What is Pilates?
Pilates is an increasingly popular form of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. It is a low impact, versatile, and effective option for people wanting to improve their strength, posture, balance, flexibility and muscle tone. Pilates exercises focus on strengthening the lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, providing a ‘stable core’ that supports the back and allows efficient movement. Exercise programs can be extensively modified to focus on different body parts and accommodate individual needs. Exercises can be performed on a mat or with resistance provided through Pilates equipment known as ‘reformers’ and ‘trapeze tables’, and other smaller equipment such as exercise balls and resistance bands.
Pilates for Labor Preparation
Why is deep breath so important in labor? How can a calm inward focus change your birth? A woman who is in tune with her body and her physical capabilities will have a much more empowered labor. It is not necessary to tell a laboring woman when or how to breathe if she is already breathing deeply and directed her intention with her breath, which is learned through the pilates method. A pilates client in labor will probably not need to know when to push or for how long. She will simply push when her body tells her to because she has learned to listen. Certified professional midwife Stacey Haugland notices very positive effects of pilates during births.
How does pregnancy affect the abdominal muscles, back and pelvic floor?
During pregnancy, the abdominal (tummy) muscles are stretched to make room for the growing baby. This may weaken the muscles, particularly the deep abdominal muscles. Deep abdominal muscles are responsible for providing support to the back (working like a corset). Lack of support makes the back vulnerable to injury. This is made worse by the hormone relaxin, which is released in pregnant women to soften the ligaments and allow the pelvis to stretch during delivery. All ligaments are softened by relaxin, including the ones in the back. With reduced support from ligaments and abdominal muscles, many pregnant women experience back pain. Relaxin remains in the body for some time after the baby is born. It is therefore important to protect the back not only during pregnancy, but also after birth, particularly when lifting, bending, breastfeeding, etc.
The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for controlling the bladder and bowel. They are weakened as they stretch and hold the weight of the growing baby. Weak pelvic floor muscles can result in difficulty controlling the bladder or bowel (incontinence) and can impact on sexual function. For example, some women find they leak urine when they cough or sneeze (stress incontinence). Around 46% of pregnant women in Australia experience urinary incontinence, and 30% have ongoing problems after delivery.
Is Pilates useful in pregnancy?Pilates is an ideal exercise during pregnancy as it is designed to strengthen the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Strength in these areas is known as ‘core stability’. These exercises can be performed in positions that are suitable for women at all stages of pregnancy, such as on hands and knees. Such exercises may take the stress off the back and pelvic floor, and help position the baby for delivery. Pelvic floor exercises have been shown to reduce urine leakage in women with stress incontinence and women who have to rush to get to the toilet on time.
Is Pilates safe in pregnancy? It is important to check with your doctor or midwife before starting any new exercise program during pregnancy. If you have not done Pilates before pregnancy, it is essential to receive input from a Pilates instructor or physiotherapist in a setting where you can receive individual attention. Do not attempt exercises on your own until a professional has assessed your performance.
Certain exercises are no longer appropriate from mid pregnancy onwards due to the positions they require (e.g. lying on your tummy or flat on your back). However, exercises on hands and knees, in sitting, and in kneeling positions are all likely to be safe. As your pregnancy progresses the muscles become more stretched, and it may become more difficult to achieve good contractions.