(Reposted from my previous Hummingbird Pilates blog)
I’m not a Pilates for pregnancy expert but I am a pregnant woman who has been teaching Pilates for over nine years. I wanted to share my experience, but I recommend that you listen to your body, listen to your doctor and listen to your own Pilates instructor.
For the first seven weeks of my pregnancy, I felt great and continued my regular Pilates routine, even flipping over the Ladder Barrel- what fun! But then morning sickness set in and I’m sad to say I hardly did any Pilates at all, but I’m glad I listened to my body and gave it the rest it needed.
Once I was about three months along, I started back into my practice with twenty to thirty minute workouts and it felt so great to move again! I continued doing everything I’d been doing pre-pregnancy, including those flips on and off the Ladder Barrel- I knew those wouldn’t last for long!
Around the four month mark is when I started to notice a difference in what I felt comfortable doing. It no longer felt great to lie on my stomach so I started to leave that out. Instead of Pull Straps on the Long Box, I did the seated version, working my arms while I sat on the box with my feet on the headrest. Instead of Swan on the mat, I did Cat/Cow on all fours (while not a Pilates exercise, I think this is a great exercise to mobilize the spine and work the abdominal scoop as you curve the spine).
At about four and a half months, I no longer felt connected enough in my core to be able to lower my legs very much during exercises like the Hundred or Double Leg Pull, so I kept my legs lifted up at 90 degrees and started to keep my knees bent during Lower/Lift (hands under the tailbone or just doing toe-taps are also great options). Around five months I started bending my knees (feet under a strap) when doing the Roll Up, but others might want to leave this out sooner and just do the Half Roll Down. I skipped lifting my legs from the floor during Teaser and worked with modifications, like keeping my knees bent to start and lengthening the legs as I rolled up off the mat. This could also be a great time to do Teaser on the Cadillac with the support of the push-through bar (the chest stretch at the beginning of the exercise feels awesome) or as an instructor you can support your pregnant client’s legs. Or of course, leave it out. There is so many wonderful exercises that do feel good that it’s not worth it to push yourself too much. I said “so long” to those flips over the Barrel as I no longer had the core strength to curl up from such an extended position. I trusted my intuition that told me it would be overworking my abdominals that were now starting to feel stretched as I started to show.
Everyone is different, so it’s important for expectant moms to listen to their body and not do anything they aren’t comfortable with. Because the abdominal muscles are being stretched and there is a baby growing inside you, it’s going to be harder to engage your abs but from my experience, and from the experience of others I know, you still can, just not to the same degree. This should be a time to nurture the body, and focus on staying strong in the arms, legs and back so that you can support your growing bump and build strength to carry your baby once born.
Some instructors worry you shouldn’t curl the chest off the mat while lying down as this over works the rectus abdominus and could cause a tearing of the linia alba, the tissue that connects the two sides of the abdominal wall. Scary! Unfortunately this will happen to some women, regardless of what they do, but we certainly don’t want to increase those chances. However, if you watch for signs, like a bulging line at the center of the stomach, then you know when you’re doing too much. This is not the time for hundreds of crunches, but that’s not something you do in Pilates anyway! It’s important to keep a strong center (including the abs, pelvic floor, glutes and back) but you can do this in a supportive way. If it’s too much to curl the chest up off the mat during exercises like Single Leg Stretch, then there are also a lot of props you can use, such as the small barrel underneath the shoulder blades, if you want to prop up the chest and make it easier, or you can use a pillow behind the head and keep the chest down. I definitely recommend erring on the side of caution, especially with less experienced clients, but for me, at five and a half months, I still feel comfortable lifting my chest up and continue to feel engaged in my center. Again, everyone is different.