Women aged 35 to 39 are giving birth to more babies than those aged 20 to 24

For busy working parents, exercise is often one of the first things they jettison to make more time, but regular exercise and physical activity can have long-lasting positive benefits which make keeping pace with the daily demands of work and home easier.

Now, when older mothers return to work at Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand after maternity leave, they receive a "back to work" pack which can include a book which focuses on staying Fit for Birth and Beyond.

It's written by one of their own, corporate affairs manager Suzy Clarkson, who is a former Prime TV newsreader and fitness instructor, and is aimed at new mums aged 35 and older. Suzy, who trained as a physiotherapist, devised the guide to help women through their pregnancies and the first few months after giving birth.

It couldn't be timelier with recently released figures from Statistics New Zealand showing for the first time, women aged 35 to 39 are giving birth to more babies (71 births per 1,000 women) than those aged 20 to 24.


A hands-on mother of two young boys (Ben and Toby), Suzy says her first pregnancy at age 39 was relatively trouble-free, but trying to get pregnant again a few years later was very different. Following extensive fertility treatment, she gave birth to her second child at the age of 45. While she says infertility is not the focus of her book, she does write about this and uses her own experiences of motherhood in the frank diary entries throughout the book.

"Making time for regular exercise and physical activity means being better able to cope with the stresses and strains which come from working and being a parent, so it's likely to lead to a more positive outlook and attitude which is good for everyone, employers included," says Suzy.

Fit for Birth and Beyond shows suitable exercises and suggests how to develop healthy habits and good nutrition during pregnancy and after birth. Step-by-step photographs show exercises in detail and information provided is based on the latest research and endorsed by obstetrics and fertility specialists. Most of the exercises can be done at home and Suzy says they require no specialised equipment.

The hope is to build habits which can be continued when women return to work, but Suzy acknowledges for many this means changing the way they think about physical activity. Longer and more intense gym workouts of the past may have to be replaced by shorter bursts of physical activities which can be done at home and/or with the kids or built into their working days.

"What's available in your neighbourhood both at home and near work? Can you take one lunchtime a week and go for a walk? How about a walking meeting rather than sitting in a meeting room round a table?

"Get a friend/colleague to partner with you for regular exercise sessions. Buddy exercising means you are less likely to cancel on your scheduled lunchtime session because you have another person counting on you, you can encourage and inspire each other, and you can multi-task by discussing work matters."

She says including her book in its packs for mothers returning to work makes sense given Coca-Cola Amatil's focus on employee wellness and ensuring women who take time out to have children feel welcome and supported when they rejoin the firm after maternity leave.

It offers a raft of benefits to smooth the transition from work to maternity leave and back again. These include flexible working hours, six weeks of paid maternity leave above legal requirements and, at salary review time, women on maternity leave are included so their absence doesn't lead to a loss of relativity. The company also has a scheme where employees can opt to have regular contact with the firm during maternity leave and, six weeks before their scheduled return date, a more formal conversation about their expectations and ways to ease the transition.

"Yes, we have scale," says HR consultant Louisa Buchanan, "but it's an HR responsibility to ensure talented staff are retained and that women aren't disadvantaged because they choose to have children."