December 1, 2005
How does pregnancy affect the stable core?
During pregnancy, your tummy muscles are stretched over your growing baby and may weaken as a result. Your pelvic floor muscles are also placed under great stress and tend to stretch and move lower down into the pelvis under the weight of the baby. As a result, you may find it harder to contract these muscles and to hold them for very long. If your pelvic floor muscles are very weak, you may find that you are leaking urine when you cough or sneeze. If your tummy muscles are weak, you may have back or pelvic pain. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin causes your ligaments to stretch more than normal and if you overload them further you may cause an injury.
Is Pilates useful during pregnancy?
Because Pilates targets the tummy and pelvic floor muscles and these muscles can weaken during pregnancy, Pilates exercises can be useful. Many Pilates exercies are performed on a "hands and knees" position, and this is an ideal position for pregnancy. It helps to take a lot of stress off your back and pelvis and towards the end of your pregnancy can help to position your baby ready for delivery.
Am I safe to do Pilates whilst I am pregnant?
Before trying any Pilates exercises, it is important to ensure that you can perform a strong pelvic floor contraction by squeezing in your pelvic floor muscles and holding it for at least 10 seconds. If you cannot maintain a "stable core" by tightening your pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles then you are at risk of overstressing your joints and ligaments during the exercises.
Try the following exercise to see how good your core stability is:
• Get down onto your hands and knees and level your back so that it is roughly flat.
• Breathe in and then as you breathe out, perform a pelvic floor exercise and at the same time pull your belly button in and up. Try to hold this contraction for 10 seconds without holding your breath and without moving your back. Relax the muscles slowly at the end of the exercise.
If you can perform this exercise easily and repeat it 10 times, then your pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles are working well. This exercise is safe to perform at any stage of your pregnancy.
Even if you found the above exercise easy, you may find that during pregnancy, many ordinary Pilates classes progress too quickly for you. Even if you are experienced at Pilates, you may find that you cannot tighten your pelvic floor and tummy muscles as well as you used to. Some of the exercise positions especially lying on your tummy or back are not appropriate for mid-pregnancy and beyond. If you wish to attend a Pilates class during pregnancy, it is therefore advisable to find one specifically designed for pregnant women. If there is not one in your area, the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women's Health recommends Lindsay Jackson's "Pilates in Pregnancy" video/DVD