Let’s face it: getting the recommended amount of exercise during pregnancy can be a real struggle at times. The thought of going to the gym, or even braving the weather for a quick walk, can often squash any desire to exercise. Fortunately, there are prenatal classes, such as prenatal Pilates, that not only offer the physical benefits of exercise, but also the social perks of getting together with other moms-to-be.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises women to do modified Pilates, or more specifically, a prenatal Pilates class if they are going to continue their practice during pregnancy. Prenatal classes are one of the best ways for beginners to practice Pilates because they often teach modified moves that accommodate a pregnant woman’s growing belly.
Benefits of prenatal Pilates
- Improved alignment and body awareness: Your center of gravity changes quite a bit during pregnancy. Having good body awareness will help you adapt to a rapidly changing body in both the prenatal and postnatal periods. Good body awareness can also help guide you in the birthing process by knowing what positions ease your pain.
- Improved core/hip strength and stability: This includes strength of the abdominals, back, hips, and pelvic floor muscles. The stronger your core, the less likely you are to suffer from common aches and pains during pregnancy and childbirth. Focusing on your core while pregnant also helps in the postpartum recovery period.
- Improved balance and coordination: Many women find themselves feeling “clumsy” during pregnancy due to rapid changes in their balance. Pilates helps this by decreasing your chance of injury during workouts or simple slips, trips, and falls.
- Better breathing patterns and focus: Dr. Julianne Gordon, DPT and certified Stott Pilates Instructor, says that “Early on in pregnancy, it’s important to establish a good breathing pattern and flexibility in your ribcage area before the baby begins taking up more and more room.” She explains that the diaphragm has to move downward as you breathe in, and this becomes increasingly difficult as the baby develops. This means having the ability to really expand the ribs laterally will provide proper breath for your exercises and also helps to improve posture and alignment.
- Improved spinal mobility: “Pilates focuses on segmental mobility within the spine,” explains Gordon. “This will help ensure you don’t end up with spots that feel ‘stuck’ in your spine,” she adds. During pregnancy, many women will adopt a forward head and shoulder posture because of increasing breast size, which can lead to a stiff and painful upper back and headaches from poor alignment. Pilates focuses on motion and control at each individual segment and starting each exercise in a neutral alignment, which helps restore more anatomical movement throughout the spine.
How to stay safe
Joining a prenatal class with a certified instructor is the safest way to practice Pilates during pregnancy. If a prenatal class is not available in your area and you choose to attend a regular Pilates class, it’s very important to let the instructor know you are expecting. “They will be able to give you several modifications or props to use during your workout in order to make it safe,” says Gordon.
Gordon also recommends that a pregnant woman avoid prolonged stretching in any one position. And the ACOG recommends that during the second and third trimesters, moms-to-be avoid prone positioning, or any inverted exercises, and that they should avoid prolonged supine positioning after 20 weeks. Additionally, Gordon says that “after the first trimester a pregnant woman should not engage in any abdominal strengthening exercises with the abs in a shortened position (like crunches) and exercises should always be done in a neutral spine position.” During all stages of pregnancy, excessive pressure through the pelvic floor muscles and through the hip girdle in general should be avoided.
Pilates exercises to try at home
Gordon says some of her favorite Pilates exercises for at home include seated ball work or seated chair work, and the seated mermaid stretch (great for side-bending and rotation in the spine). She also recommends quadruped positioning, which reduces strain on the low back and sacroiliac joints, and is a good position to practice for laboring. In this position, you can do things such as cat stretch, transversus abdominus contractions, and alternating arm lifts for upper back strength. And of course, working on isometric contractions of the pelvic floor and transversus abdominus is a great home exercise that everyone should be doing.
As with any fitness activity, the ACOG advises you to stop exercising and seek immediate medical advice if you notice warning signs such as vaginal bleeding, dizziness, or chest pain.
About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.
- Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion 650. December 2015. Retrieved July 12 2017. https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Physical-Activity-and-Exercise-During-Pregnancy-and-the-Postpartum-Period.
- Dr. Julianne Gordon, DPT and certified Stott Pilates Instructor