Postnatal Pilates is a very well-established idea, with new mums being particularly keen to reap the rewards of an exercise programme that will help their bodies recover from both pregnancy and the birth itself. However, I see much less 'out there' regarding Pilates during your pregnancy. As such, below are 6 ways Antenatal Pilates can benefit you (and your baby).
1) Easing the aches and pains of pregnancy
Pregnancy is tough on your body. You're changing shape, gaining weight, and your hormones are all over the place. As such, you might experience back and shoulder pain, or could develop pelvic issues. Pilates can help you manage these, aid you with posture and balance, and give you an understanding of your new body.
2) Learning to use your breath
There are myriad ways in which Pilates can get you ready for labour. Firstly, using the breath is central to our practice: not only will this aid relaxation during the sessions (beneficial to both you and the little one), but will give you a useful tool when it comes to giving birth.
3) Building strength for labour
The clue is in the word 'labour'. Labour is hard work, so however you're planning to give birth, you want to be in good physical shape. Four-point kneeling and a squatting stance are popular and often recommended positions (see 'How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out'): Pilates can train you to be strong in these positions, which have been shown to speed up labour and ease back pain during birth.
4) Learning to control your pelvic floor
The pelvic floor (a sling of muscles in your undercarriage, that essentially stop you from peeing yourself, amongst other things) is put under a lot of pressure during pregnancy. Pilates can help strengthen these muscles, something that will not only help you while pregnant, but has also been found to decrease the risk of you suffering incontinence after giving birth.
However, it's not just about strengthening your pelvic floor. If a baby is gonna pass through your hoo-ha, things are going to need to relax down there to open up some space. So Pilates also helps you to learn how to release the pelvic floor with control. This can be really difficult, but if you can practise it, it could well help you out in labour.
5) Building strength to help you once your baby is born
Babies are heavy. The average weight of newborn girl is 7lb 4oz, which is over 3kg, while baby boys come in at an average of 7lb 8oz, which is getting on for 3.5kg. Both of these are way more than the average handbag (which comes in at just over 5lb). You know those days where your shoulder aches from carrying a bag all day? Yeah, consider that.
Of course, your baby is only going to get bigger, so you need to develop the upper body strength and stamina to deal with lifting them, as well as buggies, car seats, changing bags, and all the other paraphernalia that come with your new bundle of joy. Pilates can also help you with your postural awareness to ensure you're holding these weights in a way that could help reduce back pain and shoulder problems.
6) Helping you get the baby in a good position for delivery
Of course, this cannot be guaranteed, but Antenatal Pilates encourages movement of the baby and will, in the later stages of your pregnancy, focus on positions and movements to help the baby come into a good place for delivery.
So there you have it. Six ways (but not the only ways) Pilates can help you in pregnancy. If you want to read more, Rodriguez-Diaz (2017) published research on the subject, but ultimately concluded that 8 weeks of Pilates, supervised by a teacher, led to "major improvements in the pregnant woman's physical condition", including blood pressure, delivery time, fewer episiotomies and less analgesic usage. I might add that this research was conducted using the guidance of Lynne Robinson of Body Control Pilates, who trained me in pre and postnatal Pilates...
So what are you waiting for, my pregnant ones? I am available for 1:1 Antenatal Pilates (I can potentially come to you), and pregnant ladies with Pilates experience are welcome at any of my group classes. If the fates align and I have sufficient numbers, I can also run a dedicated prenatal class, so get in touch. See my timetable for more information and contact details.