6 Ways Pilates Benefits Your Postnatal Recovery
Being a new mum is not easy. There is a new human in your life who is entirely dependent on you. Exercise is probably not going to be your first priority, but there will come a time when you feel ready and able to start moving again. For when that time arrives, here are some reasons why Pilates would be a good starting place.
1) Strengthen your pelvic floor
Your pelvic floor muscles (simply, the muscles that stop you peeing yourself) have been put under a lot of pressure during both pregnancy and childbirth. Stress incontinence and prolapse are common amongst new mums, and Pilates is a great way to reconnect with and strengthen your pelvic floor to counter these issues.
However, learning to engage these muscles can be tricky: "Most women recruit their abs and buttocks instead of their vaginal muscles" says gynaecologist Star Hampton (aside: what a great name!). Thus, working on engaging your pelvic floor with a trained postnatal Pilates teacher can help ensure you aren't wasting your time on exercises that aren't hitting the right spot, and get everything 'downstairs' back in order (not just for bathroom matters, but for sex, too!).
2) Improve diastasis recti
When you are pregnant, your tummy muscles need to stretch to allow room for your baby to grow. When these muscles are overstretched, they can separate, leaving you a little weak in your centre, and vulnerable to things like back pain. Diastasis recti can be fixed by an operation, but this is major surgery and to be avoided unless absolutely necessary; though the muscles may heal naturally over time, Pilates can help to safely encourage the muscles to draw back together, getting you back to full strength quicker.
3) Regain a good posture and prevent back pain
Your body, including your posture, changes during pregnancy, and these changes can hang around after you've giving birth too (sometimes for years!). Not only this, but caring for a baby often means spending lots of time still and leaning over, not to mention the weight of carrying them about (particularly if you carry them on one side) - these things can all contribute to stiffness and back pain. Pilates will help you mobilise the stiff parts, become aware of the position of your hips and spine, and also help you regain core stability to help protect your back.
4) Strengthen and energise your whole body
Pilates isn't just about your core. We will also work on your upper and lower body, strengthening you all over - after all, looking after a baby is a physical job, especially as they continue to grow into toddlers!
Childcare is also tiring, and while it might sound like a paradox, exercise actually energises you. This is due to hormonal changes brought about by movement, but the physiological changes also ensure that your body is more efficient and able to perform everyday activities with less effort. Oh, and did I mention that regular exercise has been shown to improve the quality of your sleep? Especially important when you're not getting a lot of it!
5) Build confidence and feel good about yourself
Your body has changed hugely. You may be overwhelmed by having to care for a new human. Perhaps you feel pressure to be the 'perfect mum'. Postnatal Pilates is a way to help you reconnect with your new body in a supportive and social environment, and, importantly, is a time for you. Whether you attend a mum and baby session, or a general class, this is an hour where you can recharge body and mind.
There is a great body of evidence that explores how the mind and body are linked: Pilates has been shown to aid physical postnatal recovery (see the other reasons), and the quicker you feel like your body is recovering, the more likely you are to feel like yourself again, ready to conquer the world!
6) Help you lose baby weight
While Pilates itself is not the best form of exercise for weight-loss, it is going to give you the tools to prepare your body for more rigorous activity. For instance, you're not going to want to go running if you're suffering with stress incontinence, and lifting weights isn't the best idea if you still have diastasis recti. Pilates is a great way to ease yourself back into exercise, with the guidance of a professional and at a sensible rate (though I'm not saying it will be easy!). On top of this, you may not also have much opportunity to exercise while caring for your new one, so a Mum and Baby class might be a great way to start moving without having to worry about childcare.
So there you have it. Plenty of ways in which Pilates can help you through the postnatal period.
Postnatal mums are welcome at any of my general classes (see timetable), and I am running a new Mum and Baby class on Tuesday mornings (suitable for pre-crawling babies). I'm also available for private sessions, and for hire by small groups - so if you have a group of friends who are new mums, do get in touch!
N.b. Most new mums are ready to begin Pilates six weeks after birth (longer if you have had a caesarean). Medical permission to return to exercise is required in all cases.