Do Pilates to Support a Fit Pregnancy

Beautiful blonde pregnant woman exercising with a fitness ball.

Kristian Sekulic/E+ / Getty Images

Many women find Pilates to be one of the best exercises to do, both during and after their pregnancy. One the top reasons Pilates and pregnancy go together so well are that Pilates is great at building core strength. If your abdominals, back, and pelvic floor/Kegel muscles are toned, they will support a more comfortable pregnancy and delivery. Pilates is also famous for helping new moms after baby is born.

Another great reason to do Pilates in pregnancy is that Pilates is very adaptable. Most Pilates exercises can be modified as your body and abilities change. The modifications help you keep the intent of the exercise, but adjust the form to work for your body. 

Get Good Instruction

First, check with your doctor or midwife.

If you have never done Pilates before, it will be important for you to find a prenatal Pilates class or an instructor who can give you a lot of one on one attention. It is not recommended that you begin doing Pilates on your own if you haven’t already worked with the fundamentals. 

If you do already have a Pilates background, it is still ideal to take a prenatal Pilates class or work directly with an instructor. However, there are a number of DVDs, videos, and books that can support your practice.

Food, Water, and Energy

You are already eating for two, but if you are exercising you are burning more calories and losing water through perspiration. Therefore, you will want to increase your caloric intake and stay hydrated.

Prenatal Pilates is not particularly strenuous, but you will want to make sure to pay attention to your body(and baby)and pace yourself. Your energy levels will be changing and you don’t want to overdo.

Use the talk test—if you are too winded to talk in a casual tone and tempo, it is time to slow down. Other signs that you need to take a break are dizziness, feeling faint, nausea, racing heart, shortness of breath, uterine contractions, bleeding or leaking fluid, and headache.

As Your Body Changes

As your baby grows your center of gravity will shift. You may find that you need to be a bit more cautious when doing certain things that you are quite used to doing like getting up and down for mat work, getting on or off the reformer, or working out on an exercise ball.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy promote flexibility in the joints and muscles. Women do experience more strains to their muscles and ligaments during this time because their bodies are wisely making them more “stretchy”. You will want to be sure not to overstretch. Working in a smaller range of motion is often a good way to tune into the subtleties of an exercise. For example, this would be a good time to work with tuning into the pelvic floor muscles, breathing well, and gently working with oppositional stretch.

About the Scoop

At a certain point, not too far along, your abdominal scoop just isn’t going to work or look like it used to. The point will be to keep a definite sense of the engagement of the abdominals and pelvic floor and do what you can without working too hard, after all, there’s somebody in there! There is a condition that sometimes occurs later in a pregnancy called, “diastasis”, where there is a separation of the abdominal muscles. If you do have a diastasis you will want to modify carefully with your instructor or pause your Pilates workouts until after the baby is born.

Here are instructions for testing whether you have a diastasis, from Paige Waehner, in Pregnancy Today:

  • To check for ab separation, lie on your back with knees bent and place your fingertips about 1 or 2 inches below your belly button, fingers pointing toward your feet.
  • Lift your head as high as you can and, if you feel a ridge protruding from the middle of your belly, that's a diastasis.
  • Pay attention to how you feel, and if you experience any discomfort in your abdominals or back, stop!

Past the First Trimester

Once you are into your second trimester it will be time to stop doing exercises while lying flat on your back. This is recommended because of the possibility of obstructing the blood supply to the baby. It is also recommended that you not put your feet over your head. That’s not to say that you can’t prop them up. What it means is that your hips stay down. You will want to eliminate any sharp percussive movements from your routine. An example would be vigorous sidekicks, and of course, reformer exercises with the jump board will be out.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnancy could be a very rewarding time to tune inward and connect with the core of Pilates, the exercise principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. Working with these principles will not only enhance your workout experience, but they also offer skills to bring to the birth and care of your baby.

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.