Pilates: the ultimate exercise for pregnancy (and beyond!)

Congratulations! You’re expecting! There are likely a million questions running through your head, not least of them, ‘how do I stay fit and healthy during my pregnancy to help me prepare for birth and motherhood?’ Whether or not you have tried Pilates prior to your pregnancy, it is a fabulous form of exercise to keep you strong and supple, and assist you in managing any aches or pains growing a human may throw your way!

If you don’t have any medical or obstetric complications, it is recommended that you try to complete 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.  Before starting an exercise program, it is important to check with your doctor that you don’t have any conditions which would stop you from participating.  It is also helpful to have an assessment with a physio to determine any particular areas that you need to focus on.

Why is Pilates such a great form of exercise during and after pregnancy?

  • Pilates helps to optimise your posture, which will likely change substantially over the coming 9 months as your body adapts to the weight and size of your growing baby
  • The machines used in a studio class allow you to reposition your body to continue familiar exercises as your baby grows
  • A lot of studios have prenatal or mums and bubs classes available which can be a great way to meet other new mums
  • Pilates is low impact, so you don’t have to worry about your joints as you get heavier
  • Pilates assists with pelvic floor activation which will be helpful post birth
  • You can do exercises to prepare you for the birthing process, such as deep squats, using the assistance of springs

Things you should know about Pilates when pregnant

  • Pelvic laxity increases most in the first 3 weeks and the last 3 months of pregnancy, so this means that you need to swap to either a studio class (small group class with individualised exercises) or a specific prenatal class as soon as you are aware that you are pregnant as you want to avoid torsional exercises such as lunges and large range of motion exercises such as Russian and side splits.
  • As your exercises will need to be modified as your pregnancy progresses, it is important that you see an instructor who is experienced in coaching pregnant mums, or see a physiotherapist with Pilates training
  • If you do start to experience any lower back or pelvic pain, let your instructor know immediately and ask for a modification to the exercise. If you are still experiencing pain, you need to stop the session and organise an assessment with your physiotherapist

My favourite exercises for mums-to-be

Mermaid

Even though our flexion and rotation (bending forwards and twisting) become more restricted during pregnancy, lateral flexion (bending to the side) does not decrease and it feels absolutely great to get your spine moving!

Side sit ups

Once your belly ‘pops’ the direction of fibres in your abdominals changes, so normal crunches are no longer recommended, but side sit ups are still fantastic to do with the added bonus of a nice side stretch incorporated as well! After birth, new research is indicating that correctly performed abdominal crunches can actually assist in closing a diastasis recti (abdominal separation), so seeing your physio after birth is important too!

Kneeling cat

Your upper back will often get stiff during pregnancy and traditional stretches lying on your tummy will not be comfortable any more.  Kneeling cat is my personal favourite as the springs give support, but allow you to feel a lovely stretch both through the upper back and the abdominals without overloading them.

Full squat

This opens up the pelvis 5cm more than when you are in standing and is great preparation for birth.  It is considered by many to be the most natural position to give birth in so if you are practised at the movement, you will be better able to utilise this position during your labour.

Myths related to exercise when pregnant:

I can’t lie on my back

A lot of mum’s-to-be are told to avoid lying on their back (supine) after 16 weeks due to potential obstruction of some of the major blood vessels due to the weight of the baby. However, it has been found only 4% of mothers studied had light-headedness after lying on their back. Those who did recover as soon as they moved from the supine position. This means that it is absolutely fine to lie on your back as long as you listen to your body! If you start to feel faint, roll onto your left side and wait for the sensation to pass before standing up. If this does happen to you, then you do need to avoid the position in future by propping yourself up on pillows or doing exercises in sideline instead.  It is easy to modify Pilates exercises to avoid lying on your back.

I can’t lie on my tummy

Most mums will feel uncomfortable lying on the stomach after the first trimester when their bump ‘pops’, but prior to this, there is no concern about lying on your tummy. The baby is surrounded by so much fluid they won’t feel it! So it is absolutely fine to lie on your tummy for as long as you feel comfortable to do so.  However, your pilates instructor or physio will be able to adjust your favourite exercises so you don’t miss out on doing them as your pregnancy progresses!

I can’t get my heart rate up

There is no maximum heart rate recommendation for exercising whilst pregnant, but it is recommended that you are able to talk at all times when you are exercising. Continual exertion above this level can start to raise the core body temperature, which we do not want to rise above 38 degrees during pregnancy. This is also something to be aware of when doing vigorous exercise on a hot day.

Now for the scary warnings…

There are certain symptoms that mean you should stop exercising immediately:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Shortness of breath prior to commencing exercise
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased foetal movement
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness affecting your balance
  • Calf pain or swelling (can be a sign of DVT)
  • Preterm labour
  • Headache

If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to let your instructor know immediately, stop exercising and seek medical assessment as soon as possible.  However, these issues are very uncommon and exercise during pregnancy if you are otherwise healthy is very safe (and enjoyable!).

Returning to Pilates after birth

You can return to Pilates 4-6 weeks after giving birth if you had a normal vaginal delivery without complications, but need to wait 8-12 weeks after a C-section.  Make sure you get clearance from your Doctor to return to exercise and if you had any stitches after your delivery it is highly recommended that you see a women’s health physio prior to returning to activity.

The two main concerns after delivery for most mums:

  1. Pelvic floor

Pilates can help with improving your pelvic floor control after birth, as most exercises involve the activation of the pelvic floor to assist with trunk stability.  However, if Pilates exacerbates any symptoms you may be feeling, or if you are not seeing improvement in your ability to activate after 2-3 sessions, an assessment by a Women’s Health physio will be invaluable.

  1. Abdominal separation

The important thing to know about an abdominal separation is that it is completely normal to have up to a 3cm separation at the height of the belly button as the abdominals have stretched to accommodate your baby.  What we need to see after birth is that this starts to lessen and that you can generate tension in your abdominals without the tummy ‘doming’ (popping out).  If you notice you are ‘doming’ during your Pilates class, you need to alert your instructor as the exercise will need to be modified for you.  Binding the tummy for the first 2-3 weeks after birth will also help reduce the abdominal separation.

 

Overall, Pilates is a great way to stay fit and strong during and after your pregnancy.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions about whether Pilates is right for you!

 

Author: Annabel Hawker

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Kensington Physio & Sports Medicine was founded in 1992 to offer private physiotherapy services to the West London area. We have a well established team of leading, experienced therapists who thrive on patient progress in a supportive team environment.... Read More

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