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How Pilates Can Support Your Changing Body Throughout Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a lot – your whole body changes dramatically over the course of nine months in preparation to bring a tiny human into this world, and even when you know your body is going to change, it’s still strange to experience it firsthand.

It can be exhausting, physically taxing, and a little weird.

When it comes to the pregnancy process, there are a number of things you can do to feel at home in a constantly changing body. Pilates specifically is a fantastic exercise to support your body with low-impact training that can be modified throughout your pregnancy.

A regular Pilates routine during your pregnancy can:

  • Minimize aches and pains (we’re looking at you, lower back pain)
  • Strengthen your body in preparation for birth
  • Help you practice deep breathing for the birthing process
  • Help you feel good in your body, regardless of the completely normal aesthetic changes that happen when your body is supporting a whole other person.

At the end of the day, it’s about helping you prepare your body, while also helping you feel at home in your body, too.

Note: Every pregnancy is different – even healthy pregnancies. Consult with your prenatal healthcare professional to discuss what exercise programs are healthy and safe for your body.

How Pilates can support a pregnant body

First, it’s important to emphasize that multiple studies have found that physical exercise in general carries minimal risk during a healthy pregnancy.

Pilates specifically has been found to minimize many pregnancy-related aches and pains while improving the birthing process and postpartum recovery period.

During pregnancy

Throughout your pregnancy, Pilates can provide a ton of benefits to strengthen your body and minimize pressure on your legs, back, and shoulders. A regular pilates routine can:

  • Improve posture. During pregnancy, your shoulders typically pull forward to help carry the extra weight in your body, By opening the chest and keeping the neck aligned with the spine, you can release tension from your shoulders, neck and upper back.
  • Prevent and minimize lower back pain. Lower back pain is incredibly common during pregnancy. Due to the changes in your body’s distribution of weight, your lower back can take on a disproportionate amount of pressure. Pilates will help you build strength in the low spine and obliques safely to support your lower back and mitigate pain.
  • Help you sleep better. A randomized control study found that regular Pilates resulted in significant improvements in sleep quality and an overall reduction of sleep problems for pregnant practitioners.
  • Calm your nervous system. When you’re pregnant, your body experiences increased blood volume, heart rate, and cardiac output, which can cause you to feel short of breath. Pilates breathing helps calm the nervous system, which can lower blood pressure and the probability of preeclampsia, as well as general stress levels.

During childbirth

Giving birth is like running a marathon. Pilates is like the cross-training you do to prepare for a marathon. By practicing Pilates regularly leading up to your due date, you can:

  • Increase body awareness and control: Pilates requires a degree of control over your body, which can help you mentally and physically prepare for childbirth.
  • Lower rates of episiotomies and C-sections during the birthing process.
  • Help you breathe better: The deep breathing techniques emphasized in our classes is similar to the Lamaze breathing emphasized during childbirth, which can enhance relaxation and decrease the perception of pain.
  • Strengthens your pelvic floor: Studies show that Pilates can significantly strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and reduce labor pain intensity.
  • Shorten the labor period: Regular pilates exercise reduces “the length of the active phase and second stage of labor and increases maternal satisfaction of the labor process.”

Postnatal

There is always going to be a recovery period following childbirth. From your hormones and emotions to physical changes in your body, everything is all over the place.

That said, studies show that Pilates during and after a pregnancy aid postpartum recovery for your pelvic floor and core muscles, and can also reduce postpartum mental and physical fatigue.

As always, consult with your doctor to discuss the right exercises for your body postpartum.

Incorporating pilates into my most recent pregnancy made all the difference in the world! I had less joint pain, was able to stay much more active (which is completely necessary with 2 toddlers at home!), and felt this was overall, the quickest recovery out of my 3 pregnancies. Both practicing and teaching Pilates while pregnant made me feel strong and more confident. – Jillian D., RTR Instructor

How to modify Pilates throughout your body

As your body changes throughout pregnancy, you can adjust your Pilates exercises to support your body and respect its limits.

No matter where you are in your pregnancy, if something hurts, feels uncomfortable, or causes you to become lightheaded, stop the exercise in question. Now is the time to listen and be kind to your body (and ask instructors for help if you need it!).

Otherwise, we suggest a few general guidelines to support your Pilates routine during pregnancy:

  • Up until 20 weeks and with a doctor’s permission, there are typically no modifications needed, and you are free to partake in all aspects of the class
  • Somewhere between the end of your first trimester and after 20 weeks, it’s encouraged to stop lying on the stomach.
  • We encourage pregnant clients to keep their hips below their rib cage to avoid inversions, so as to keep the baby below your heart.
  • The heavier the baby, the harder it is to maintain circulation, so as you progress during your pregnancy you will want to avoid laying on your back.
  • The top layer of your abs becomes distended during pregnancy, and we want to avoid working against the way your body wants to grow. So rather than straightforward crunches, pregnant practitioners can focus on building obliques and transverse abs through diagonal crunches and planking.

Your third trimester

As your pregnancy progresses, it’s important to be aware of your limits, and to meet your body where it is. We generally recommend that pregnant clients stick to level 1 and level 1+ classes.

Additionally, towards the last 4-6 weeks of your pregnancy, we encourage clients to avoid pushing to edge of a stretching exercise. As your body prepares for birth, it releases a host of hormones that cause your body to become extra flexible. As a result, you may not be aware of your body’s normal limitations, so we advise cautious stretching.

Exercises we love for pregnant bodies (from personal experience)

As our clients and instructors practice Pilates through their pregnancies, here are a few of the exercises they LOVED (and we think you’ll love them too)!

  • Side lying: exercises on your side will naturally feel amazing during pregnancy. Our side lying series releases the lower back and hamstrings, all while strengthening the glutes. Additionally, it can feel like a very supportive position for your growing baby.
  • Planks: planks are a great way to engage all of your abs, pulling them in to your core. One client said it felt like they were hugging their baby, which we absolutely love and agree with.

Pregnant or not, I love teaching side lying. Working the glutes (inner and outer) helped relieve some of the lower back pain and pressure associated with pregnancy and the positioning is safe for woman at any stage during pregnancy. Forward seated arm work is another favorite, and strong arms are a must when that newborn wants to be held 24/7! An articulated bridge was my go-to stretch for my lower stiffness. By tucking the pelvis and lifting one vertebra at a time I was able to decompress the pressure associated with pregnancy. This is safe throughout pregnancy in moderation. – Jillian D., RTR instructor

Work with your instructor to tailor classes to your needs

Most of our classes can be modified to support a pregnant body. In order to experience a safe, effective workout, discuss your concerns with instructors before class and review any necessary modifications to protect you and your baby.

Experience the power of Pilates today!

As you navigate your pregnancy, it’s important to find the activities that help you feel comfortable in your changing body, as well as mentally and physically prepared for the marathon of childbirth.

Whether you’re looking to reduce labor pain, sleep better, get rid of lower back pain, or just feel more at home in your body, Pilates is a great exercise to add to your fitness routine.

Join our community at RTR Pilates and see the results for yourself! Get your first month of unlimited classes for just $129.