Keeping fit is important when you’re pregnant. Pilates instructor Lee Zylstra explains why this is a great form of exercise for pregnant women.

Pilates and pregnancy go together exceptionally well, as the areas we focus on are stamina, flexibility, breathing techniques and the position of the baby.

Pilates incorporates both physical and mental conditioning. It will help develop your physical strength, flexibility and co-ordination while also aiding in reducing stress, improving mental focus and fostering an improved sense of well-being.

During class we will concentrate on the abdominal, pelvic floor and back muscles. When these muscles are strong they help to make your pregnancy more comfortable, labour easier and post-pregnancy recovery quicker.

You need to have a focused mind when performing the Pilates movements. Learning how to engage each individual muscle during a movement helps to develop your mind/body connection. This connection will help during labour when you need to be able to tap into your body’s needs, thereby helping your mind to work with the labour and not against it.

Benefits of Pilates training during pregnancy

First, a strong core during pregnancy is vital. There is a misconception out there that women should not train their abdominals while they are pregnant. This couldn’t be further from the truth. However, what is important is how you train the abdominals.

The focus during pregnancy needs to be on the transverse abdominals (TA) and not the rectus abdominals (RA) or “six pack”. The TA will help to support the whole core and the back, which are under tremendous strain during pregnancy.

Pilates will also assist with combating Diastasis Recti, which is when the connective tissue separates between the RA. Most people avoid training their abs during pregnancy because of Diastasis Recti. To avoid this, don’t do exercises focused on activating the RA, like roll-ups or crunches.

The pelvic floor also gets a lot of attention during Pilates, as it is a vital component of core strength. One of the responsibilities of the pelvic floor is to support both the organs and the load of the growing baby. Not only is the strength of the pelvic floor thus vitally important, therefore, but its flexibility is key too. Women need to know not only how to contract the pelvic floor, but also how to release it for during labour.

As the body makes the changes to accommodate the baby, posture and alignment will be compromised. No amount of exercise can prevent this from happening. Pilates focuses on strengthening the stabilising muscles of the hips, pelvis and spine, which will assist in alleviating discomfort and help with balance issues as the centre of gravity shifts.

Breathing is considered to be one of the key principles of Pilates and is a beneficial skill to develop during pregnancy. With the baby growing, the diaphragm is compressed up into the chest, making it harder to breathe. The lateral breathing used during Pilates develops the intercostal muscles lining the ribcage, which assists with taking deep breaths. The breathing techniques learnt in class can be used to control breathing during labour.

Because Pilates focuses on the muscle tone of the abdominal and pelvic floor, both of which are vital during the labour process, the circulation developed while training increases the oxygen supply to the womb. Oxygen supply will be important to keep the baby comfortable, and to make sure you have the necessary stamina during labour.

Pilates also helps with constipation – a real problem for women during pregnancy. It has been shown that exercise can greatly reduce the risk of constipation, and the stimulation provided by Pilates helps to move the food through the large intestines and reduces the time the body takes to absorb the water from the stool.

After the birth

Once your baby has finally arrived and your new life as a mother starts, it is important to be able to bounce back after labour as quickly as possible. Simply put, the stronger your body is during pregnancy, the stronger it will be afterwards.

Not only do you want your body back in shape and toned, but you are now active with lots of lifting, bending and doting on baby. After delivery, you can get back to your Pilates after four weeks, and if you have a Caesarean section, wait six weeks.

Pregnant woman who are not active during pregnancy are at a higher risk of excessive weight gain, pregnancy induced high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. These may lead to complications such as having to have a Caesarean section, pre-eclampsia and high blood sugar.

Activity in a safe environment with a professional is a great way to remain active and avoid all the possible pitfalls of being a couch potato.

During your pregnancy your body is under a lot of physical strain and we tend to put all our focus on the baby. Remember to take care of yourself too. A healthy, happy mother equals a healthy, happy family!

What to expect at Pilates class

When taking part in a Pilates programme, inform the instructor that you are pregnant so that the exercise can be modified if required. Otherwise try to join a class that specialises in Pregnancy Pilates.

In these classes, exercising on all fours will be encouraged, as it relieves pressure on the lower back and pelvic floor, while helping baby into the best positions for delivery. Controlled flexibility of the pelvis and hip joints will be done to assist with encouraging an easy delivery.

Before heading out to exercise, get the all clear from your healthcare provider to make sure that you are good to go. Then keep the factors below in mind to help safeguard yourself and baby:

  • Don’t let your body temperature go above 38˚C
  • Keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute
  • Don’t remain in a stationary standing position for long periods at
  • a time
  • From the second trimester, don’t lie in a supine position (flat on
  • your back)
  • From the second trimester, don’t do positions that require inversion.

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