Armed Forces personnel and civil servants took part in the Defence Perinatal Festival of Sport, a physical training day where all the participants were either pregnant or had been pregnant in the past two years.
The Defence Women’s Network event, believed to be a world first, is aimed at supporting women to remain healthy during and after pregnancies - the Perinatal period - minimising their isolation, boost their wellbeing, reduce pregnancy risks and to remain “fighting fit”.
Today has been about demonstrating that we do not see pregnancy and having children as a barrier to continuing a full career in uniform." The Rt Hon Dr Andrew Murrison,
Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families
Coinciding with National Fitness Day, it was a day of educational journeys with talks from military and civilian specialists such as a Physiotherapist, Physiologist, Consultant in Sport, Exercise and Musculoskeletal Medicine and Biokineticist.
For those who attended, ranging from a Mum-to-be at 36 weeks pregnant to one who gave birth seven weeks ago and women who had suffered the distress of miscarriage and still-birth, there was a common thread, the demand for greater access to support.
Event Project Officer, Corporal Lucy Blair, who is serving at the Defence School of Transport, got involved as she wanted to break the stigma of fitness being a negative thing, during pregnancy said:
“I returned to work in February following my maternity leave and still did not feel supported by my gym staff. I decided to do some research and found all the good work that Colonel Elaine Walker, Lead for the Defence GP Special Interest Group (Women’s Health) had been doing on this over the last few years, so I jumped on the opportunity to take part.
Lucy who worked out throughout her pregnancy, said: “I was four weeks pregnant whilst doing Nordic Ski training in Norway and was a hundred per cent at my peak fitness and felt great, I’d never felt so good or so strong before. I wanted to carry that fitness on throughout the pregnancy, to see how much I could do but safely or until ‘baby’ decided to say that’s enough Mummy.
“I had a really good labour and I think that’s down to looking after my mind and body.
She added: “Today has shown that pregnant woman can, it is not an end to your fitness, if anything it can be the start of something new. The woman’s body is just incredible.”
Today has shown that pregnant woman can, it is not an end to your fitness, if anything it can be the start of something new. The woman’s body is just incredible." Corporal Lucy Blair,
Royal Logistic Corps
The Rt Hon Dr Andrew Murrison, Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families visited the event in Warminster, Wiltshire, said:
“At the time of Sarah Atherton’s report into Women in the Armed Forces, published some two years ago, I was not a Defence Minister.
Yet I took a close personal interest in her findings both on behalf of female personnel in my own constituency and as a father of five daughters, two of whom serve in the Army and Navy respectively.
“What I read was sobering and salutary. It was a wake-up call. It was clear we had badly let down a significant section of our workforce. We simply hadn’t done enough to support women when they needed it most.”
He continued: “One aspect that I have taken an especial interest in, as a medical doctor and former medical naval officer, relates to health and fitness.
“Simply put, the distinct physical demands that service life places on female personnel has implications for both their training and their recovery.
“Until now this has been an underexplored aspect of service life. But I am glad to see, here too, we are making substantial strides. We’ve begun to listen harder to needs and concerns of female personnel.”
Instrumental in those changes has been the Servicewomen’s Health Improvement Focus Team (SHIFT) and Sam de Forges, MOD’s Director of Conduct, Equity and Justice, she said:
“Today is about is creating that space to recognise some of the different experiences, have great conversations, address challenges they may face but also how they can have the best experiences as Mum’s, a particularly important part of their life which can be such a challenging but joyful opportunity.
“The opportunity to understand that means this isn’t a nice to have, this is ultimately about delivering best operational effectiveness.”
I often say we are only going to get our first female CDS when we address not only menstrual health, think about menopause as well but also pregnancy and the perinatal period." Sam de Forges,
MOD’s Director of Conduct, Equity and Justice
As exercise was the theme of the festival, the group physical training (PT) sessions included insight into weights, cardio, yoga, baby led and pelvic floor exercises to demonstrate the advantages of staying active.
Sergeant Josh Exton, a PT Instructor at the Tidworth Primary Care Rehabilitation Facility, knows first-hand the importance of supporting servicewomen and making sure they can return to work confidently and fit.
“My wife was serving when we had our children,” he said. “I saw how incredibly difficult she found it at the time, that’s why I got involved with the Defence Women’s Network and this project because there is more to it than someone returning back to work that’s had a baby.
“It highlights the importance of having the right facilities available, the right equipment, the right staff and just generally getting the support that’s needed that hasn’t been there for such a long period of time.
“It is starting to evolve especially the rehabilitation setting and the pre- and post-natal instructor (PPNI) a new qualification being rolled out across the Royal Army Physical Training Corps.
“We need to take that sensible approach and make sure we reduce the risk of injury, look after the individual’s well-being and get them back comfortably doing the work they enjoy.”
In his closing speech, the Minister said: “Today has been about demonstrating that we do not see pregnancy and having children as a barrier to continuing a full career in uniform.
“That our Armed Forces offer you fantastic career opportunities irrespective of gender. And that, we will continue to do everything we can to make women feel welcome in MOD and able to fulfil their potential
“Not only is this the right thing to do. But it is operationally imperative. In a more dangerous world, our future forces will need to be far more balanced – drawing power from all parts of our nation. We simply cannot afford to miss out on any of the fantastic talent in our midst.”
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