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Pregnancy Pilates: Is It Safe And What To Avoid?

Pregnancy Pilates

Congratulations, you are pregnant! 

Great news and super exciting, as a new adventure starts. But it might also trigger a lot of questions and doubts at the same time. Can I still exercise during pregnancy? I heard good things about Pilates for maintaining a strong body, but is Pilates safe when you are pregnant? Can I still train my core, or how does that work?

In this article, we hope to answer all your questions, while taking away all doubts and fears. Pregnancy is an exciting phase, paired with a lot of new things. The body is changing, but you’re (hopefully) still a healthy individual; able to move and enjoy exercise. And yes, Pilates can certainly be part of your pregnancy. We even dare to say that it will help you maintain strength and a pain free body, as Pilates has many benefits for pregnant women.  

Pregnancy Pilates principles 

Many women wonder whether Pilates is safe during pregnancy. Many have heard about pregnancy yoga, but pregancy Pilates? As Pilates is very core-focused and there are a lot of changes occurring in exactly that area, it’s not strangte to assume that Pilates is not recommended during pregnancy.

However, the Core (what’s in a name) Principles of Pilates focus on safety and full-body strength and control, making Pilates a great exercise for your pregnancy. 

1. Concentration and focus

Working with controlled movements and techniques, Pilates improves the ability to concentrate and focus. You are improving your balancing skills, and muscle and bone strength. 

Pilates is a low-intensity practice where the risk of hurting yourself is very low, the body temperature does not rise excessively, and the exercises can be adjusted from relatively easy to intense for the more experienced. 

2. Breathing

You are probably aware that breathing is one of the most important skills to master, normally but even more when you are pregnant. We can improve our breathing skills and use our ability to breathe more effectively if we practice a little more often. 

A good Pilates teacher teaches you to use the full capacity of your lungs, whilst still being able to maintain good posture, work on core strength, and still being able to relax into it.

3. Relaxation

Pilates exercises teach you how to contract the right muscles at the right time. Between these contracting exercises, we also practice active relaxation of the muscles. Because of this practice, you will also be better at relaxing your body actively when you are not necessarily practicing Pilates: as you know better how to relax your muscles better. 

4. Full body alignment

You might have heard about alignment in your yoga or Pilates classes before. What do we mean by alignment? The correct alignment of the body means that joints, bones, and muscles are placed in the best possible position to support each other. Generally, this means that they’re in right angles or lines with each other, causing the least strain on each other and the softer tissues like connective tissues and cartilage of the body.

5. Control and coordination 

Pilates exercises focus on precision and coordination, teaching you to move your body parts separately and together, in a controlled and precise way. This improves your general physical abilities to coordinate your movements and improves your ‘normal’ movement patterns.

6. Flowing movements 

Pilates is sometimes called the dancers’ workout. The exercises focus on flowing movements where one movement follows another seemingly naturally. We intend to move in a controlled, fluent (dancing kind of) way, without pulling or pushing our bodies too much. 

These flowing movements teach us to use our bodies more fluidly in our daily lives as well; which improves posture, and reduces pain.

7. Stamina

Do you notice that you’re quicker out of breath due to your growing belly? Pilates exercises contribute highly to endurance and stamina and will help you stay fit. While repeating various movement patterns, we work on maintaining form and stimulating the tone of the full body. This stimulates the muscle’s ability to endure tough exercises and the heart long system, the most important system to keep your cardiovascular health in tune.

8. Posture

Posture is very important in Pilates. It’s the basis of the practice ánd it helps improve posture. No slouching in the shoulders or back, you will improve the natural shape of your spine, strengthen the muscles around and further away, and decrease your chances of getting back pain (or anywhere, for that matter). 

 

Pregnancy Exercise

 

Why is Pregnancy Pilates good for you and your baby?

It’s great for overall body and mind health

You want to keep your body and your mind as healthy as possible, right? That’s probably the case, independent of whether you are pregnant or not. Pilates is a mind-body practice, meaning that it’s very good for your mind as well as your body; improving the awareness of what is happening with your body, and how to use and move it in a healthier way.

It reduces stress

Movement helps reduce stress and promote relaxation; it triggers those happy hormones in your brain to release, making you feel happier and more energised. When we’re working on our bodies, this generally makes us feel better about our bodies too: we tone muscles, and this shows on the outside as our body shapes improve! 

It’s a full body exercise programme

Aside from this, Pilates is a full-body practice. A well-designed exercise programme works on compound (full body) exercises, as well as isolated exercises. Generally, there’s a lot of attention for the core and the pelvic floor in pregnancy Pilates, as these body parts are even more important when you are pregnant.

It trains your pelvic floor

Training the pelvic floor is extremely important now you are pregnant. You need those deep core muscles to support all important organs over there (the bladder, intestines, and bladder) and to help push the baby out when you are ready to give birth. At the same time, well-trained pelvic floor muscles will help you recover more quickly after your delivery, and to start exercising again whenever you feel ready for it. 

