Thursday, May 23, 2019

Prenatal Pilates

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Many of my readers have been interested in exercises they can do while they are pregnant, and a question that often comes up: “is prenatal Pilates recommended?” Here’s my take:

If you’re a regular practitioner of Pilates exercises, you already know the core of this wonderful exercise and meditation program.

Similar in many ways to yoga, it builds flexibility and core body strength.

Pilates has been renowned for years in Hollywood as a way for celebrity mothers to get their figures back before having to go in front of a camera.

What’s becoming more widespread is the use of Pilates exercises to strengthen the core abdominal muscles.

This makes the pregnancy easier when carrying to term and reduces the pangs of labor when delivery time comes.

Prenatal Pilates is not something you should try on your own if you’re not familiar with the exercise regimen.

There are risks due to dehydration and overworking certain muscle groups that should be minimized.

Fortunately, most Pilates instructors know what to do when presented with a pregnant student, and you’ll want one who’s experienced in prenatal exercise to guide you through the steps.

If you’re an old hand at Pilates, the real advice is go slow, focus on your breathing and don’t overdo it. And talk to your primary health care physician before starting anything.

In most cases, you’re probably good to go, but a note from your doctor saying it’s safe is always a comfort to you and to your Pilates instructor.

The primary aim of Pilates – indeed any exercise program – is to build muscle tone and flexibility. Fortunately, when you’re pregnant, the hormonal soup that comes with it is helping with your flexibility and “stretchiness” to begin with.

The secondary aim is to build up your abdominal, kegel and posture muscles to give your baby the most support possible.

Now, when you do Pilates, you’re going to sweat – you’re going to sweat a lot. Remember that you’re not just eating for two any more, you’re drinking for two. Drink whenever you’re thirsty.

It’s really easy to overdo it on Pilates, because none of the exercises really feels like an exercise. So, in the interest of “don’t overdo it“, if you can’t talk in a reasonable pace, it’s probably time to slow down a bit, and focus on your breath control and flexibility.

If you ever experience headaches, dizziness, contractions, or bleeding, stop immediately and consider seeing your doctor – especially in the latter two cases!

During the first trimester, your Pilates routine won’t be too much different from the normal set. You’ll want to focus more on the ball exercises, and you’ll want to do the exercises that strengthen your lower back and abdominal muscles preferentially.

As the baby grows, your center of balance is going to shift forward and down. Be aware of this – in general, by the time the second trimester rolls around, you’re going to be feeling awkward.

Use this as your guide – if you ever feel your balance shifting, grab a handhold and set yourself down slowly.

By the time the second trimester rolls around, your Pilates workout should eliminate exercises that have you working while lying flat on your back.

This can restrict blood flow to your uterus and oxygen flow to your baby. From what many women say, this isn’t a horrible sacrifice to make, because the baby is squishing them when they lie down, making it hard to exercise in the first place.

Midway through the second trimester, you’re going to want to cut back on any exercises that have you lift your legs over your head, and avoid any percussive movements like kicks or jumps.

Instead, focus on flexibility and belly clenches – the focus on individual muscle groups. Practice contracting your Kegel muscles while you’re at it. Kegel exercises can be another great exercise to consider while pregnant.

Pilates incredible flexibility as an exercise routine is great – nearly every exercise in the Pilates set can be modified to handle different body shapes and regimens.

A good Pilates instructor (or even a good prenatal Pilates DVD) is an excellent starting point for working out what you need to change in your workouts.

Towards the last third of your pregnancy, you’ll need to focus on flexibility and breathing. All in all, Pilates breathing exercises aren’t that dissimilar to Lamaze class breathing exercises, and the same abdominal/back “structural muscle building techniques” apply to both.

Remember that as the baby grows, your abdominal muscles will have something pushing them out. This makes it harder to gauge how effective the exercise regimen is.

After all, it’s hard to get washboard abs when there’s a baby on the other side of them.

Be on the lookout, later in pregnancy, for separation of the abdominal muscles called diastasis. It’s normal, and if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t something to worry about.

To see if you have this:

  • Lay flat on your back, and put your fingertips about 2 inches below your belly button, slowly lifting your feet.
  •   Raise your head as well – if you feel a ridge protruding from your belly, that’s a diastasis.

That’s a proceed with caution sign, because it means the interlocking bands of muscle aren’t interlocking anymore.

Don’t stop your exercises, but do take them slowly and carefully – this is, again, a good time to focus on your breathing and mind-body interface.

Prenatal Pilates can be a lot of fun, it can make your pregnancy less unpleasant, and it can make your labor process a great deal more comfortable.

Plus, it puts you back on the road to being trim and taut once the baby’s in the bassinet.

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Jennifer Olson
A mother of three, lover of children and keeping them (and us adults!) as healthy as can be. I have worked as a midwife and nurse for 12 years. Email: [email protected]

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