Pregnancy is a wonderful thing, so it’s important to go with the changes your body is making and try not to maintain your usual exercise routine. Your pregnant body is changing and so should your fitness habits. High intensity and high impact aerobic exercise should be avoided, so swap running for walking, which can be just as effective as well as kinder to your joints, something to be especially aware of as your body becomes more flexible.
So, what about Pilates? With Pilates, the focus is on strengthening and tightening the core muscles of the body, which are primarily the stomach, back, thighs and the behind. During pregnancy, the abdominal wall stretches, allowing the womb to expand with the growing baby and so continuing Pilates whilst pregnant, is counter-productive, as the body’s muscles are relaxing and loosening due to the release of Relaxin. It is therefore generally NOT advisable to practice Pilates whilst pregnant.
If however, you have been practising Pilates regularly before pregnancy, it is usually fine to continue with adapted Pilates exercises, up to about the first trimester, subject to medical approval. Once you enter the second trimester though, there are just a few Pilates exercises (only about 8 out of the original 34 exercises) that are suitable whilst in the early stages of pregnancy and which can be altered to help strengthen the back muscles but only under the supervision of a qualified Pilates Instructor or Physiotherapist.
One very helpful thing is to continue to exercise your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy but particularly after giving birth. By squeezing the PELVIC FLOOR, on the exhale INSTEAD of the lower stomach muscles as you would normally do, this should help maintain and improve the strength of the pelvic floor, also targeting the lower back muscles. To do this is similar to how you would stop the flow when urinating; it’s a squeeze from within. You feel your Glutes tighten and the strong canopy of muscles, which form your pelvic floor, contracts and lifts upwards towards your head.
Overall, I consider that Pilates is NOT suitable during pregnancy, as many exercises involve lying on the front or back. As the body adapts for pregnancy, the joint at the base of the spine, where the pelvis joins the sacrum, called the Sacroiliac Joint, becomes more mobile during pregnancy and in preparation for giving birth. So, rolling back on the Sacroiliac joint or twisting on them, is to be avoided. Rolling back Pilates exercises, such as ‘The Crab’, ‘The Seal’ and ‘The Boomerang’ are not suitable as these strengthen the stomach muscles, the muscles your body is exactly trying to loosen!
Ultimately, it is best to simply enjoy being pregnant, take things easy and don’t practice Pilates but do work that pelvic floor! An ideal time to resume Pilates after giving birth is 3-4 months, subject to the approval of your Doctor or Midwife/Health Visitor and of course, when you feel ready!
During pregnancy, it is possible to enjoy low impact exercises, such as gentle walking or swimming but undertaking any exercise whilst pregnant, you should seek the advice of your Doctor or midwife beforehand.
Elizabeth Reid is a Level III Pilates Instructor, with over 17 years of experience and has helped guide many through Pilates during their early-stage pregnancy, ensuring the safe practice of Pilates with adaptations, whilst remaining inclusive, in a group class format.