You breathe more effectively

Pilates helps you to breathe more effectively. This too will help you when you need to give birth: to use your strength most effectively, and to handle pain and discomfort. Pilates is also a great way to maintain a healthy weight and improve your circulation; making sure the heart and lung system along with the veins and arteries (of you and the baby!) stay healthy and receive the right amounts of nutrients, while not gaining too many kilos during pregnancy.

The benefits of Pilates for a healthy pregnancy are numerous. Just be aware that your body changes continuously, requiring you to continuously check in with yourself and adjusting your Pilates practice based on this.   

 

Pregnancy Pilates

Prenatal physical changes 

Shifted centre of gravity

The body changes big time if you are pregnant. The further you get into pregnancy, the more your belly grows, and the more your centre of gravity moves away from ‘normal’. This causes most of us to naturally lean a little more backward with our upper body, and push the belly a little more forward. 

This shifted centre of gravity can cause imbalance in the spine, arching the lower back more than you would normally do, while others tuck the tailbone more underneath to support their belly. With a Pilates practice, you will train your deep core muscles as well as the muscles alongside your spine and around your pelvis to stay healthy and pain-free.

Bigger breasts 

Whilst you grow a little one in your belly, your breasts grow too. This contributes also to your centre of gravity change, so stay aware of your posture. Aside from the size, they might also get more sensitive and the colour of the nipples might change. 

Changes in abdominal muscles

Many women experience the separation of their abdominal muscles due to the growth of their baby. Even though it’s not the case with all women, all bellies must expand to create space for the baby. For that reason, the last thing you want to try is to keep your belly muscles as trained and toned as possible. 

Diastasis recti, as these separated abdominals are called, is usually resolved within 8 weeks after delivery. However, there are also exercises that you can do to help your body a hand but be very careful with this as you don’t want to make it worse. If you are not sure in your post-natal stage, or you experience more than 2 fingers separation in that phase, always reach out to a specialist.

Hormonal changes 

Surprise, no surprise, your hormones shift big time when you are pregnant. Estrogen and progesterone play a large role in your whole pregnancy and they affect your physical body as well as your psychological and emotional state of being.


Digestive changes 

The further you get into pregnancy, the more you might feel like your gut does not work like you were used to (and how you would love it to work). Constipation is a very common symptom during pregnancy, as the body slows down your metabolism for increased nutrient uptake. 

Urinary changes 

I need a toilet! Do you think this is a little more often than before? It makes sense, as the uterus tends to press more and more on your bladder, and the further you get into pregnancy, the more your baby is using your bladder as a little trampoline.

Respiratory changes

You might notice that you get out of breath quicker than you were used to. It’s a very normal thing, as your uterus grows close to your lungs, pressing the diaphragm more strongly upwards. 

Because of this, the lungs cannot expand as much as before anymore, which can cause you to feel out of breath quicker. Nothing harmful, just a little annoying.

Tiredness

First trimester tiredness? Check for most of us. In the second trimester you might feel more energised again, but then the drop in the third trimester…. It makes sense, as you carry a whole lot more and your body grows the details of a whole new human being. Try to rest a little more and surrender to your tiredness whenever it comes up. 

Not being able to lay on your belly 

Your growing bump doesn’t like to be forced against the ground, it wants to have all the space it needs to grow, right? That’s one thing. Aside from that, it’s very important to not lay on your belly to secure optimal blood and nutrient flow to your baby. 

Try to lay most on your left side whilst your bump grows to make sure you get enough blood flow throughout your own body as well as to the uterus. We usually recommend lying on your left side as this reduces pressure on the so-called vena cava

The vena cava is the largest vein in your body, and it carries deoxygenated blood from the lower half of your body to your heart. By reducing stress on this very important vein, the blood flow to the placenta is maximised, ensuring that the fetus receives enough oxygen and nutrients. 

Feeling dizzy when laying on your back too long

In line with the above, it is also very important for your own health to not lay down on your back for too long. The vena cava is very important for bringing used blood back to the heart, to fill it up again with oxygen and nutrients. If this doesn’t happen because the vena cava is compressed, you might feel dizzy quickly, as your blood pressure drops. Lay on your left side, to make sure your own blood flow keeps flowing healthily without getting dizzy. 

Increased flexibility 

Don’t you love those foreward folds and hip openers at the moment? You might feel that you have more space to open your knees, whilst also feeling the need to stretch your back more, as the weight on the front grows, and a stiff back is more rule than exception

Be careful though: you are definitely more flexible, as the hormones relaxin is increasing during pregnancy to make more space in your pelvis. Make sure that you stabilise your joints, that you keep strengthening your muscles, and that you are more careful during balancing exercises. 

