A lot of changes occur in the body during pregnancy. Hormonal changes and physical such as weight gain, lower back pain, muscle weakness and incontinence.
As the baby gets bigger, the posture of a pregnant woman changes. The weight of the baby causes the centre of gravity to move forward causing head and shoulders to protrude and round forward. The lower back and the pelvis also tilts forward causing back pain and strained abdominals.
The hormone relaxin is released into the body to allow the pelvis to stretch and dilate during pregnancy and labour. This hormone also leads to weaker joints and muscles making pregnant women more prone to muscle strain injuries.
So how does Pilates help pregnant women?
Research shows a strong core and stabilising the muscles around the pelvis and the spine helps negate the body changes in a pregnant woman. At Corepower Pilates North Sydney, the prenatal, postnatal pilates classes start with breathing exercises which strengthen the deepest abdominal muscles. The deepest muscle called the transversus abdominis muscles wrap around the spine like a corset to help to stabilise the pelvis and lower back. We also do pelvic floor exercises also known as kegels to strengthen and relax them in preparation for labour. A stronger pelvic floor also helps strengthen the lower back and can help with lower back pain.
The abdominals are also affected during pregnancy and the connective tissue that runs in between the ‘6 pack’ muscles loosens causing abdominal separation (diastasis recti). Stomach crunch type movement can cause the abdominals to separate even more. Pilates strengthens the abdominal muscles without compromising separation as most of the exercises with tower pilates is done in an upright position. Pilates is also a low impact exercise where you get a overall body workout, strengthen the core, stretch and tone muscles.
We spoke to pilates clients who took prenatal and postnatal pilates classes at Corepower Pilates North Sydney and an obstetrician from North Shore Private Hospital to get more insight.
Prenatal Pilates Classes
Jenny who had been a long time pilates fan took prenatal pilates classes twice a week she found out she became pregnant. The breathing exercises she learned during prenatal pilates classes helped her to stay calm and focused on the breathing during contractions. She felt more connected to her body and really strong at the same time. She felt comfortable throughout the entire pregnancy as she felt she was moving her body in a safe way. She attributes much of her smooth labour to pilates. She was able to push out her baby girl in 5 minutes at around 3 contractions as her pelvic floor was so strong!
Does training your pelvic floor muscles influence if you get a tear or not?
Research shows perineal massage and kegels (pelvic floor exercises) were found to be important in maintaining the integrity of the perineal. The obstetrician also said many women’s pelvic floor are very tight making it difficult for labour. In the prenatal pilates classes, we teach how to strengthen and relax the pelvic floor muscles and encourage our clients to do these exercises everyday in between classes to strengthen and to be able to control the movement during labour.
Postnatal Pilates Classes
With the demands of a newborn, postpartum recovery and self care is often pushed aside by mums. For some women, the challenges of motherhood affect them both physically and mentally.
A study done on the effect of pilates exercises on postpartum women found that maternal fatigue (general fatigue, physical fatigue mental fatigue, reduced motivation and activity) was reduced in the group who had participated in pilates exercises.
Alison another client, took postnatal pilates classes twice a week after giving birth to her first child. She had diastasis recti and the abdominal separation was narrow and deep. We worked on deep transversus abdominis breathing to help with separation and she also did breathing exercises at home in between the sessions to help fix the diastasis. She also comments it was nice to just have time out period for herself! Other clients have already fixed their diastasis recti and have recovered and have become strong enough to join the regular tower pilates classes.
The prenatal, postnatal pilates classes at Corepower Pilates North Sydney are a safe way to exercise and prepare the body for labour and help recover from birth. Our small intimate classes up to 6 people are also a great way to meet other mums, mums to be in the Sydney’s lower north shore, support each other every week and be connected to your body again.
NB. Medical clearance is required before joining all classes.
1 RCM Midwives 2005 May: 8(5):220-2 Pilates and pregnancy. Balogh A
2 Health 2015 May :7(04):495-505 Effects of prenatal perineal massage and kegel exercises on the integrity of postnatal perine. Sevgul Donmez
3 Singapore Med J 2015 Mar: 56(3): 169-73 Effect of Pilates exercises on postpartum maternal fatigue. Ashrafinia F