Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on strengthening the body’s core muscles from the pelvis into the rib cage and diaphragm usually with the spine and pelvis in a neutral position. It is when the lumbar spine and pelvis are in neutral, that there is least pressure on the intervertebral discs compared with if the lumbar spine is flat or too arched. The body’s core muscles work to maintain posture, and support the spinal column and pelvis. The main muscles that make up this core are the transversus abdominis (TA) (deep abdominal muscle), multifidus (at the back of the lumbar spine/lower back), pelvic floor muscles, rectus abdominis (RA) (superficial abdominal muscle), and the internal and external obliques (abdominal muscle between the RA and the TA. Pilates is named after its inventor Joseph Pilates who developed the exercises in the 1920s.
What is Pregnancy Pilates?
Pregnancy Pilates modifies the original Pilates exercises and movements as necessary for each stage of pregnancy. The goal is to maintain strength of the postural muscles, especially the muscles of the lumbo-pelvic region, with the spine in a neutral position. Several changes occur in the body during pregnancy, and pregnancy Pilates can help to minimise the impact of these changes.
Changes in the Body during Pregnancy
During pregnancy a lot of changes occur in the body. The weight and pull of the feteus, the deconditioning that results from lack of exercise and the hormonally-induced ligamentous softening can lead to a number of musculoskeletal problems, for example, aches and pains in the lower back, pain in the one or both sacro-iliac joints and /or pubic joint pain. The increased size and weight of the breasts can cause the muscles at the front of the chest to shorten and tighten, which can lead to poor posture and upper back ache. Also the abdominal muscles stretch in all directions during pregnancy. This can lead to back ache due to decreased support from these muscles. Lastly, there is a lot of strain on the pelvic floor muscles in pregnancy which can lead to which can lead to some form of incontinence pre and post-natally.
Benefits of Pilates in Pregnancy
- Pregnancy pilates promotes good posture and strong core strength, which helps support the lumbar and pelvic joints. Pregnancy pilates helps you to keep your spine in neutral which will in turn protect the discs in the lumbar spine.
- Pregnancy pilates strengthens the pelvic floor muscles that control continence and support the pelvic organs. Stress incontinence (leakage of urine on coughing, laughing, sneezing) can occur as the pelvic floor muscles are stretched during pregnancy.
- Pregnancy pilates increases abdominal strength, thus providing support for the weight of the baby, and helps keep the spine and pelvis in a neutral position.
- Pregnancy pilates , therefore, reduces general aches and pains by improving posture.
- Because pregnancy pilates is a form of exercise, it can lead to increased stamina of the mother, due to the release of endorphins.
- The deep breathing in pregnancy pilates will not only relax the mother, but will ensure adequate oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the baby.
- Pregnancy pilates creates stronger, toned abdominal muscles that are less likely to separate severely. In stronger abdominal, if separation occurs, muscles will realign more quickly.
- Although there is no scientific evidence to prove that Pilates in pregnancy assists in post-natal recovery time, it is well acknowledged that those who participate in this form of exercise can have a quicker recovery after the birth of the baby.
Who can benefit from Pregnancy Pilates?
- All stages of Pregnancy.
- Those with pelvic floor weakness.
- Those with back pain and /or pelvic dysfunction.
- Those with a back injury in the past.
- Postural dysfunction.
- Desk workers/Drivers.
- Involved in sport/physical activity.
- Can do Pregnancy Pilates even if you have never done Pilates before.
It is ideal to go to a Chartered Physiotherapist who is specially trained in Pregnancy Pilates. This is important especially if you have any medical problems, that the Chartered Physiotherapist can closely monitor.
The mother should also get approval from their doctor before starting a course of Pregnancy Pilates especially if she has a heart or lung condition; diabetes; high blood pressure; history of premature labour; placenta previa (placenta implanted over or near the cervix); any physical impairments or diseases of the muscles or bone; had three or more miscarriages; experienced spotting, bleeding, or cramping in this pregnancy; and /or is carrying more than one baby.