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26th Mar 2015

We chat to Derval O’Rourke about pregnancy, nutrition and parenting advice

The first-time mum-to-be said any exercise in her 1st trimester was like a marathon

Sive O'Brien

Former Irish sprint hurdles champion and ambassador for the First 1000 Days movement, Derval O’Rourke was keen to talk parenting advice when I met with her recently. The first-time mum-to-be had just been advised to visit a lactation consultant whilst pregnant (so that if she has any breastfeeding issues when her baby arrives, she’ll have someone she trusts to go to), which she (and I) thought was a really smart idea.

But she wanted to know more. “You need to give me your one piece of advice,” she says. Before I revealed my tricks of the trade (ahem), however, I turned the spotlight back on her…

How is pregnancy treating you?

I’m doing really well. I’m five months now so I’m in the really nice bit. In the first three months I felt really tired; I was baffled by how tired I felt. I was going to bed at 8pm, it was crazy. Any form of exercise I did was like a marathon, I was exhausted, but now I feel like I could do any kind of exercise. I’m still sleeping a lot but I feel physically great; I have loads of energy.

Did you have any food aversions in the first trimester?

I had a real problem with cooking raw meat. I couldn’t cook it or cut it but then if someone presented it to me cooked I was really into eating it, so my husband was cooking a lot. Coffee turned my stomach too, and I love coffee. Even the smell of coffee beans turned my stomach. I never got sick, I just felt a bit sick in the middle of the day. A good friend of mine told me to keep eating little bits all day long, so I grazed and I think that helped me to not get sick. I think even in terms of nutrition it was really to good to know that I need to be healthy so I need to be grazing. To be fair, I don’t know who feels brilliant in the first three months.

This is why the First 1000 Days movement is really interesting because I think a lot of people’s default when they’re feeling crap is to eat nothing, or to just eat crackers, but people should know that it’s important to keep eating in those first three months.

How can mums who are suffering with morning sickness maintain a healthy diet?

Personally, I made a lot of soups. I found that I could stomach soups, no problem. I may not have wanted a load of vegetables, but if I made them into a soup that was fine. I would have a really big bowl of soup for dinner so that was a really practical way that I got around the sickness.

I also used to eat a lot of flapjack bars as I make my own. They really worked for me because I would put in a lot of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and loads of porridge oats. I’d hide them from my husband though, so he didn’t eat them all; also because I would have made them from scratch but I would be telling him that I couldn’t cook dinner, so he would have been like, “What do you mean you can’t cook dinner when you’ve just made this batch of flapjacks?”

Has your relationship with food changed since becoming pregnant?

The First 1000 Days movement has definitely increased my awareness of the affect of my eating habits and how that could benefit the baby. I never really thought about it beforehand but now I think that if I’m just really healthy and really conscious of what I’m taking in, that could give the baby a really good start. Since I’ve become pregnant I’ve got into this mode of just wanting everything to be really good for the baby and for the baby to feel brilliant and to never have a hard time. Anytime I have oily fish, which is great for baby’s brain, I’m just thinking, “my baby is so smart.” That’s such a nice thing to be able to do.

I think food has to be enjoyable but it’s also pretty functional. When I was running, food was very functional; I loved it but it had to have a purpose and I had to be careful of weight. Now, however, I know that the function of what I eat is so that the baby has a brilliant start and I think that’s really nice.

What’s your favourite thing about the First 1000 Days movement?

It’s a great resource for pregnant women. I love the recipes, but what’s really nice is that there’s four different phases. It’s a really simple way for someone who’s either pregnant or breastfeeding or weaning to think, “what is good at this point?” I think the recipes are accessible, which is important as food has to be accessible, but what’s also good about this movement is that it isn’t for certain pregnant women, it’s for every pregnant woman, because you want every baby to have a chance. The fact that the site and recipe book are broken down into different phases is lovely and helpful; I would imagine that where I’m at now is probably quite different to where I’m going to be when I’m breastfeeding.

What nutrition and fitness tips do you have for mums-to-be?

For nutrition, a big one is to take a folic acid supplement before you get pregnant. In terms of fitness, if you are thinking about having a baby, try and go into it fit because if you’re going into your pregnancy fit, you have a higher chance of keeping up that fitness and then you have a higher chance of coming out of it fit. Once you’re pregnant you’re obviously not going to do anything new, so I think trying to go in there fit is a really good idea.

How do you keep fit at the moment?

I’m running one a day a week; I’m doing pregnancy pilates once a week; and I do two days of very light weight lifting, just for me because I’ve done weight lifting my whole running career and it’s really important for me to keep doing that as, physically, I feel better. I’d advise anyone to do pregnancy pilates; it’s lovely, it’s worth investing in that.

What is your aim in your role as ambassador?

My aim is that more pregnant women think about what they’re eating and how that has a really positive affect on their baby. I think, sometimes, when you get pregnant everyone tells you what you can’t do, but with the First 1000 Days they’re telling you what you can do and what’s really good. They’re giving you all the positives as opposed to the negatives, so I just hope more people become aware of it. I think it’s a brilliant source from conception and onwards.

Derval O Rourke First 1000 days-2

Derval, who joins TV presenter Maura Derrane and Chef Neven Maguire as ambassadors for the First 1000 Days movement, wasn’t about to let me get away with that one piece of parenting advice, so I told her to only listen to the good advice. I think she liked it. You can join the movement and get a free copy of the First 1000 Days recipe book here