Benefits of Pregnancy and Post Pregnancy Pilates

Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, started to develop his approach to exercise and body-conditioning during World War 1. Working as a nurse during his internment he worked with bed-bound patients to develop their muscle tone.  What better exercise for a lady who is expecting a baby than the exercise that was specifically developed for special populations.

The body goes through massive changes during pregnancy.  Unlike the days of yesteryear when it was considered safe to be as sedentary as possible during this period, we now know that exercise is a great way for mom and baby to remain healthy.  These are a few key factors to remember when training:

  • Don’t let your body temperature go above 38˚C
  • Keep your heartrate below 140 beats per minute
  • Don’t remain in a stationary standing position for long periods at a time
  • From the second trimester don’t lie in a supine position (on your back)
  • From the second trimester don’t do positions which require inversion (bum above the head)

Remember to get clearance from your doctor (to do these exercises) when you first find out you are pregnant and also after delivery.   Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for both mom and baby but every case is unique and should be treated as such.

What are some of the benefits of Pilates training during pregnancy:

  • Strong Core focus during Pilates

A strong core during pregnancy is vital.  There is a misconception out there that ladies should not train their abdominals while they are pregnant.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  However, what is important is HOW you train the abdominals.  The focus during pregnancy needs to be on the Transverse Abdominals (TA) and not the Rectus abdominals (RA) or “six pack”.  The TA will help to support the whole core and the back which are under tremendous strain during pregnancy.  It also will assist with combatting Diastasis Recti, which is when the connective tissue Linea alba separates between the RA.  The idea behind not training abs during pregnancy is derived because of this Diastasis Recti.  To avoid this don’t do exercises focused on activating the RA, like rollups or crunches.

  • Pelvic Floor strength and flexibility

The pelvic floor gets a lot of attention during Pilates.  The reason being that it is a vital component of core strength.  One of the responsibilities of the pelvic floor is to support the organs and to support the load of the growing baby.  Not only is the strength of the pelvic floor thus vitally important, the flexibility is key too.  Ladies need to know not only how to contract the pelvic floor but also how to release it for during labour.

  • Posture focus

As the body changes to accommodate the baby, posture and alignment will be compromised.  No amount of exercise can prevent this from happening.  Pilates focuses on strengthening the stabilizing muscles of the hips, pelvis and spine.  This will assist in alleviating discomfort and help with balance issues as the centre of gravity shifts.

  • Breathing

Breathing is considered one of the key principles of Pilates and is a beneficial skill to develop during pregnancy.  With the baby growing the diaphragm is compressed up into the chest making it harder to breathe. The lateral breathing used during Pilates develops the intercostal muscle lining the ribcage which assists with taking deep breaths.  The breathing techniques learnt in class can be used to control breathing during labour.

  • Birthing and Labour

Pilates focuses on the muscle tone of the abdominal and pelvic floor, both of which are vital during the labour process.  The circulation developed while training increases the oxygen supply to the womb.  Oxygen supply will be important to keep baby comfortable and to make sure mom has the stamina during labour.

  • Constipation

It has been shown that exercise can greatly reduce the risk of constipation, which becomes a real problem for woman during pregnancy.  The stimulation helps to move the food through the large intestines and reduces the time the body takes to absorb the water from the stool.

  • General health

Woman who are not active during pregnancy are at a higher risk of excessive weight gain, pregnancy induced high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes.  These may lead to complications such as having to have a Caesarean section, preeclampsia and high blood sugar.  Activity in a safe environment with a professional is a great way to remain active and avoid all the possible pitfalls of being a couch potato.

  • Recovery

Once baby has finally arrived and your new life as a mother starts it is important to be able to bounce back after labour as quickly as possible.  Simply put, the stronger your body is during pregnancy the stronger it will be after.  Not only do you want your body back in shape and toned, you are now active with lots of lifting, bending and doting on baby.  After delivery, you can get back to your Pilates after six weeks, for a caesarean section wait eight to twelve weeks.  A safe workout can be personally developed to target particular muscle groups for each client’s needs.

Benefits of Pilates Post-pregnancy:

  • Improves Diastasis Rectus (DR), read more below

By focus on the deep abdominal muscles, in particular the Transverse Abdominals, Pilates can help to strengthen and reduce the effects of DR.  This training will also help to stabilise the lumbar spine and deal with back issues which many new moms deal with when carrying a baby.

  • Improves pelvic floor muscles

Pilates for post-natal clients will help women to reconnect and strengthen pelvic floor muscles. These exercises target stress, incontinence and problems that may occur during pregnancy (e.g. prolapse).

  • Overall well-being

Pilates focuses on the body as a whole.  It works to stretch and strengthen the body to get one back into alignment.  A Pilates workout can be challenging without over exerting (already tired) new moms.  Focusing on one’s breathing and connecting the body, helps to de-stress and re-connect, thereby helping to calm an already overwhelmed mom.

  • It’s social

Post-natal classes are an opportunity for moms to meet up and chat to other ladies going through similar experiences.  Also, don’t forget that it gives mom some much needed time to focus on herself.  A happy healthy mom makes for a happy healthy family.


Diastasis Recti

A lot of lot of moms have to deal Diastasis Recti but are often not sure exactly what it is or how to fix it.  Basically, Diastasis Recti occurs when the right and left side of the abdominal muscles start to separate during pregnancy.  The combination of the pressure from growing baby and the hormones released to relax the connective tissue causes the linea alba (mid line fascia that holds right and left side abdominal muscles together) to spread.  It occurs in about 30% of all pregnancies but can also be found in children and other adults.

Diastasis Recti does not cause pain, so you may be blissfully unaware that you even have it.  It does however reduce the integrity and strength of the abdominal wall which may cause or aggravate lower back pain.  The separation can be about 2½ cm in width and may cause the tummy to bulge.  Often moms feel frustrated that their tummies are no longer flat even after losing all the baby weight and this may be the cause.

So, how do you know if you have it?  You can do a simple check yourself.

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Place your fingers across your midline at your belly button
  • Placing the other hand behind your head, slowly roll up into a “crunch” collapsing your ribcage towards your pelvis.
  • What to look for: 2 ½ finger-width gap when you are in the full crunch position.   You can see a bulge along the length of your midline. So now what!!!!

The good news is that this is not permanent and surgery is not required to correct this.  But first there are some things that you need to avoid.  Don’t do any exercise that cause the abdominal muscles to “stretch” too far, for example, in a plank position.  Don’t do any exercise that requires you to flex the upper back off the floor, for example, crunches, “bicycles” and roll ups.  Generally, you should avoid any exercise that causes your abdomen to bulge.

When we are trying to build our abdominals up during and after pregnancy we need to focus on the Transverse Abdominis.  These muscles are the body’s deepest abdominal muscles and create a corset effect around our core to support and protect it.  It is important to identify this muscle and learn how to contract it.  This is rather difficult but through the correct guidance and breathing it can be done.

Pilates has many exercises which target this muscle group which are gentle enough when you are starting out, to make sure you don’t cause any further damage.  Once you are strong enough it takes a simple modification to increase the intensity of the exercise.

So, whether you are pregnant or have already had your bundle of joy, Pilates is a great way to keep your body moving and healthy.