Many people have heard of the positive benefits of Pilates exercises during pregnancy. Some of you may have done (or are currently doing) Pilates during your own pregnancies.
In truth, there is little direct evidence to specifically support Pilates exercises during pregnancy. Joseph Pilates himself was never documented as teaching Pilates (or ‘Contrology’ as he called it) to pregnant women. However, that does not mean to say that Pilates is not an excellent and beneficial form of exercise during pregnancy. The general benefits of exercise during pregnancy are well documented.
Both the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (RCOG) promote exercise during pregnancy for the numerous health and well-being benefits it can offer. These include helping to manage back pain and constipation, improving energy and mood, helping to improve sleep and maintaining fitness to help get through pregnancy and labour.
A recent study reviewing evidence for the treatment of low back and pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy revealed that there is good evidence that exercise is an effective way to manage these problems.
The study did not promote one form of exercise over another, but highlighted several key points including improving strength, endurance, postural awareness and pelvic floor control.
Other studies have promoted exercise during pregnancy to help lower the risk of antenatal depression. So there are many good reasons why exercise during pregnancy should be encouraged. How does Pilates fit into this?
Many of the central ideas of Pilates fit very well with the same exercise benefits we are trying to achieve in pregnancy. It can be argued that the core Pilates principles of postural alignment, breathing control, centering, concentration and precision of movement are even more important for the pregnant woman, who is undergoing such rapid and extreme physical changes.
We know that the combined hormonal, postural and weight changes over the gestational period can often lead to reduced function of the deep muscular support system. Some studies suggest up to 90% of women develop back or pelvic pain during pregnancy. Thus a workout like Pilates which focuses on postural control and gentle core support is ideal.
The breathing control used in Pilates can also be useful to help manage breathlessness, which can accompany later pregnancy, and of course to assist with pain management during labour!
The Pilates focus on concentration and precision of movement helps to achieve a mind-body balance during pregnancy, ensuring participants take care with their movements. And of course Pilates is low impact, so less likely to be damaging on the joints and pelvic floor muscles. It is necessary to modify Pilates exercises during the course of pregnancy however.
The ACOG and RCOG guidelines both recommend that women stop performing exercises lying on their backs during the second trimester onwards. It is also recommended pregnant women closely monitor their exercise intensity, drink adequate fluids and take care not to overheat with exercise.
Very strong abdominal exercises are also not recommended in pregnancy, as the stretched abdomen cannot adequately manage that load. The key is to keep exercise to a moderate intensity. Pregnant women should stop exercising if they develop adverse symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain, bleeding or abdominal cramping.
Finally, pregnant women should seek medical advice before commencing an exercise program – here at Move we require some form of medical clearance before you start pregnancy classes – as there are some conditions which prohibit you from exercising during pregnancy.
So, the take-home message is that exercise, including Pilates, is very likely to help you get through your pregnancy in a healthier, happier and more pain-free way.
Please remember, this information is general and may not be right for you. Speaking to your GP or allied health professional can help you determine the best course of action for you.