Donna Massari was in her studio, rehearsing for an upcoming dance performance, when her water broke.
"I thought I had just lost control of my bladder but, by the time I realized it, I was having contractions," says Massari, a former professional ballet dancer who opened her still-active dance studio in the late 1970s. "I was moving and dancing up to the time I gave birth."
That was 35 years ago and Massari is still dancing. And she's a big believer that dancing was an asset throughout her pregnancy.
Dancing is not only a good exercise, it's good for the body and mind during pregnancy, according to Dancing for Birth, a global organization founded in 2001. The premise is that it's easier for a woman to give birth in a vertical position and dancing ideally readies the body for the process.
According to dancingforbirth.com, dancing while pregnant is the perfect time to connect with your body and your baby through movement and awareness. It helps reduce stress and tension, increases the flow of the pain-relieving hormone oxytocin and provides exercise to loosen hips, which helps lubricate, stretch and widen the pelvic girdle for ease of delivering, the group says.
In St. Louis, where Dancing for Birth got its start, Mercy Hospital St. Louis trained 18 of its labor and delivery nurses in Dancing for Birth and began offering the weekly 90-minute childbirth and parenting education classes. The six-week sessions include dance moves like "Dilation Gyration" and "Down Baby Down" to help women stay healthy throughout pregnancy and ease pain and improve labor.
"More women are wanting a natural approach to their labors, and this gives our nurses more options to help our patients," Christa Stauder, childbirth educator at Mercy, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.
The Dancing for Birth program teaches women that swaying, bouncing and spiraling dance moves help labor progress, ease pain and gets babies in the optimal position for birth.
"My hope is for moms to be dancing in hospitals everywhere, because it is such a joyful way to give birth," Stephanie Larson, who created the program, told the Post-Dispatch.
She started teaching prenatal dance classes to expectant mothers in 2001 after having her first child. When she got pregnant, her midwife encouraged her to continue dancing, she said, so she danced daily and even danced during her labor at a birth center. Her labor lasted just five hours, she said.
Larson said that dancing while pregnant helps prevent gestational diabetes, improves fetal heart health, and strengthens mom's body for labor.
"Dancing during labor helps women labor more effectively, so births are shorter and the need for epidurals and C-sections is significantly reduced," she said.
In Chattanooga, Lisa Zahiya, owner of Studio Zahiya, says she has worked with many dancers who were pregnant.
"It's very low-impact," she says. "Women who have done high-impact (dancing) pre-pregnancy have successfully danced through their pregnancy."
The key to dancing while pregnant is for a woman to "listen to her body," she says
Still, pregnant women should consult with their physicians about whether or not they should dance during their pregnancies, Zahiya says. "It is very important that it should come from her doctor. It is specific woman to woman."
Local OB-GYN Phyllis Miller says it's OK to dance - in moderation.
"Avoid excessive stretching and only do low impact," she says, noting that dancing is also acceptable for the weekend dancer but only in establishments where there's no smoking. And she emphasizes: "Do not drink alcohol."
"I am not a physician, but I do know that the human body is an amazing machine," Massari says. "It is made to protect that tiny little miracle while it grows," says Massari, who also has worked with many pregnant dancers. "In most cases, after consulting their doctors, a strong dancer should be able to continue dancing up until time the baby is born.
"There are some things that should be approached with a little caution like big jumps, but that would be more to protect the moms because they're jumping with extra weight and it's hard on the skeletal system and joints," she continues. "Every person/dancer is different, with different strengths and abilities so their experiences are varied."
Massari, recalls one pregnant dancer who performed in the holiday classic "The Nutcracker," a ballet that includes plenty of leaping and jumping.
"We had a pregnant snowflake dancer in the 'Nutcracker' snow scene," Massari recalls. "She had a baby bump we called 'Snowball.' She was a strong dancer and had no problems with all of the difficult choreography, including the jumps that go along with that piece."
Michele Munz at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com 423-757-6396.