Staying Fit During and After Pregnancy
Pregnancy…I’ve been there. Not all that long ago, in fact. Before my pregnancy, my workout routine included Pilates, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and TRX. You name it, I likely did it. I was in the best shape of my life… and then I became pregnant with my first child. My pregnant body quickly changed and it soon became clear that my pre-pregnancy workout routine was not going to fly. The “more pregnant” I became, the more my body demanded to be listened to. It was saying, “Hey, this is no longer all about you. We have J-O-B to do.” That job was to grow a healthy baby and prepare my body to bring that baby into the world. I found myself turning to private Pilates sessions not only to help me maintain strength and mobility during my pregnancy, but to focus on exercises and stretches specifically designed to prepare my body for birth. All of the sudden, an exercise method that I fell in love with pre-pregnancy became a necessity to keep me moving and feeling good throughout my pregnancy.
Fast-forward a few months. When I returned to teaching Pilates after my maternity leave, I began working with a lot of amazing women, all of them pre and postnatal. They were all uniquely different on their journey of pregnancy and motherhood; however, they all had a few things in common:
- Muscle tightness AND instability: It seems your body becomes stiff and tight almost immediately upon conception…and it only gets worse the further along you are in your pregnancy. But that’s not all. To add insult to injury, your body is also producing a hormone called Relaxin, which does exactly what it sounds like… relaxes the muscles and ligaments in preparation for delivery. This leaves you with a body that is stiff (because of tight muscles) and prone to injury (because of muscle and ligament instability). Prenatal Pilates helps you target specific muscles (such as the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals) and teaches you to strengthen and release these muscles in order to reduce discomfort and pain during pregnancy, prepare the body for birth, and speed up postnatal recovery.
- Movement: Let’s face it. Moving when we are 20-30lbs heavier with a round belly in our way can become a challenge. Daily movements such as getting out of bed, getting into the car, picking up other children, and walking can become a challenge in different ways for different moms. Pilates helps you keep your body and spine moving throughout pregnancy with exercises and modifications designed for your specific needs. As with every Pilates session, prenatal Pilates facilitates safe movement of the spine in all directions (flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation). Women leave their sessions simply “feeling better” or more energized because of this movement.
- Diastasis recti (a.k.a. “the dreaded abdominal separation”): This is a topic that is getting more awareness and recognition in our society for postnatal women. Let me start by saying that I have diastasis. The first thought that crossed my mind when another instructor checked me for this condition was, “You have to be freaking kidding me? I do Pilates. I have (well had) a strong core. I am a Pilates instructor. And I have diastasis?!” I was less than happy with the news and for a moment I felt like a failure. What did I do wrong? Nothing! I grew a baby and that is HARD work. Diastasis is common, more common than you’d expect. I can say from personal experience and from working with postnatal women, Pilates is simply the BEST thing you can do to regain strength and heal diastasis post pregnancy. It works because you strengthen the deepest layers of the core including the transverse abdominals, internal and external oblique’s and the pelvic floor. It takes patience, time, and a lot of practice, but it is possible. Working to close the gap and heal the body properly is extremely important. It helps alleviate back pain, improves posture, and for some with severe separation, helps get rid of the dreaded “mommy pooch”.
I’ll stop at three, but I could go on and on about the benefits of Pilates during and after pregnancy. I have experienced firsthand these benefits and many of my clients have experienced positive results as well. I have witnessed women limp into the studio at 25 weeks pregnant with complaints of pain and tightness as a result of their changing bodies. Within 2-3 weeks of prenatal Pilates the limping is gone; and after a few more weeks they are experiencing little to no pain or tightness. It’s pretty amazing how strong and resilient the woman’s body can be when it is guided properly.
This is a journey, a work in progress. I am a Pilates instructor and I am not perfect. I still have diastasis. Is it better? Yes, it is! And I am proud of that. There are times I wish it were completely healed (or that I never had it at all), but that won’t change it. Instead I choose to focus my energy on a consistent Pilates practice in order to gain strength and heal my body. Pilates has been a huge part of my pre and postnatal journey. It has helped me and many other women stay active and continue to move during pregnancy and heal post pregnancy. In the end, we grew (or are growing) a baby, and that’s pretty awesome!