Whether this is your first pregnancy or your third, your body and mind are about to undertake an incredibly exciting and intense journey. Pilates has long been considered one of the best forms of exercise to support you during this time*. Equipment or reformer Pilates – performed using specific apparatus rather than a mat – is particularly beneficial. Our Pilates studio manager and mother of one, Monica Argenton, explains why:
– Equipment Pilates classes (taught one-on-one or in small groups of up to four people) provide a high level of individual attention, allowing you and your instructor to tailor a plan that can evolve as your baby and body do. With hundreds of exercises and variations available, as well as a variety of springs and possible adjustments to the machines, the teacher can best adapt the work to suit your body.
– All Pilates teachers receive pregnancy and postnatal training as part of their teacher training and are confident teaching women during all stages of pregnancy.
– After week 16 of pregnancy, it is contraindicated to lie down on your back for long periods as this may inhibit blood flow to the placenta. If this prohibits you from continuing your normal mat Pilates practice, it could be the perfect time to join an equipment Pilates studio, where exercises are performed in a variety of positions.
– Pilates exercises strengthen your pelvic floor and deep postural muscles to support the changes your body is going through during pregnancy. For example, some joints can become looser in the lead up to childbirth and this extra flexibility can make it difficult for you to move ‘correctly’. Pilates studio exercises strengthen the deep muscles of the pelvis and provide stability to those loose joints.
– Working these muscles in the right way can also prepare you for childbirth. With the guidance of an instructor, you can learn how to connect to, contract and release your pelvic floor in a way that will make it easier for the baby to move down the birth canal during the second stage of labour.
– Post birth, Pilates can be fundamental in helping the abdominal muscles knit back together, by strengthening the deepest layers of pelvic floor and transverse abdominis first before targeting the more superficial rectus abdominis and obliques. **
– The use of breath in Pilates is integral to the discipline, and the ability to focus on breathing is extremely important in both pregnancy and birth. In pregnancy, breathing can be helpful in coping with pain and discomfort and can also provide you with much needed grounding and centring at a time of deep emotional change. During labour, breathing can help the mother stay more relaxed and in control when experiencing pain and can increase oxygen to both herself and the baby.
Ultimately, Pilates is a great mind-body exercise for all stages of life. However, by learning how to strengthen and work key muscles, align your body and focus on the breath, Pilates can be an especially useful tool to prepare you for pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal recovery.
*Always check with your doctor prior to continuing with or taking up a new exercise practice during pregnancy. If you are completely new to equipment Pilates, it’s recommended to wait until your second trimester and after your first scan has taken place in week 12 – 14 before you practise.
** After birth, you can start taking classes again after your 6-week postnatal medical check if you had a natural delivery, or after your 12-week check if you had a C-section.