Bellydancer's Guide to Pregnancy
The first thing to remember is that every pregnancy is different. Any advice you get anywhere may not apply to you at all. The ultimate decision-maker has to be your doctor and your body: if your doctor tells you not to do something, don’t do it. If your body tells you not do something (i.e., it hurts or feels uncomfortable), stop. If you have any questions, ask your doctor.
As far as continuing to dance through pregnancy, my doctor saw no problem with it. The main thing she was concerned about was impact exercises: step aerobics, jumping jacks, horseback riding—anything that involved a lot of "up and down" motion. Fortunately, belly dancing is smooth and graceful without a lot of jumps and leaps, so I didn’t really have to delete any moves from my dancing. The only rule my doctor gave me was to stop doing sit-ups and abdominal crunch-type exercises after I started to show: abdominal contraction exercises can force the uterus into the lower abdominal muscles and tear them. I had no problem with "flat" abdominal exercises (laying on the floor and pushing the stomach out and in) or belly rolls. On my own, I decided to stop doing backbends at about 4½ months because my changing center of balance made them hard for me and I found the abdominal pull uncomfortable. Other than that, everything was fine: I went to class the night before I delivered and was back in class two weeks later with no problems.
The biggest problem for me was costumes. By the first trimester, none of my bras fit me anymore, and I didn’t have the time or money to invest in new costume bras that I might only be able to wear for another month anyway. Beledi dresses to the rescue! By wearing non-sheer beledi dresses, I could wear sports bras and pin the beledi dress down so the bra didn’t show.
I also made "modular" bras. I took two pieces of trim or fringe about 12-16 inches long and sewed it down to a thin strip of matching material (bias tape was great for this if I could find it in a matching color). Then I just pinned the trim along the top edge of whatever bra happened to fit that day and covered the bottom half of the bra with the ties from my vest, the bottom of a beledi dress, a draped veil or tucked hip scarf. Three sets of bra covers like this got me through the whole run of Scarborough—both days each weekend. And since I was lucky enough to have just enough trim left over from previous costumes, it didn’t cost me anything but a little time.
Harem pants were not a huge problem, although I did have to let out the elastic on one or two pairs and retire two others that were cut fairly close to the hips. Most of my harem pants were blousy enough that I didn’t have to alter them, though, and as my pregnancy progressed, I just rolled the waistband down to fit underneath the baby. I did find that a wider elastic (1½ to 2 inches) was more comfortable for me, and it was easier to roll down and pin into place.
Belts didn’t pose a big difficulty either; I just substituted shimmy scarves and sashes. I did make an extension for one my belts from some leftover materials I had lying around. Then I just pinned it to the belt on one end and used the other to adjust the width as needed. But shimmy scarves were far easier and more versatile—a definite lifesaver.
Another lifesaver was the Greek chiton. This fabulous garment consists of two pieces of material, one in front and one in back, pinned or tied at the shoulders and belted at the waist or hips. Hold the first piece of fabric up in front of you and fold the top over until the bottom is the desired length. Tuck the corners of the fold into your bra strap, just as if you were wrapping a veil. Do the same thing in the back. Then you can pin or tie the front and back corners together—I typically tie them around my bra straps to help hold them in place and to cover the bra strap. Belt it at your hips and arrange it until you like the way it looks. Tuck or pin the sides together if necessary. (This will depend on how you arrange the chiton; I tend to pull the front piece around as far to the back as it can go and then bring the back piece over it. This covers the sides fairly well.) The front half of a chiton also makes a really attractive drape over the standard two-piece costume—you can do this with just a veil: no sewing required!
What Helped Me the Most
Probably the one thing that I did that made the most difference in my pregnancy was practicing top-to-bottom belly rolls. Because I had an epidural during labor, I couldn’t feel my lower abdominal muscles when it came time to push. I could, however, work my upper and middle abdominal muscles. By doing a top-to-bottom belly roll, I was able to "roll into" my lower abdominal muscles even though I couldn’t feel them. This let me push the baby out in about twenty minutes—my doctor was thrilled! (By the way, this was also pure coincidence: I did belly rolls during my pregnancy to exercise my stomach muscles, but I can’t do the bottom-to-top kind!)
If I Knew Then What I Know Now…
I got all sorts of good advice about staying in shape through pregnancy and getting ready for labor, but there’s one piece of advice I wish I had gotten: exercise your arms! Lift weights, practice veil work, do whatever it takes to get your forearms and biceps into shape. Practice carrying around a ten-pound sack of flour with one hand for several hours at a time—a loose-filled, floppy sack of dried beans or something would be even better. And practice doing everything—I mean everything—with one hand; if you are strongly right- or left-handed, practice doing things with your off hand as well. Right now you may not think you’ll ever be brushing your teeth with a screaming, squirming baby balanced on the other arm, but I wouldn’t rule out any possibilities.