Staying active and eating healthily helps an expecting mum to have a healthier pregnancy, a safer birth and a healthier baby. Exercising improves the stamina and circulation, and tones and strengthens the muscles. Plus, it boosts your mood and energy level.
Antenatal Pilates offers multiple benefits including, developing your natural corset to support your back and baby, helping with the changes to your posture, pelvic floor education, breathing technique, toning the muscles and, thus, helping in weight management. Practising Pilates on a regular basis can improve posture, alleviate backaches, and, ultimately, help with labour and delivery. In particular, the latter is achieved through pelvic floor release exercises and exercises that may encourage a baby to rotate into a desired position.
Some of the main changes in the body and their implications for exercising safely are discussed below.
Breathlessness during pregnancy
There is around 15-20% increase in oxygen consumption during pregnancy. The breathing rate will stay the same, but an expecting mum will breathe more deeply each time. The changes in the blood vessels caused by the hormonal changes together with the changed position of the ribcage and diaphragm may make a mum-to-be feel breathless at times. However, mild breathlessness is common in pregnancy.
Pilates lateral thoracic breathing technique helps make an expecting mum's breathing more efficient. A properly tailored Antenatal Pilates exercise programme helps her keep fit and feel less breathless during pregnancy. Focusing on breathing in an antenatal class also has a relaxing and calming effect, as worries may start building up in the expectation of your baby's arrival.
Muscle, ligament, joint and postural adaptations
Hormonal changes during pregnancy have an effect on muscles, ligaments and joints and, thus, cause postural adaptations. The stability provided by the musculature surrounding the joints becomes more important.
Pilates exercises focused on functional core stability, in particular pelvic stability, are beneficial for a mum-to-be. On the contrary, exercises involving a wide range of movement and long levers, holding positions or stretches and asymmetrical exercises should be avoided.
Pregnancy affects posture and proprioception, as the centre of gravity shifts. The posture is likely to be affected from the second trimester, as the baby grows. Some women adopt a posterior posture with a flat lumbar spine, whilst others adopt an anterior posture with an increased curve in the lower back.
An expecting mum-to be postural changes need to be assessed and re-education of good alignment is required. Appropriate cervical and thoracic extension exercises together with scapular stability exercises are important for the upper body. As the sense of balance is likely to be affected, exercises that improve proprioceptive awareness are also helpful.
Other physical activities
It is advisable to do swimming and walking. Swimming can be done throughout the whole pregnancy, and it is particularly great during the last trimester due to the feeling of weightlessness in the water. Walking is also safe through the pregnancy, as long as an expecting mum feels comfortable.
Certain classes and exercises in the gym are not appropriate for pregnancy, for example, there is a risk of putting too much strain on the expecting mum's joints or muscles. If she intends to continue to go to the gym, she should speak to the instructor qualified to work with antenatal clients to obtain competent advice.
Antenatal Pilates Class in Chester
An Antenatal Pilates class is run at the Kingsway Children Centre on Monday evenings. Smaller classes are also offered at home. The clients attending the classes notice such benefits, as improving posture and stamina, releasing tension and keeping supple, tackling back issues, dealing with stress and worry and sleeping better after the class.
'Lena's antenatal class has been great for keeping me physically active during my pregnancy - plus it's helped me improve my posture and release tension, especially in my back and shoulders. I'd highly recommend the class for expecting mothers who want to keep fit!' Katie D.
Lena Simpson is a Body Control Pilates certified instructor, offering Pilates classes (Beginners, Mixed Ability and Antenatal) in Chester. She holds Level 3 Certificate in Designing Pre- and Postnatal Pilates Programmes (Awarding Body: Active lQ). Follow the link to her profile to find out more.
Important Note: All pregnant clients should obtain permission from their doctor or midwife to take part in any exercise.
'Pilates for Pregnancy' by Lynne Robinson with Kate Fernyhough MCSP, Kyle Books 2011
'Having a healthy pregnancy' Tommy's [online] 2014, available from www.tommys.org/references
Picture Source: Body Control Pilates Photo Library