National Ballet principal dancer Heather Ogden (with husband and fellow principal dancer Guillaume Côté) maintained her fitness level goal through her pregnancy to return to the stage as the Swan Queen six months after giving birth to her second child. (Photograph by Aleksander Antonijevic)
Which is more difficult: dancing the lead role in Swan Lake with a world-famous ballet company or giving birth?
We asked an expert. “It’s close,” replied National Ballet principal dancer Heather Ogden after a considered pause. “But maybe giving birth.”
Six months after the birth of Leo and still breastfeeding, the preternaturally ethereal ballerina performed the demanding dual roles of the virginal Swan Queen and malevolent Black Swan. The Prince was her longtime dance partner, Guillaume Côté, who also happens to be her husband and Leo’s father.
Ogden credits her speedy and triumphant return to the stage in a role that requires superb physical stamina to the pregnancy care she received with Sunnybrook’s Family Medicine Obstetrics team, which always accepts new obstetrics patients, and to the guidance of Dr. Karen Fleming.
“She knew about my fitness goals from the beginning and was always checking in to see how I was, mood-wise,” says Heather, 36. “I had the goal of maintaining a better level of fitness for this second pregnancy. (The couple have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.) “I felt healthier, I had a much better energy level, and my mood was better. The biggest difference was that I stayed at performance level much longer and kept in top ballet form.”
Guiding elite athletes and dancers like Heather through their pregnancies, so they maintain fitness safely and are able to return to peak performance level quickly, is a special interest of Dr. Fleming, division lead of Sunnybrook Family Medicine Obstetrics and interim chief of the Department of Family and Community Medicine.
But helping super-fit women modulate their activity during pregnancy is a small part of Dr. Fleming’s practice. For the most part, she’s doing the opposite – encouraging pregnant women to move more. Being active reduces rates of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure in pregnancy as well as decreasing rates of operative deliveries like caesarian sections. Exercise is also associated with lower rates of post-partum depression.
“Our challenge with the majority of women is that they’re sedentary and tend to reduce exercise during pregnancy, which can contribute to gestational diabetes, excessive weight and high blood pressure in pregnancy,” says Dr. Fleming. “One of the preventative goals is exercise, which improves sensitivity to insulin and helps with pushing the baby out.”
Childbirth, she notes, is “a physically demanding activity, and exercise during pregnancy is like training for a competition.”
It’s also crucial for recovery. “Once you go home with the baby, there’s a lot of carrying and lifting, a lot of physical demands for being a parent,” she emphasizes.
Physical activity is important – whether you’re taking on the role of mother or Swan Queen.
New obstetrics patients are always accepted without referral. The Family Medicine Obstetrics team is comprised of 10 family physicians, located at Sunnybrook and in the community across the GTA.
For more information, please visit sunnybrook.ca/familyob