Pilates is an ideal form of exercise for pregnancy for many reasons. The emphasis on breath as well as mobility, strength, and flexibility will provide the support and stability to the body that is needed during pregnancy. During pregnancy there is increased blood volume, heart rate, and cardiac output, which can lead to shortness of breath. Pilates breathing can be very beneficial by calming the nervous system and lowering blood pressure. It will also build the stamina and endurance that is needed for delivery. Prenatal Pilates can promote pelvic floor health, helps to manage diastisis recti, and will prepare you for labor and delivery as well as helping you to recover more quickly. Pilates is also very modifiable and can be adapted as your body and abilities change. Always check with your doctor when starting an exercise program during pregnancy and find an instructor who can work closely with you to make sure that you are doing exercises that are safe and appropriate for pregnancy. Make sure to listen to your body and pace yourself as energy levels will change. Make sure to stay hydrated and increase caloric intake to keep your energy levels up. Things to watch for are:nausea, feeling faint, dizziness, shortness of breath, uterine contractions, bleeding, leaking fluid, racing heart, and headache. If you experience any of these during exercise, stop immediately and rest.
During pregnancy, the body will change dramatically. Your center of gravity will shift, which will affect balance. Being careful when getting on and off equipment, up and down off the floor, or sitting on an exercise ball. Changes in hormones will cause joints to become more flexible (especially in the hip joints). Ligament and muscle strains may be more likely to occur. Make sure to work in a smaller range of motion during movements and don't overstretch. Try to increase your awareness of the engagement of your pelvic floor muscles and focus on breathing as pregnancy progresses. This will also help with lower back pain - keep the transverse abdominis (TA) muscles strong. The first trimester may be a time where you can still perform most Pilates exercises, but listen to your body and don't over exert. Simple breath work can help oxygenate the body as well as reduce anxiety and increase energy.
During the second trimester, it is recommended that you stop doing exercises on your back because it can obstruct the flow of blood to the baby. Props like a wedge or mini ball can be helpful to modify the exercise. It's also recommended that your feet aren't put over your head and not to exercise while laying on your belly. Full planks may increase intra-abdominal pressure (downward pressure on the pelvic floor muscles) and forward-flexion abdominal exercises (eg. full sit ups) may contribute to diastase recti (as mentioned above). It is equally important to relax the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles through breath work because tight or overactive muscles can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction (inability to control the muscles of the pelvic floor).
During the third trimester, focus on keeping the chest and back open with stretching. This is due to the fact that the belly and chest are growing and may cause your shoulders to round forward. Pilates can promote circulation and work the muscles that surround the joints. This can help with the joint pain that can accompany the later stages of pregnancy. Kegel exercises may help to relax and release the pelvic floor muscles. Gentle mobility and stretching exercises may be most beneficial during this stage of pregnancy. Signs to stop exercising and contact your doctor include any of the following:
unusual shortness of breath
abdominal pain regular painful contractions
amnionic fluid leakage
calf pain or swelling
Try these tips when doing Pilates during pregnancy:
always work with an instructor that has extensive prenatal training
wear light, comfy clothing
consult a healthcare professional or pelvic floor physical therapist before starting
avoid holding your breath
do not exercise in hot or humid conditions
always have snacks handy and stay hydrated
use specialized equipment like the Reformer or Cadillac (especially in the later months) - they offer more comfortable positions and resistance training
take time when coming up from the floor
remember to relax pelvic floor muscles - it is just as important as contracting them
be careful not to overstretch due to joints having more laxity
Pilates can be helpful at every stage of pregnancy. Make sure to find a qualified Pilates practitioner that specializes in pregnancy that can gear the exercises to meet your needs.
Learn more about the pelvic floor and exercises to strengthen it by clicking on the link!