Pregnancy can be a taxing nine-month marathon and exercise is vital. Pilates is ideal if you want to maintain a healthy pelvic floor and strong core during and after pregnancy.
Strong core muscles – the abdominals, pelvic floor and lower back – can be a huge advantage in labour and delivery. Popular pregnancy exercises include swimming, Pilates, yoga and walking. Pilates seems to be the most revered among women for the stand-out difference it has made to their bodies during pregnancy and after.
With hormonal morphs bringing on rapid physical changes, Samantha, a 27-year-old graphic designer, was fighting a whole new kind of stress brought on mostly by a crazy chemical flux that left her feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
The closest I’ve come to experiencing something of Samantha’s difficulties is my battle with PMS before I went on the pill. The only thing that saved me from my hormones was my trips to the gym. The exercise-induced endorphin rush gave my body that much-needed jab of energy. While letting morning-sick Sam off the hook (she was, after all, struggling just to breathe without throwing up), I believe that when it comes to fighting the hormonal topsy-turvy of pregnancy, the same rule applies.
Only now, your exercising needs to be low impact to keep any undue stress off your joints, and needs to equip you for childbirth and your recovery. Strong core muscles – the abdominals, pelvic floor and lower back – can be a huge advantage in labour and delivery. Popular pregnancy exercises include swimming, Pilates, yoga and walking. Pilates seems to be the most revered among women for the stand-out difference it has made to their bodies during pregnancy and after.
As a woman’s pregnancy progresses she needs to draw more support from her lower back and pelvis. When going into labour she relies heavily on her core muscles, particularly her pelvic floor, so it’s important these are strong. Pilates strengthens the core, which supports the lumbar spine and postural muscles, and enhances stamina. Your strong core also helps maintain hip flexibility and reduce back pain.
Pilates teachers Katya Kinski and Renee Watson both tell me that all these adjustments will aid in a much quicker and safer delivery. Plus, a strengthened core means lengthened muscles, which means a toned physique that Renee promises will make recovery from childbirth easier.
Pilates also teaches lateral breathing, which uses the diaphragm to fill up your lungs. (Give it a try: when inhaling it should feel like you are drawing breath from the pit of your stomach and you should feel your ribcage expand.) Lateral breathing helps to control pain and promote relaxation. Also, in the third trimester movement of the diaphragm is limited because your baby is positioned high up – lateral breathing will stave off some of this discomfort by improving ribcage mobility.
Pilates teaches you to control your pelvic floor muscles, where you will be able to tighten and relax at will. For your pregnancy, this control will help with delivering your baby (relax and release) and also help with possible incontinence during and after pregnancy (tighten up).
fine-tune your fitness
Pilates is backed by medical professionals. Physiotherapists prescribe it to their patients as a physical therapy and biokineticists consult at various Pilates studios.
Physiotherapist Andrew Seymour says: “Often athletes are strong, flexible and hypermobile but their cores are underworked and weak, making them susceptible to injury.” Take Janine, a 28-year-old marketing manager, who was ordered to stop her strict training schedule due to major muscular damage and was “prescribed” Pilates by Andrew. After two months she is a sworn devotee of Pilates, she’s entered the Two Oceans half marathon, plus she’s dropped a dress size.
While subtle, Pilates is also exact, deliberate and detailed. Without understanding the principles behind Pilates, says Katya, you will probably be wasting your time and could do damage to your body. If you’re a beginner you’re probably going to need expert guidance to keep you on track. The alternative to these intense studio sessions is a Pilates class offered at a gym. By sheer virtue of the fact that classes are larger, and have a high rotation of instructors, you may not get the personal attention you need.
When it comes to exercising, the bottom line for a pregnant woman and her baby is safety. Renee and Katya both insist on assessments and some private sessions, before you attend one of their group classes. They gauge your fitness, any special needs you may have and the limitations your pregnancy presents. Both instructors will, if necessary, consult with your midwife or gynae.
other exercises for pregnant women
Pregnancy exercises do not have to be strenuous in order to be beneficial, and intensity should depend on pre-pregnancy fitness. Always consult with your midwife or doctor before signing up for any classes. Below are some other safe alternatives.
Aim for three to four 30-minute swimming sessions a week. Find a stroke that’s comfortable for you. Enquire at your gym or local swimming pool about antenatal swimming classes.
Benefits: improves circulation, increases muscle tone, and builds endurance.
Tips: Swimming is safe throughout pregnancy, as your body is supported by the water and there is little to no strain on your weakened joints and ligaments. The feeling of weightlessness will be very comfortable for you, especially in your third trimester.
It is best to find a specialised pregnancy yoga class, as some of the positions and breathing exercises aren’t appropriate during pregnancy.
Benefits: tones your muscles with minimal impact on your joints, breathing techniques are good preparation for childbirth, improves posture, which helps minimise back pain, and increases flexibility, making birthing positions, such as squatting, easier.
Tips: Don’t try new and advanced poses. Focus instead on improving your technique. As you move into the second trimester, your centre of gravity shifts, and you’re more likely to lose your balance, so move slowly into your yoga positions. Use support such as a wall or chair, for standing postures if you need to.
A brisk 1,5km walk three times a week is helpful.
Benefits: the cardiovascular workout keeps you fit and the fresh air might also help to combat morning sickness.
Tips: Carry water with you and drink it regularly. Do not let yourself get out of breath. If you can’t talk while walking, you need to slow down. Don’t exercise during the hottest part of the day. Wear supportive shoes and stay on level ground.