By Gracie Bonds StaplesThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution (full article with pictures)

Eight years have passed since Clare Schexnyder’s daughter, Sofia, was born. Eight.

And in that time, the Decatur mother has almost single-handedly transformed the way pregnant and new mothers in metro Atlanta stay fit – physically and emotionally.

Now she and Kathleen Donahoe, co-owner of Atlanta-based Oh Baby! Fitness, are expanding, taking their brand of prenatal/postnatal exercise to 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

“We keep saying that Oh Baby! Fitness is having its own baby,” Schexnyder said. “Our mission is to give every woman in the U.S.A. access to safe and effective pregnancy and mom and baby exercise classes.”

Since it was launched at the DeKalb Medical Center in 2005, Oh Baby! Fitness has spread across metro Atlanta like wildfire with 35 locations, 70 classes, 30,000 moms and 10,000 babies.

On Monday, the company announced a national partnership with Isis Parenting, a leading national provider of prenatal and early parenting education, to deliver a wider range of prenatal and early parenting expertise in four Atlanta and five Dallas/Fort Worth area locations.

Now, with a national licensing program in place, Oh Baby! will stretch from D.C. to California by September.

Oh Baby! Fitness Owners, Clare Schexnyder & Kathleen Donahoe Photo Courtesy: Sara Speert Photography

Oh Baby! Fitness Owners, Clare Schexnyder &              Kathleen Donahoe
Photo Courtesy: Sara Speert Photography


“As soon as I knew I was going to move to D.C., I knew I wanted to do this,” said Lauren Fischer.Fischer, 27, first happened upon Oh Baby! during an Internet job search in 2009 and signed on to teach Pilates, prenatal water aerobics and mom and baby aerobics classes in Atlanta a few times a week.

“I knew when I was teaching how great it was for moms,” said Fischer, who continued teaching even after learning she was pregnant with her own son. “There is so much info out there about how beneficial exercise is during pregnancy. But our classes are unique in that we design them to facilitate conversations and friendships so the moms have the support they need during pregnancy and beyond.”

When she learned Schexnyder and Donahoe were expanding nationally, she jumped at the chance to become a licensee.

“I’m proud of Oh Baby! and proud to introduce it to Washington, D.C.,” she said.

Oh Baby! Fitness is born

Seated at the same kitchen table where they launched Oh Baby! Fitness eight years ago, Schexnyder, a former CNN producer, and Donahoe, a former non-profit director, talked about how it began.

In 2004, Schexnyder, then six months pregnant, was waiting to get on a flight at LaGuardia when her boss, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, surprised her.

“You can do a series of stories about newborns,” he told her.

For the next few months, Schexnyder researched sleep training, breast feeding, postpartum depression, multiples and how to lose weight after pregnancy.

“Little did I know how life-changing that research and series would be,” she said.

After her daughter was born, Schexnyder fell into a deep depression.

A neighbor encouraged her to join a support group at DeKalb Medical. It was there that she discovered the benefits of exercise to both her mental and physical health.

“Parents from the group called me every day to go for a walk,” she said. “The exercise and the friends I made saved my life.”

It also sparked a unique business idea. Schexnyder enrolled in a fitness certification class, then invited people she considered experts in maternity exercise to her home. That night they birthed Oh Baby! Fitness. They wanted to be different. They wanted to give women choices: yoga, Pilates, water aerobics, group fitness and mom and baby versions of each class.

Donahoe, now five months pregnant, joined the company in August 2005 as one of its first paid instructors.

“I taught one class a week,” she said. “Within a year, I had decided I absolutely loved what the company was.”

In fact, Donahoe was so sold on the concept, she returned to school to get her MBA with the sole purpose of helping Oh Baby! grow. In May 2012, she became co-owner with Schexnyder.

Oh Baby! also offers a prenatal workout app on iTunes. Downloads have averaged 5,000 a month worldwide.

“It is incredibly rewarding to know that, beyond the United States, pregnant women in Angola, Poland and so many other countries can join our community virtually to stay healthy safely during pregnancy,” Donahoe said.

Prenatal exercise has its benefits

But how healthy is exercise during pregnancy and how much is too much?

“As a general rule, if you exercised before you were pregnant, it’s healthy to continue,” said Dr. Jeffrey Marcus an OB/GYN with North Atlanta Women’s Specialists. “And even if you didn’t, as long as you get the OK from your doctor, there are numerous benefits to exercising during pregnancy.”

It addition to helping control weight gain, Marcus said, studies show women tolerate labor better, push more efficiently and have a general feeling of well being.

“The biggest risk is when people do too much,” he said.

What’s the right amount? That depends, Marcus said.

Moms who didn’t exercise before pregnancy, should start slow, walking or swimming. If they’ve been exercising all along, it’s OK to maintain as long as they make accommodations for changes in the center of gravity.

“The guidelines I use are called perceived exertion,” Marcus said. “If when exercising you can’t hold a conversation with the person beside you, then you’re working too hard.”

Talking while exercising is what happens in all Oh Baby! Fitness classes. Women make friends, form communities, share fears and excitement and gain confidence.

“I’m not from Atlanta, in fact I’m not from the US, so when I had our first baby I was really missing my network of old friends to share new (mommy) experiences with,” said Martine Resnick. “Oh Baby! was a great way for me to meet new people who were going through the same things as me — first when we were expecting and then when our new bundles of joy arrived.”

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