SHORT ANSWER: Yes, Pilates can be a great way to stay active during pregnancy, prepare for the rigors of delivery and bounce back a little faster after having your baby.
Good to know: as your body adapts over the 40 weeks of your pregnancy, your positions and exercises will also need to adapt. For this reason, I highly recommend private Pilates training during your pregnancy, particularly if you are new to Pilates. Experienced Pilates junkies may be able to continue with group classes, but proceed with caution.
Golden Rule for Pilates during Pregnancy: slow your movements down, make your movements smaller, listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
BENEFITS DURING PREGNANCY
Maintaining good body mechanics and posture throughout your pregnancy can help you avoid fatigue, back aches and sciatica. As your body changes, Pilates can help you stay comfortable, active and healthy. A healthy mom means a healthy baby. And delivery, let’s not forget that – there are TONS of things you can do via Pilates to prepare yourself for the rigors of childbirth.
Areas that I often work on with pregnant clients:
Upper body – you’re going to spend a lot of time holding and carrying a little person for the next few years, aren’t you? We can work on shoulder, arm, wrist and upper back strength right up to your delivery time. When doing this Pilates-style, you’ll also be working on your Powerhouse, the support-system for your entire body.
- Pelvic floor – as the baby grows inside you, you’ll need to be strong in your pelvis floor to support the extra weight. When your pelvic floor isn’t ready to support a fetus, it hangs lower as the baby grows. This can make you less comfortable, as the baby presses on other organs. Post-pregnancy, your organs may not sit where they should. Better to do those PF exercises.
- Abdominals – these are the muscles you’ll be using during child-birth. Although we’ll adapt your exercises to be appropriate for a pregnant body, we won’t count the out of the game. Many of my long-term clients have delivered their babies very quickly, and attribute it to staying in shape throughout their pregnancies. When the time came to push, their bodies remembered what to do and how to do it. Note: some abdominal exercises and positions are not the best choices during pregnancy, as they can turn the baby. A breech delivery is not fun.
Flexibility – where might you need flexibility during childbirth? Your hips! Since your pelvis needs to open to deliver the baby, and your legs are going to be open during the delivery, we work on this during your pregnancy. There are safe ways to do this without over-stretching the areas of your body that need to maintain stability. See my notes on relaxin below.
- Bonus Spots – this is what I call those mystery ache/pain areas — “bonus spots.” Often, they’re predictable, meaning that lots of women experience them during pregnancy. I have tricks for low back pain, sciatica, aching necks, fluid retention and the like. Sometimes, it’s nice to know you’ve got an appointment with someone who specializes in answering these kinds of questions.
WHAT IS RELAXIN?
As early as your first trimester, you’ll be pumping out more relaxin, the hormone that allows your pelvis to open up for child-birth. This same hormone can increase your flexibility throughout your pregnancy, which isn’t always a good thing. Imagine setting yourself up for a hamstring stretch and experiencing your body “let go” by 30% more than you expected. You could easily tweak a muscle and you’re probably not going to want to take a pain-killer.
For those with hyper mobile joints — aka, “double-jointed” — this loosening of your joints is an even bigger concern. You want an instructor’s eyes on you at all times during your pregnancy, so opt for private sessions.
WHAT ABOUT MORNING SICKNESS?
During your first trimester — and for some lucky women, throughout your pregnancy — you might experience morning sickness. If it’s throwing off your day, I wouldn’t recommend pushing yourself with a Pilates session on top of everything else. Your body is changing quickly and nausea can be a sign that your blood sugar levels haven’t yet adapted to the needs of carrying a fetus. This is completely “normal,” even though it varies from person to person. Lots of women take a break from Pilates during T1, and come back when they’re feeling great during T2.
IS A FIRST PREGNANCY DIFFERENT?
If it were me, I wouldn’t begin a new workout style during the first trimester. I wouldn’t change anything about my lifestyle other than: eating better, getting more rest and reducing stress.
Why? If, for some reason, I lost the baby, I wouldn’t want to “what if” about my workouts or activities. There, I said it. (I know many people wonder about this, and they’re hesitant to ask.)
Reality check: activity isn’t a likely cause of miscarriage. In fact, it’s healthier for your baby if you’re able to maintain your activity level. Scooping in your abdominal muscles will not put pressure on the fetus in your first trimester.
- Yes, tell your healthcare provider that you want to do Pilates and ask for their clearance to participate. I like it when doctors begin with, “have you been doing this exercise prior to pregnancy?” This tells me that they’re really thinking about how it will affect you.
- Yes, ask them what to keep an eye out for. Common things: drink often, you need more fluids as a pregnant gal. Take breaks so that you can avoid getting overheated. When your core temp rises, so does the baby’s temp. Notice if exercise causes spotting. Don’t freak out, but do get it checked out ASAP.
- Is your doctor concerned about you lying on your back or side for more than 3 minutes at a time? This is common, and that’s what the “spine corrector” pictured above is for.
Pregnancy is not the time to join a large group mat class where the teacher cannot watch you in every exercise. Small group training may be ok. Ask your teacher!
In an ideal world, I’d love it if you had some experience with Pilates before becoming pregnant. This way, you’ll know what Pilates feels like in your body before pregnancy causes changes. You’ll be able to notice when the exercises feel different, and you can help me adjust them accordingly. For those who haven’t done Pilates prior to pregnancy: we’ll just go a bit slower to make sure you stay safe.