Pregnancy in my own experience can certainly be described as a rollercoaster, ups and downs of hunger, mental energy and physical discomfort. Hence why when our body is going through so many drastic changes, it can make a world of a difference to find ‘what makes us feel good’, bringing back some vitality into our lives when we most need it.
Pilates has been my core activity when I need to restore those comforting feelings of wellbeing. Pilates positively aids the pregnant woman not only on so many levels physically (which I will explain in more detail later on), however also mentally. Pilates gives you the time to connect mind, body and spirit. The exercises are delivered as a beautiful flow, leaving you no time to think about “things to do before the baby arrives” list. Breath is an integral part of overall body functioning, increasing volume capacity and providing other physiological benefits. Breath is one of the core principles for Pilates, enhancing the movements and allowing people to go inwards, being mindful of breath and movement patterns. You can certainly appreciate how Pilates can rejuvenate the mind and the spirit, particularly when hormones are fluctuating! As pregnant women, we are feeling so many changes and adjusting constantly, we may bounce between feelings of confidence, fear, anxiety, sadness and happiness, and we may feel all of these feelings within only an hour (or less)! This is why I feel so passionate about Pilates throughout pregnancy, so women have the power to once again feel more grounded and aligned, by connecting with their movements, breath and the mind.
On a physical level, Pilates has proven to have so many profound effects during pregnancy. I could write pages on how Pilates helps muscles, extremities and joints in the body, however for the purpose of this blog I will stick to three topics – the glute muscles, transverse abdominis muscle and the pelvic floor.
The gluteal muscle consists of the gluteus minimus, medius and maximus, with the maximus being the largest of the three. The glute muscles stabilize your pelvis during running and walking. Put weak glutes and a pelvis that is working in overdrive to support the weight of a growing baby and you have a recipe for discomfort or pain. In pregnancy the glutes are lengthening more as the belly is pulling you forward, creating more extension (or lordosis) in the lower back. If the glutes are weak and lengthening due to pregnancy, the pelvis can become a little out of sorts, possibly leading to pain in the lower back or pelvic region. I experienced lower back pain between 16 and 24 weeks and decided to seek treatment outside of my Pilates regime. I saw Danni, a physiotherapist trained in all things women’s health at The Wellness Boutique. She focused on applying targeted movements around my lumbar spine (lower back), which then had a flow on effect to the tightness I was feeling in my gluteal muscles. With the tension release in my lower back I was then able to move pain free and continue exercising and targeting the glutes again with Pilates. If your lower back becomes tight and sore because other muscles are compensating for the glutes then it is certainly recommended to seek physiotherapy. Danni is a miracle worker, as I am now 28 weeks pregnant and have had absolutely no pain since her treatment.
The transverse abdominis muscle (TA) is a deep muscle layer of the abdominal wall and supports your baby during pregnancy. The pelvic floor works in conjunction with your TA to keep your belly from dropping to your toes and to push your baby out during birth. We want to encourage them to be strong and flexible during labour! The pelvic floor muscles extend underneath from the front of your pubic bone to your tailbone and work as a natural muscular support for Pilates movements. Pulling the pelvic floor in and up is part of exercises where abdominal mussels (as well as many other muscles) are worked.
Separation of the abdominal muscles, or more accurately stretching of the fascia that connects the abdominal muscles is very common is pregnancy. In fact, almost all women will experience it to some degree during pregnancy. There are a number of factors that influence abdominal separation including the size of your baby as well as how well and how much your collagen can stretch to accommodate the size of your baby. That being said the goal during pregnancy should be to manage and reduce abdominal separation but managing the things we can control like aiming for a healthy weight gain and continuing to exercise in a way that supports your changing body. This is why a well functioning TA is so important, working like a corset; it helps to support your growing belly and maintain adequate tension of the fascia connecting the abdominal muscles.
Pregnant women can sometimes fear abdominal exercises as we are told that too much load on the rectus abdominals (6 pack muscles) can cause more stretch, however this is only the case for some abdominal and high load exercises where a large amount of pressure is placed on the muscles and connective tissue. However, in a tailored Pilates class, the focus is on strengthening from the inside to the outside, the deep pelvic floor and TA muscles are the priority.
So there you have it a little snapshot of why Pilates can have such a positive impact during your pregnancy. We all have to find that little something that makes us feel good and I would be surprised if you didn’t find the benefits briefly described. In my opinion physical fitness and mental wellbeing is a requisite for the journey of motherhood.
With that in mind I will conclude with a quote from the man himself, the creator of Pilates – Joseph Pilates. “Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally, easily and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure.”