Pilates & Pregnancy: The Benefits of the Method Before and After Giving Birth

Pilates; it is a method of exercise that people often associate with rehabilitation, mindful movement, and core-specific training. Because of the slow-paced style and attention to detail, many expecting mothers, and those who have given birth, often take up Pilates as a ‘safer’ option. So how safe is Pilates for pregnancy, and how can it help?

Is Pilates beneficial for pregnant women?

Absolutely. Pilates is a mindful physical practice that can keep you strong mentally and fit physically. It contributes to alleviating or avoiding lower back and pelvic ailments via postural and strengthening exercises. This is of paramount importance during pregnancy when ligaments loosen under the influence of the hormone relaxin. Be mindful though; regular Pilates classes involve a series of abdominal exercises that are not suitable for your abdominal wall as it expands to create life. Equipment springs that are not appropriately modified may lead to injuries as well. Prenatal Pilates offers all the benefits of the Pilates practice without any of the above-mentioned risks. Additionally, it prepares you for birth!

How does Prenatal Pilates prepare me for birth?

The principle Pilates movements such as pelvic curls, bridges, and tilts can act as a rehearsal for birth, maintaining joint mobility and muscle elasticity in the pelvic area. A Prenatal Pilates practice also contributes to toning your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, thereby facilitating the phase 2 of labour referred to as the “pushing phase.” Note that too much tension in these muscles can be counterproductive, so learning to release them is a critical aspect of preparing for the big day. That’s one of the reasons I recommend Pilates lovers add prenatal yoga to their practice in the third trimester, to learn to surrender through breath, and to practice poses like malasana (deep squat) that allow the pelvic floor to practice relaxing and stretching.

Is diastasis recti common and will Pilates help?

Imagine the middle of your abdominals stretching like chewing gum and thinning out in the process. That’s diastasis recti, the separation and thinning of the connective tissue between the “6-pack” muscles. 100% of pregnant women who reach 35 weeks of gestation experience it! Not all women experience a concerning degree of diastasis, but inadequate exercise and load too late into pregnancy, or too early postpartum, can worsen the condition, leading to aesthetic and functional concerns such as umbilical hernias, which could potentially require surgery. Pilates helps prevent and/or repair diastasis recti thanks to lateral breathing methods. Activating your deep abdominals prior to movement, load or impact helps to thicken and support your so-called “chewing gum.”

How long after giving birth should I wait before resuming Pilates?

This depends on your childbirth experience and the type of Pilates classes you wish to attend. Although most women are cleared by their OB/GYN at 6 weeks postpartum, the body needs time to build strength and connection again. Typically, most women can start postnatal Pilates between 4 and 6 weeks postpartum and resume regular Pilates between 3 to 8 months depending on their recovery process. A forceps procedure, or C-section healing complications tend to delay this timeline. So does a deconditioned core despite a great birth. Guidelines must be provided on a case-by-case basis.

How does Pilates help postpartum?

The core needs rehabilitation after pregnancy and birth. Postnatal Pilates helps women reconnect with the deep abdominals and pelvic floor through the Six Principles of breathing, concentration, centring, precision, flow, and control. The slow pace and mindful approach of mat Pilates classes also benefits sleep-deprived new mothers who need strengthening in specific muscles to support their spine and pelvis, to address the muscular and postural imbalances triggered by pregnancy, and to “close the gap.” Many of the smaller muscles that Pilates focuses on such as the gluteus medius or serratus anterior to achieve these goals are hard to target with gym moves alone. Which is what makes postpartum Pilates a go-to practice for new mothers, focusing on functionality and being kind to the body rather than increasing the pressure of “bouncing back.” It provides a supportive environment for the new mother to reconnect with her body and the world, at her own pace.

Marianne Tafani is a prenatal and postnatal Pilates educator, core expert, movement therapist, and mother of two.

She has coached 8,000+ clients, supported 1,680 new mothers, and trained over 50 instructors over the past 9 years. A fully-certified Pilates instructor, she also holds diplomas in NeuroPilates, ScolioPilates, Exercise Nutrition, and Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga.

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