Pilates is the perfect exercise for pregnant and postnatal women. “With the emphasis on gentle but powerful exercises to strengthen your deep core and pelvic floor muscles using focused breathing, these routines will improve your posture, calm your mind and help your body to cope with the impact of pregnancy,” says Pilates and yoga teacher Caroline Sandry (www.carolinesandry.com). “Pilates focuses on the deep musculature of the pelvis and torso – the pelvic floor and the transversus abdominus – which work in harmony to support the spine, internal organs and your growing baby. Pilates can help to prevent lower back pain as your pregnancy progresses.”
1) Wide leg squat
Great for strengthening and toning bottom and thighs. Perfect preparation for labour.
- Stand with feet wide and toes pointing outwards, hands resting on the back of a chair for balance.
- Inhale as you slowly lower your body, opening your knees wide over your toes. Keep your spine lengthened and your shoulders back.
- Exhale and squeeze your bottom and pelvic floor to push back up tall.
- Repeat 10 times and as you get stronger, add in a second set.
- Try to keep your tail-bone slightly tucked under to prevent your lower back arching .
2) Cat stretch
Great for mobilising your spine and strengthening pelvic floor.
- Get on to all fours with your hands placed under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Inhale to prepare.
- Exhale and ‘hug’ baby into your spine as you round up into a cat-like arch, tucking your head and bottom under.
- Inhale and relax your spine, drawing your shoulders away from your ears.
- Do several repetitions, keeping the movements in time with your breathing.
3) Threading the needle (upper body twist)
Great for mobilising your spine and opening your shoulders.
- Carefully come on to all fours with knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.
- Bring your left hand out to your side, inhale and reach up, rotating through your upper back.
- Exhale, and thread your left hand through the space between your right arm and knee, stretching out across the shoulder blades.
- Take deep breaths and hold the position.
- Inhale and repeat 5 times on each side.
4) Knee opener
Great for strengthening your hips and toning your bottom.
- Lie on your side, with your head on outstretched arm and knees bent. Pop a cushion under your bump if that feels more comfortable.
- Inhale to prepare.
- Exhale and draw your pelvic floor up and baby inwards as you open your top knee while keeping your hips still.
- Inhale to lower the knee back down.
- Perform 12 to 15 times on each side.
5) Side leg series
Great for strengthening the muscles around your bottom and hips.
- Lie on your side, with your head on one outstretched arm, your bottom leg bent and top leg out straight (use a cushion if you want to).
- Inhale to prepare.
- Exhale to lift your leg up without pressing your lower waist into the floor.
- Inhale and lower to hip height.
- Repeat 10 times. Then rest for 2 breaths.
- Circle the leg around 8 to 10 times each way.
- Repeat the entire series on your other side.
Some mums swear by prenatal Pilates classes for helping strengthen their pelvic floor muscles.
Dos and Don’ts
- Do remember that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to work.
- Don’t overdo it. The right level of exercise for you will depend on how fit you were before pregnancy.
- Do wear loose, comfy clothes. Drink plenty of fluids, and don’t allow yourself to overheat, as this can be harmful to the baby.
- Do take a gentle approach to exercises that put a strain on joints and ligaments. Mums-to-be are more vulnerable to injury due the pregnancy hormone, relaxin, loosening joints for labour.
- Don’t forget to listen to your body. Dizziness and fatigue is common in the first 12 weeks. Some women lose their balance as the baby grows and their centre of gravity shifts. Seek medical advice if you have vaginal bleeding, feel any shortness of breath, a faster heartbeat, pain in the back or pelvis.
- Don’t attempt these exercises if you suffer from symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).