Clinical Pilates for Pregnancy and Postnatal

Nurse and husband helping the pregnant woman


Background about me

As a mum to be coming into my last weeks of pregnancy, I can firsthand promote the benefits of clinical Pilates in Pregnancy. I am a clinical Pilates instructor and women’s health specialist at Incline Health in Leichhardt and although I have always exercised and kept up my own Pilates, it is safe to say going through my own pregnancy journey and the ailments that came with it, Pilates helped me through right to the end.

My experience of Pregnancy and exercise so far

I remember finding out I was pregnant and immediately wanting to continue with my exercise. Pre-pregnancy, I was running twice a week, doing F45 HIIT classes and clinical Pilates twice a week. However, sometimes your body tells you something different. I was struck with the usual pregnancy first trimester symptoms, nausea, and tummy aches from my (growing uterus) that the thought of intense exercise was the last thing I wanted to put my body through. I really felt like I needed to move my body but in a safe way and this is where I can assure you clinical Pilates was my saviour.

The difference between clinical Pilates and normal group reformer Pilates classes are they are specifically trained for pre and post-natal women. I am lucky being a specialist in the field I could train myself and also our highly trained Pilates instructors at Incline Health are all women’s health specialists so it was nice having the girls teach me as well. I can’t reinforce it enough but If I hadn’t continued my Pilates during my three trimesters my back and pelvis would be in a lot worse shape.

Fortunately for me because I continued strengthening my pelvis, core (in a safe way) and gluteal muscles when my back and pubic pain started very mildly to appear, I knew how to strengthen the muscles to support my back and no further pain or severity of back pain increased it was all manageable and I barely noticed the pain. I also had the benefits of the team at Incline Health of physiotherapists, massage and chiropractors to help me along which I will discuss further along with the blog.

The Benefits of Pilates

Pilates is a safe way to ensure your core, pelvic floor, pelvis, and glute muscles all stay strong in Pregnancy. During pregnancy, there is a hormone that is released in your body called relaxin. It normally comes at the end of the first trimester and stays all the way until birth. It is there to help the ligaments around your pelvis relax for birth however in some women these ligaments relax too much and that is where problems like pubic symphasis pain, back pain (SIJ) and pelvic girdle pain start to increase. Clinical Pilates can be tailored specifically to your needs to help keep you strong throughout your pregnancy, so you do not go through these symptoms and ailments. I have assisted my clients going through pubic symphasis pain and pelvic girdle pain and it has been very rewarding to see them improve through Clinical Pilates.

  1. Strengthens your ‘core’ and pelvic floor.

During the first trimester, you will either be struck with nausea and vomiting or feeling fine and ready to keep exercising. If you are sick, then it is important to listen to yourself and your body and rest. If you’re feeling fine, then starting Pilates or continuing the exercise you did previously give you a window of opportunity to strengthen your deep core. In the second and third trimester, as the bump grows, we focus more on the pelvic floor and your ‘core’ becomes your breathing as this will help connect the deeper abdominal muscles and not your outer superficial muscles like your rectus abdominals. It is important to focus on pelvic floor exercises and core exercises to keep you strong as the weight gets heavier and bears down on your pelvic floor. Remember your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that hold your bowels, uterus and bladder so as it weakens it can have an effect on these organs.

  1. Strengthens your pelvis and lower back.

As the laxity of ligaments continues throughout pregnancy it is important to keep the muscles around the pelvis strong to prevent lower back and pubic pain from occurring. Pilates focuses on strengthening the glute muscles, muscles of the lower legs, pelvic floor and core to all assist your body to hold the weight of the baby.

  1. Helps support your upper back and spine

As the curvature of your spine starts to change to make room for the baby this can increase tension in your neck and upper back. Pilates increases the strength of your arms and upper thoracic spine which improves posture and support to help you through pregnancy and postnatal carrying a heavy baby.

  1. Self-care and breathing techniques for labour

It is important to give yourself the self-care it needs before your baby arrives and also to keep giving yourself self-care afterward. The hour of a Pilates session allows you to breathe, which helps with labour, keeps your mind clear and keeps you strong to carry the growing bump.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight and help with day-to-day activities

As you progress throughout your pregnancy the weight of the baby bump will make everyday activities harder such as standing for long periods, walking, sometimes even putting on pants with pubic pain. Pilates will focus on weight-bearing and functional exercises to help you maintain a healthy weight and get you through labour.

How Incline Health multidisciplinary services have assisted my pregnancy

Incline Health is a multidisciplinary clinic with specialists in physiotherapy, massage, chiropractors and clinical Pilates specialists. Having all of these services available to me I can honestly say how happy and lucky I am to have them. Our physiotherapists helped me especially towards the end of the second trimester and third to give me extra release and assistance for my lower back and SIJ slight pain. Massage also was very helpful as the evening leg cramps that everyone talks about definitely started to frequently occur for me. We are very fortunate to have the other clinicians at our clinic who all work and come together to assist your pregnancy and post-natal journey.

Postnatal and Pilates

The most important tip you can do once you have just had a baby is to be kind to yourself and give yourself time. Everyone heals differently, whether you had a c-section or natural birth it all affects the rate of recovery after birth. Allow yourself to transition into parenthood and adjust to your new routine. At 6 weeks post-natal, I would suggest getting your clearance from the doctor and having a Pilates and physio assessment which you can do with us at Incline Health. We can comprehensively assess how your pelvic floor is doing if you have a diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and we can start to piece together a rehab Pilates program tailored for you. I would suggest getting back into Pilates slowly to build your core again before you attempt HIIT, running or other forms of high-intensity sport.

by Stephanie Pretorius (Rehabilitation Specialist, Clinical Pilates Instructor)  –  from Incline Health

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