Finally, aside from all the changes above, your pregnancy obviously affects your emotional and psychological health too. You might also notice that your hair and nails change, and maybe even the pigmentation of your skin. Nothing to worry about, it’s all part of the journey called Motherhood. 

Pregnancy exercise

What do you need to keep in mind before starting pregnancy Pilates?

Always consult your primary healthcare practitioner whether it is safe for you to keep exercising or to start an exercise programme. He or she might also have some personalised recommendations, based on your body and personal circumstances. 

What to avoid in Pilates when you are pregnant?

  1. Situps, crunches, bicycles: any movement that compresses or restricts the oxygen flow in the belly. You don’t want to actively train your sixpack to contract and grow tighter, as the pregnant belly actually needs the opposite: it needs space to expand.
  2. No twisting in the belly. Also here, don’t restrict the oxygen and nutrient flow in your belly. You can still work on stretching your shoulders, with the knees towards the other side, but make sure you are twisting from your chest instead of from your waist.
  3. Planks: Avoid the risk of back injury as the belly grows, as well as the tightening of your abdominal muscles.
  4. Exercises with a high risk of falling. Balancing exercises are great, specifically as your pregnancy causes you to be a little more imbalanced (more clumsiness, anyone?) due to hormonal changes as well as your changing centre of gravity. Aside from that, you want to avoid the risk of falling and hurting yourself and your baby.
  5. Physical contact sports: it might come with no surprise, but avoid exercise where others can hurt your belly. Schedule those kickboxing classes for next year.
  6. Be careful with jumping. There’s quite a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor already. You don’t want to run the risk of urinary leakage, so maybe avoid jumping. Try to strengthen your pelvic floor with pelvic floor exercises instead.
  7. Avoid anything that doesn’t make you feel good. If that means that you quit a class before it formally ends, try to be alright with that. You never want to feel nauseous, in pain, or simply very very uncomfortable. 
Pregnancy Exercise

When to stop exercising when you are pregnant?

Always be alert to your body’s response to the exercise. Not to make you scared in advance, but please always stop exercising when..

  1. You’re getting nauseous or you have to vomit
  2. In case of vaginal bleeding
  3. If you feel faint or light-headed
  4. When experiencing strong pains, especially in your pelvic or back area
  5. When you experience reduced movement of your baby

Recommendations when you are ready to start Pilates

1. Work with an experienced and qualified pregnancy Pilates teacher 

At the beginning of your pregnancy, you might be able to keep up with ‘normal’ Pilates classes. But be aware here: you don’t want to raise your temperature too much anymore as this can induce miscarriage, nor do you want to work your abdominals too much anymore, or restrict the oxygen flow in your belly with twists. Just to be sure, start to work with a pregnancy Pilates teacher who will guide you safely and securely. 

2. Find a studio and teacher that you like

Nothing is as motivating as a teacher that you like, a space that feels comfortable, and nice people in the group. Take your time to find a class that works for you and stick to it. It’s also nice to share this special time with a group in the same phase as you are, as you grow together, you can have fun together, and a nice bonus: the teacher knows you and your preferences and restrictions after a while. 

3. Hydrate frequently

Your body needs a lot of fluids. Not only because you might be sweating, but your blood volume has increased and nutrients and oxygen have to travel further than before. Make sure you keep the fluids stable. 

4. Take rest when you feel you need it

Don’t push through now you’re pregnant. There’s another time to be ambitious and push yourself again. 

5. Feel your own body

No one can tell you what feels right or wrong; you need to work on listening to your inner compass even more than normal, and trust what your body tells you. 

6. Focus on core stability 

Instead of doing crunches to strengthen your core, make sure you work on contracting your deep core muscles to stabilize your whole body. This does mean engaging your belly muscles, but instead of bringing your upper body and lower body closer together, think about your muscles wrapping your belly, bringing your baby closer to your spine. 

7. Modify when needed

Use props like blankets, pillows, a Pilates ball or anything you need wherever you feel that your body needs a little more support. 

8. Avoid laying on your back (for too long) 

Supine exercises are not forbidden, so don’t be afraid to harm your baby if you just lay on your back for just a while. Just make sure to keep moving to stimulate blood flow, and to change position after max +/- 3 minutes. It is very personal per woman whether laying on the back is very uncomfortable or not; also here: listen to YOUR body. 

9. Pay attention to those pelvic floor exercises

Pregnancy Pilates will focus also on pelvic floor exercises. Make sure you understand them and that you can really feel the effect of the exercises; this will help you big time later in your pregnancy.

Concluding

Pilates is perfectly safe and actually very good for your health and your baby’s health. Staying active is the best thing you can do to maintain a healthy weight, and to support your muscles, joints, blood flow, and mood. Pregnancy Pilates has many benefits, so why not start tomorrow?

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