sadaf and her husband resorted to running around the deserted 10th floor of their apartment block's car park.
"Every day we would spend 30 minutes running countless laps of that almost 400-meter long parking floor. Finally, we could run in an isolated semi-outdoor space."
But beyond keeping up with her own fitness, Sadaf wanted to inspire others not to give up too.
"I knew I was not the only woman pregnant during this pandemic. I thought there must be many more pregnant women and mothers locked inside their homes for months and I decided to find another way to inspire and motivate them to stay fit within the safety of their homes during this pandemic.”
Sadaf started making simple at-home workout videos that were safe for pregnant women on her Instagram page @Movewithmajdy.
“Soon enough, I started receiving messages from dozens of pregnant women due near or around the same time of my delivery. They were happy to see a South Asian pregnant woman working out and staying active, challenging our cultural taboo regarding pregnant women doing exercise.
“Many women started following my workouts to keep themselves fit during the lockdown and regularly shared their feedback on my workouts. For me, this positive feedback was so encouraging that I decided to continue documenting my pregnancy fitness journey online, inspiring as many women as I could during these unprecedented times.”
“No stretch marks or varicose veins”
Sadaf has been lucky to have a complication-free pregnancy so far. “I am now literally weeks away from delivery and so far, other than the usual pregnancy aches and pains, I have been able to run and workout throughout my pregnancy. I’ve been much more active during this pregnancy than I ever was with my previous two.
“My focus on prenatal fitness and healthy eating helped me gain just a right amount of pregnancy weight. I’ve had no stretch marks or Varicose veins issues that normally come with sudden weight gain and inactivity during pregnancy.
“The hardest part has been managing two hyper boys locked inside the apartment for four months. Looking after my own health while juggling household chores and also keeping the boys entertained at home definitely made this pregnancy a bit less relaxing than my previous pregnancies!
However, she says that maintaining her fitness levels even while expecting has paid off with lots of other benefits.
“One of the most positive things I noticed being fit during this pregnancy is that I have tons of happy and positive energy after every workout. This burst of energy comes in very handy when you have to take care of little children and manage your household as you progress along in your pregnancy!”
Staying safe while pregnant during the pandemic
Pregnant women are classed in the vulnerable category when it comes to coronavirus, as COVID-19 has been associated with a slightly higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
This means that expectant mums are even more restricted than the general population in what it is recommended they do – which can make staying fit and looking after older children very difficult.
“I have been pretty careful throughout my pregnancy and followed all the safety and health guidelines instructed by the government of UAE,” says Sadaf. “However, neither the pandemic nor the pregnancy has stopped me from running my household. I still did grocery shops and I was required to visit the hospital for my monthly checkups.
“Of course I made sure we avoided social gatherings and even now, as a family, we avoid highly crowded areas and prefer to visit grocery stores or malls during off-peak hours. Masks, gloves and sanitizers are part of the deal every time we step out of the house.
“We only recently started taking our kids out to the malls and restaurants after the UAE government lifted the restrictions on children under the age of 12. Before that, we would take them out to the parks for a little bit for some physical activity. I am now slowly taking them to the play areas but only during the weekdays and around the time I know those play areas are not overly crowded.
“With that being said, I think one of the most important things we did as parents was educating both our boys about how we are currently living in a time of a global pandemic and we all must always keep our hands clean, avoid touching surfaces when in public, and keep distance from people whenever outside. Both our boys are well aware of the 'Coronavirus' and they have become comfortable with the new norm where everyone must wear a mask and sanitize their hands regularly when stepping outside the house.”
Advice to other pregnant mums during the pandemic
While there is lots of evidence that exercise during pregnancy has multiple health benefits for both mother and baby - being linked to everything from reduced time in labour and lower pain levels, to increased intelligence in the baby - it's crucial that any exercise you do while pregnant is safe and that you have checked with your doctor first.
“I would say, as long as you are taking all the necessary precautions, you are good to go out and exercise. Unfortunately, the UAE weather is currently so hot that unless you are working out in the early hours of the morning, stepping out during the peak day hours or even the evenings may not be suitable for pregnant women, as you can end up dehydrating or overheating yourself.
“Thankfully, gyms in the UAE have been open operational since June, and it has been over a month that I have been actively training and working out in a nearby public gym. All gyms within the country are operating under the set safety and hygiene guidelines issued by the UAE Government and as long as you are taking care of all the necessary precautions, it is quite safe to work out in a gym now.
“I would say don’t be afraid to go out and exercise. We don’t know yet when this pandemic will completely go away but until then we do know of ways and means to continue living our lives being safe and cautious.”
Disclaimer: Before embarking on any type of exercise while pregnant get advice from your OB/GYN.