CAN I DO PILATES WHILE PREGNANT?
The short answer is YES! You absolutely can, and it is encouraged to stay healthy, active, and mobile during and after pregnancy!
Now let's talk about it a bit!
PILATES WHILE PREGNANT
I approach this subject with so much joy in my heart due to so many past and present gratifying experiences with prenatal Pilates clients. For this blog I will walk you through the experiences of one client and friend in particular —we’ll refer to her as Emily.
Emily 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 2 weeks before she gave birth. We would have continued until birth however she needed to go on bed rest due to hormonal complications.
My basic approach with Emily 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 55 minute sessions included use of Pilates equipment - Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, spine corrector, foot corrector and ladder barrel. We also used mat work and props as homework.
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. We also added setting intentions for each class because she struggled with mental clarity and anxiety. This was done while starting to implement “hug the baby” See exercise description below.
Second Trimester: As time went on, we modified certain exercises based on Emily’s comfort and body needs. After the first trimester, a pregnant woman should refrain from lying on her back or belly, however, we encouraged listening to her body and doing what felt best for her body. Some days being on her back felt fantastic and we went with it! As Emily’s center of gravity was also changing, our focus shifted to more balance work, such as exercises that required standing on one leg or with split legs. We did side-lying exercises, particularly on the Cadillac (yay leg springs!). Still, Emily did most of the exercises with the use of a back supporter on the floor or reformer. In this regard, I LOVED the spine corrector to support the back and allow for a curl and extension.
We then started to add in deep and supported squats and additional breathwork to our opening moments in order to center before moving. See description below!
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 in her hips and upper body. For instance, we did exercises for the upper body - arms, shoulders, chest, back - since Emily 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 Emily 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 Emily’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. Due to some complications however, we needed to take time off pre-birth so she could stay in bed rest. Despite being in bed rest, we still worked on the breath work, hug the baby, and her mind-body connection over the wonderful world of Zoom.
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.’ We worked together for 6 weeks before she entered a beginner group class.
Emily “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, Emily was able to return to Pilates - baby in tow - 1 week after giving birth. Today, Emily and her Daughter are both happy, healthy, and strong, and they continue to come to Pilates sessions regularly 2 years later.
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.
Hug the baby:
Hugging the baby in (engaging your pregnancy core) promotes good posture during pregnancy by strengthening the deep core muscles, the TVA and pelvic floor, which helps support the weight of your growing baby.
By learning to ‘HUG THE BABY,’ you are strengthening your TVA and pelvic floor which in turn:
Decreases susceptibility to Diastasis Recti
Prevents and alleviates lower back pain
Promotes good posture
Help with pushing the baby out during delivery
Postnatally it helps your tummy return back to its pre pregnancy state quicker
How to Hug the Baby and Release the Baby
Stand up tall, lengthening the spine to the ceiling, like you have a string on the top of your head.
Inhale deeply, allowing the air to fill down the sides and back of the ribs, (Lateral Thoracic Breathing).
EXHALE as you gently lift up on the pelvic floor and you hug your baby (pulling baby or tummy in towards the spine activating the TVA). Keep the pelvis neutral (don’t tuck your bottom under).
Feel equal weight on your feet pressing down into the floor and keep the shoulders relaxed and down away from the ears.
INHALE as you relax the TVA and pelvic floor, releasing the Hug the Baby posture.
The ability to completely relax the TVA and pelvic floor allows for flexible, strong muscles rather than tight, inflexible muscles, and it is very important to remember to relax completely on the inhale.
The deep squat may help engage the baby and allow for it to be in an optimal position.
In a relaxed position, the deep squat may decrease pain, labor time and decrease need for cesarean by utilizing gravity to help the baby descend.
May reduce the need for episiotomy or assisted deliveries (the need for forceps and vacuum) during delivery.
Stretches the back and hip muscles!
Keep feet shoulder width apart
Have feet mostly forward but turned outward slightly…everybody is different so find a position that is comfortable for your body
Keep your ribs down and chest up
Squat down and use the glutes (butt muscles) to push you upward
For added support, you can add a pillow or bolster under the hips in the deep squat, or hold onto something to help with balance, stretch, and getting back up.
Benefits and Uses
The cat/cow stretches are perfect for warming up the body and creating length and mobility in the spine. The poses can be used on their own to alleviate back strain or pain, as well as in preparation for a yoga posture (asana) practice.
Begin in a table top (all fours) position on your mat with a flat back, aligning your wrists so that they are directly beneath your shoulders, and your knees directly beneath your hips.
Linking the breath to your movements, inhale to arch your back, reaching your tailbone to the sky and chest forward (cow).
Exhale to round your spine - your head and tailbone reach for the earth as your middle back reaches for the sky (cat).
Note: Let your head and neck follow the movements of your spine. In the cow pose, avoid crunching your neck by looking upward; instead gaze softly forward, keeping your neck long.
Spinal twist / thread the needle:
Twists are a fantastic way to stimulate the nervous system, relieve stress and tension from the body, and add more mobility and stability to the spine. Try this one for a supported and rejuvenating experience.
Starting on all fours, position your hands slightly in front and wider than your shoulders, keeping your elbows soft. Maintain a neutral spine and your lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor engaged at the correct level. Keep your head lifted in line with your spine. Inhale to prepare.
Exhale gliding your right hand and arm underneath your left shoulder as you rotate your mid and lower back to the left. Allow your head and neck to follow the same rotation looking towards your right hand.
Bend your left elbow to allow your right arm to be close to the floor. Exhale drawing your right hand back towards the right, beyond the midline, rotating your spine to the right and your head and neck following your right hand.
Note: Avoid hunching your shoulders towards your ears.
Wide leg child's pose with breath work:
A class favorite is always our child's pose with breathwork. I sometimes mix up the breathwork that we do, but for the most part its a 3 part breath, or Dirgha breath to the Yogi’s.
Starting on all fours, spread your knees wider than hips distance (to make room for the baby), leaving your toes pointed towards each other creating a triangle base.
Sit back towards your heals, leaving your arms extended forward on the mat.
Place forehead down on the floor, or prop it up with a blanket, block, ball, or anything comfortable.
Dirgha breath or 3 part breath you start by filling your lower lungs and ribs, then middle, then upper
Exhale the same way, starting lower, then middle, then upper.
Dirgha breath is a fantastic way to create space in the lungs, back, and ribs, and all breath work creates a sense of calm, cool, and collected!
SO, can you do pilates while pregnant? YES! It is a fantastic way to stay fit and healthy, as well as prep for birth, learn about your own body, and connect to every inch of yourself. Let me know how you liked these moves and if you want to learn more at www.sunfitstudio.ca or drop me a message on instagram @sunfit.strong And as always friends, be true to your light, and I will see you again soon.
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.