Can I Do Pilates While Pregnant?
PILATES WHILE PREGNANT
I approach this subject with particular pleasure based on many past and present gratifying experiences with prenatal Pilates clients. For this blog I will relate the experiences of one client in particular —we’ll refer to her as Courtney.
Courtney began with me early in her first trimester, as recommended by her obstetrician. We worked about 2-3 days a week (give or take) up until she gave birth. Literally. She went into labor one afternoon a few hours after our morning session!
My basic approach with Courtney was to help her increase energy, build strength, maintain muscle tone, prevent back pain, and prepare her body for an easier delivery and recovery – a major goal of the work. Our hour-long sessions included use of Pilates equipment - Reformer, Cadillac, Wundachair, and barrels. We also engaged in mat work.
First Trimester: During her first trimester the work was mostly Classical Pilates. My plan here was purposeful as Classical Pilates offers significant benefits including: improving strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, posture and alignment, stability and mobility, breath control, and - maybe most importantly - the Mind-Body connection.
Second Trimester: As time went on, we modified certain exercises based on Courtney’s status and body position. After the first trimester, a pregnant woman should refrain from lying on her back or belly. As Courtney’s center of gravity was also changing, our focus shifted to more balance work, such as exercises that required standing on one leg. We did side-lying exercises, particularly on the Cadillac. Still, Courtney did most of the exercises with the use of a back supporter on the floor or reformer. In this regard, I especially love the C-Shaper from Balanced Body.
Third Trimester: By the third trimester, I determined we should avoid any deep flexion of the spine or excessive rotation. We focused on strengthening and stretching body parts that were getting taxed by all of the extra weight they were carrying around. I incorporated a variety of movements to target specific muscle groups in order to keep her range of motion and strength. For instance, we did exercises for the upper body musculature - arms, shoulders, chest, back - since Courtney needed to be ready to hold and carry her baby without pain. I also found it necessary to incorporate even more leg exercises to help Courtney carry the weight of her expanding chest and belly.
Some Pilates exercises need to be modified as a woman approaches her due date. I advise caution with positions that involve lying on one’s tummy or back during mid-pregnancy and beyond. Instead of lying flat, I recommend propping your body up with pillows. Instead of lying on your tummy, you can be on all fours. If your wrists hurt in this position, you can lean forward on an exercise ball.
As we neared Courtney’s delivery date, I balanced strength-building movement with replenishing stretches. As with earlier exercises, this work required precision and control, with an emphasis on breath.
PILATES FOLLOWING DELIVERY
Pregnancy is a major event for one’s body and leads it through substantial changes. Therefore, a post-partum approach can reasonably be referred to as ‘rehab.’
Courtney bounced right back after her baby’s birth. Her diligent Pilates work kept her conditioned and strong. The Pilates benefits also contributed to her labor lasting less than six hours. Not surprisingly, Courtney was able to return to Pilates - baby in tow - six days after giving birth. Today, Courtney and her son Matthew are both happy, healthy, and strong, and they continue to come to Pilates sessions regularly.
I recommend that a new mother follow a progression – in fact, a six-week process – before resuming her full or intensive Pilates work. In particular situations, a woman may resume Pilates one day postpartum. Others may need six to eight weeks or more. I encourage each woman to start when she is ready. Healing and rest are the essential first steps to smart rehabilitation. Specifically for post-delivery, rehabilitative work should emphasize breath, focus on a healthy core and pelvic floor, and functional movements.
HOW PILATES AIDS IN PREGNANCY
Childbirth is a natural and athletic event, and it’s best to be prepared for it. Many pregnant women find sitting down and not moving increases discomfort. Pilates, when performed correctly under the guidance of a professional, is a safe and wonderful way to get your body moving. When organs are shifting and joints are experiencing change during pregnancy, simply moving your body is beneficial.
There is a hormone released during pregnancy called relaxin which causes ligaments in a woman’s body to become more flexible. The downside is that this hormone’s release makes a pregnant woman more susceptible to pelvic and lower back pain. I advise women not to stretch any joint to its full range, especially in an unsupported position.
When women ask me about beneficial prenatal exercise, I advocate for Pilates, which provides a low-impact workout that focuses on lengthening and strengthening the muscles needed for the duration of pregnancy. Prenatal Pilates exercise focuses on glute strength and hip flexibility to accommodate birthing positions such as squatting.
Here are additional proven benefits of prenatal Pilates:
Pilates sets up the best chance for quick postnatal recovery.
Recent research demonstrates that Pilates offers a considerable positive effect on the long-term health of the mother and her baby.
Pilates strengthens the deep transverse abdominal muscles so that the rectus abdominal muscles don’t get overworked.
Pilates is great in strengthening your gluteus medius, an important hip stabilizer. This helps minimize pain in your sacroiliac (SI) joint, which connects your spine to your pelvis.
Pilates promotes good posture, which will be changing for you as your baby grows. By being continually aware of your posture, you can minimize potential back and pelvic pain.
By the frequent placing of the pregnant woman on her hands and knees, prenatal Pilates exercises take the strain off her back and pelvis – further strengthening the core muscles which stabilize these potential problem areas.
Pregnancy may cause a woman to feel clumsier than usual. Pilates strengthens a woman’s entire core and provides stability in all movement including walking.
Pilates exercises promote conscious, controlled breathing which is vital in labor and delivery. As a woman’s belly grows, stiffness can occur in her upper back, restricting deep breaths. Several Pilates exercises help maintain flexibility in this area.
Doing regular, gentle exercises like Pilates helps ensure a healthy weight gain.
Pilates provides an opportunity to switch off from work and other daily stresses to let your mind calm down, promoting relaxation and an easier rehab.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRENGTHENING A WOMAN’S PELVIC FLOOR
Hormonal changes and the weight of a baby can weaken the hammock of muscles that sit under the pelvis, known as the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor supports the organs in the lower abdomen, including the bowel, bladder, and womb. As the uterus grows it increasingly relies on the pelvic floor as a safe foundation. Therefore it is essential for the pelvic floor to be strong. Having a solid pelvic floor will not only help prevent incontinence, it will also help push the baby out and assist in postpartum recovery. Kegel exercises are a common strengthening exercise for the pelvic floor.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Not all Pilates instructors or classes are created equally. Ensure your Pilates instructor is experienced and trained in teaching Prenatal Pilates. Or find a class that’s specifically designed for pregnant women.
Here are some at-home prenatal videos which have been recommended by physicians in the field.
GENERAL DISCLAIMER: Please consult with your doctor or midwife before beginning any prenatal exercise program. They will help determine what types of exercises are safe and appropriate for your pregnancy based on your body and medical history.