Experts agree that as long as you get the green light from your doctor to work out while expecting, prenatal Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise you can do—and you should start as early in your pregnancy as possible. According to a 2017 study, Pilates is especially beneficial for the mother-to-be’s mental health, and for helping to decrease pregnancy-related aches and pains.
Pilates Anytime teacher Courtney Miller, the San Diego–based owner of Pilates Republic and a mother of two, agrees. “Not only is Pilates completely safe during pregnancy for most women, it’s an intelligent, whole-body approach to conditioning. Pilates is one of the only exercise methods out there that will give you the muscle strengthening, the stretching and the breathwork you need,” she says.
"Being pregnant is a beautiful, life-altering, body changing experience," says Wendy Foster, founder of Mamalates and a pre/postnatal specialist for Pilates Anytime. Foster is passionate about sharing the safest, most effective movement for all stages of pregnancy. "Pilates is an excellent choice for this journey, because it gives you confidence in your mobility, strength, and stability," she adds.
The fundamental principles that underlie all of the work of the Pilates Method also make it well-suited to pregnancy.
The first thing you're going to want to think about when you are pregnant is how you're breathing. You’ll want to employ Pilates breathing, or posterior lateral rib cage breathing: inhaling into the ribs and the sides of the body, and exhaling through the mouth. "That can help to expand the rib cage and stretch all those intercostal muscles that can get really tight during pregnancy to make space for baby," says Foster.
"We know that there’s a connection between breath and our emotional state," Miller explains. "The breath we teach in Pilates translates to daily life, to better coping with the emotional ups and downs, and the anxiety prenatal clients might experience."
And as Miller points out, the connection between the physical work of Pilates and breathing helps later on, too, with labor and delivery.
Your overall alignment becomes top-of-mind during pregnancy, when your center of gravity changes due to the growing baby. Pilates is known for teaching good postural habits and improving body awareness while sitting, standing, or moving. For example, learning what it feels like to have your ears right in line with your shoulders, your shoulders in line with your rib cage, and your ribs stacked on top of your hips can help to decrease back, hip, and shoulder pain.
“It's so important to move with stability while you're moving through your life, but also while you're exercising and working out,” says Foster. "The goal during pregnancy isn't to try and touch your toes, or increase your flexibility. You have a lot of relaxin flowing through your body, the hormone helps expand your pelvis to prepare for labor and delivery," she adds.
The goal is to stay stable, strong, and connected to your core. Paying attention to your range of motion during your Pilates workout is key. "We need to be mindful of range of motion and over-stretching because mom’s ligaments are a little more sensitive," says Miller.
It's important to stay mobile through your entire spine and body during your pregnancy. Pilates movements work the spine in flexion, extension, lateral bending, and rotation (that last one in a limited range during pregnancy). This emphasis on spinal mobility can help prevent all kinds of discomfort during pregnancy and postpartum.
Pilates is all about creating a balanced body, something that’s especially important when navigating a growing bump. One of Miller’s favorite spots to work on to promote symmetry and balance? The glutes.
"As your uterus expands and your pelvis starts to compensate by moving anteriorly [at the front of the body], the hamstrings and glutes lengthen and can weaken," she explains. "By strengthening the glutes, we create more support in the posterior chain [back body]."
"My number-one rule with pregnant clients is that they let go of the ego and listen to their body," says Miller. "This is the time to let that competitive attitude go, and learn to become connected to your body and listen to your intuition. If you feel nauseous lying on your back, then don’t do it. If you’re feeling fatigued, don’t push yourself. I stopped doing supine work [lying on the back] after my first trimester, but did prone exercises [on the stomach] into the early part my third trimester because it didn’t bother me."
Some small props can make almost any Pilates exercise more accessible during pregnancy, notes Foster.
So what’s the difference between prenatal Pilates and “regular” Pilates? Miller doesn’t see much of one. "My approach is that the prenatal client isn’t delicate or injured—they’re very strong and capable," she says.
Bottom line: Pilates empowers you to do what works for you. And that’s a beautiful thing during pregnancy and beyond.
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