Today I am going to discuss 5 great reasons to practice prenatal Pilates during your pregnancy. If like me you’ve recently announced your pregnancy, then your social media algorithms almost certainly knew about it before your own family did. Suddenly we are bombarded with things to buy, from maternity clothing to breast pumps and bump creams – there are so many things you never knew you needed! It’s a confusing time, with choices to make at every turn, but most importantly I want to ensure I have a healthy and happy pregnancy.
As a Pilates teacher, I am lucky to have a little insight into some of the things I might expect. I’ve been teaching Prenatal Pilates at York Pilates People for a few years now, so I’ve learned from my clients about the pregnancy journey. And I’ve also learned a lot from movement and wellness experts across the world. This means that – although I often feel lost in many aspects of pregnancy – I have a pretty clear checklist when it comes to looking after my physical health.
With that in mind, here’s my list of the top 5 things that I’ll be doing for myself over the next few months. Plus, a glimpse of what I’ll be offering to members of my Prenatal Pilates Programme:
#1: Preparing My Muscles For Giving Birth
“How do you think a woman pushes the baby out of her during childbirth? With positive thoughts?” – Carrie Macy Samper (national Pilates training manager for Equinox)
When I was preparing my Prenatal Pilates Programme, this no-nonsense quote made me chuckle, but it also stuck in my mind. Of course, positive thoughts do have a role to play in childbirth – the growing popularity of Hypnobirthing has shown us just how valuable it can be. However, to an ever-practical Pilates teacher, it seems just as important to prepare the body as it is to prepare the mind for the huge task that lies ahead.
Prenatal Pilates helps you to do just that – it teaches you to connect to your core (aka your “PUSH!” muscles) in a safe and effective way. After all, there’s no use telling your body to push if you’ve never taught your muscles what that actually means.
If you’re thinking “I don’t really fancy doing sit-ups during pregnancy, thank you very much”, then your instincts are correct – this particular type of exercise should generally be avoided. However, Prenatal Pilates can teach you many other ways to use and strengthen your core.
#2: Finding Strength & Capability In My Whole Body
“Birth is not something ‘going wrong’ with the body… Birth is something right, healthy and powerful, the perfect expression of a body at the peak of its powers” – Milli Hill, founder of the Positive Birth Movement.
As we learn more and more about childbirth, many women are choosing to get up off the hospital bed and give birth in a more instinctive position such as on all fours or squatting. If this is something that you are planning – or an option that you’d like to keep open – your body needs to be prepared for these positions.
Our modern lives and postures mean that, for many people, our knees, hips, shoulders and wrists are just not conditioned for anything other than sitting and standing. Prenatal Pilates pays attention to the whole body, giving you time to practice a variety of postures, strengthen your muscles, mobilise your joints, and figure out what works for you.
Some Pilates exercises will feel challenging and that’s ok, because you know what? We can do hard things!
#3: Strengthening My Pelvic Floor In An Integrated Way
The one piece of advice which you’re likely to have received in relation to your physical health during pregnancy is that you should do “Kegels” or pelvic floor squeezes. It’s true that the pelvic floor bears a lot more weight as your pregnancy progresses, so it needs to be strong, but also it needs to be able to relax as baby comes out, so at the same time it needs to be supple.
“In actuality, the strongest muscle is one that is the perfect length – you need Pelvic Floor Goldilocks – it’s juuuuuust right.” – Katy Bowman, Biomechanist
There are 35 muscles that attach to the pelvis, and Prenatal Pilates pays attention to all of these including, but not only, the pelvic floor. Keeping your hips, glutes and thighs healthy is not only going to bring you more comfort during your pregnancy, but it will also help you to find that perfect balance for the pelvic floor – in child birth and beyond.
#4: Using Breathing To My Advantage
“I don’t think I’m used to being conscious of my breathing, and breathing so deeply; I found that really beneficial” – feedback from an attendee at a recent York Pilates People course.
Despite what some disciplines might have you believe, breathing is not always about connecting to some spiritual plane – you don’t have to hum or curl your tongue into a taco to make it work. In fact, learning to breathe well during Prenatal Pilates is an incredibly useful physical tool, which helps to get your pelvic floor moving in a smooth and supple way.
When you breathe effectively, you move many small muscles and connective tissues which might otherwise remain tense and static; it allows you to feel more mobile and more aware of your body. Deep, slow breathing is also an amazing way to calm your body, which brings me to …
#5: Taking Time To Soothe My Nervous System
There’s plenty to feel stressed about in the months before your baby arrives, and in normal times, we might book a nice pregnancy massage to help to ease some of these stresses for a while. However, as that’s not possible during the COVID-19 crisis, we have to take matters into our own hands!
Alongside my Pilates training, I’ve learned many techniques for self-massage, to help to ease stress in the body – whether that stress has an emotional or physical origin. These techniques are a brilliant double-whammy – creating a sense of calm and revitalisation, but also allowing your body to function optimally by literally “rubbing out” tension that you don’t want.
“The sessions have allowed me to balance my life! In 3 sessions I feel positive, confident and able to cope more.” – feedback from my ‘Relax for Resilience’ course.
Relaxation is key to feeling resilient throughout your pregnancy and beyond. I use my physiological knowledge to lead effective relaxation sessions, which I’ll use to conclude each class in my Prenatal Pilates Programme. Just like everything on this list, I encourage you to think of this time as a necessity, not a luxury.