The benefits of postnatal Pilates for mums
First off it is important not to start too soon, even for those mums who are keen to get back to their fitness. Current guidelines advise waiting until after the 6 week check for a vaginal birth and longer for a c-section - somewhere in the region of 8 - 12 weeks. Whilst it is tempting to start sooner, this can actually be counterproductive - the body has undergone huge changes in the period of pregnancy and labour and in order to get the best results - especially with regards to the tummy area , it is important not to rush things.
This is particularly true when there has been a diastasis rectus or DR which can actually be made worse by doing conventional stomach exercises such as sit ups. DR is the separation of the rectus abdominus along the linea alba - usually around the tummy button area. During pregnancy the abdominals have been stretched length and widthways to accommodate the baby and this separation is a totally natural occurrence that happens in a significant proportion of pregnancies. Most practitioners advise waiting until the gap is two fingers wide before re-commencing with this kind of abdominal work but some teachers generally wait until mums have got to one and a half fingers; it tends to bring better results. If the gap is wider than the above then there are specialist exercises which can be done to bring them back together, either with a Pilates teacher and specialist postnatal Pilates training or in more severe cases a specialist physio. Results tend to be best when this is dealt with sooner than later but having worked with women a couple of years after their pregnancies we have still been able to improve things.
With all the lifting and carrying of a newborn and the postural changes which can result from pregnancy, many new mums find that back pain or sciatica can be an unwelcome part of motherhood. Pilates emphasises on the deep abdominal muscles, in particular the transverse abdominus, which helps to stabilise the lumbar spine and deal with back issues. This is most effective, particularly in regard to regaining the tone of the abdominal area when teamed with pelvic floor exercises. Pelvic floor exercises are an essential part of any postnatal Pilates programme and as well as helping to strengthen the core will also help deal with stress incontinence and other issues that may have arisen such as a prolapse. Another important factor to consider which a good Pilates class will address is that it is necessary to be careful with stretching in the early postnatal period - the hormone relaxin will be present in the body for as long as the mother is breastfeeding, meaning it is easy to overstretch if not carefully monitored.
Along with all the practical physical benefits that Pilates can bring to new mums it is also a great way to get some much needed 'me time'. The huge emotional peaks and troughs of early motherhood can be a lot to cope with so the concentrated and calm space of a Pilates class can be invaluable for those looking to de-stress and re-connect with their body.
Holly Nuttall is the director of, and a teacher at, the Synergy Pilates Studio in South London/North West Kent. She founded Synergy Pilates in 2009 after completing her matwork training with the Pilates Foundation. The studio offers a range of group mat Pilates classes alongside reformer and mat 1:1's.