It will hardly be a surprise that women’s bodies go through huge changes during pregnancy and that some problems can arise postnatally. These can escalate when a woman has two pregnancies relatively close together.
Pregnancy changes a woman’s posture, pulling the pelvis forward into an ‘anterior tilt’, arching the low back into an increased curve which can be painful. This posture can stick around long after the birth, sometimes years later a woman can still be in a ‘pregnant posture’! In this position, the abdominal muscles and bottom muscles are not used effectively and can become weak. The muscles at the front of the hips become short and tight, keeping the pelvis tilted forward.
After giving birth, looking after baby requires spending time in lots of static positions. The upper back curves forward when breastfeeding or holding baby and can become very stiff. With a lot of time spent bending forward bathing and changing baby, this can add to back pain. Standing and walking with the baby on one hip can make this even worse! Wrists can also become sore with holding baby’s head when breastfeeding.
Abdominal muscles stretch massively during pregnancy and do not snap back into place immediately (although for some lucky women, they do appear to). Also, two thirds of women will experience a split in their rectus abdominis (the external abdominal muscle – six pack muscle), for some this will return to its original position with no additional effort required. For others, it requires careful progressions through a well-designed exercise programme to bring the sides of the muscles back together. Some women’s split will not completely zip up, this can be due to having a wide split in the first place, exercising too early at a relatively high intensity or simply due to lower elasticity in the muscles. The pelvic floor has also gone through big changes and can take time to recover, although women are increasingly aware of the need to do pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy, as soon as able after birth and ideally before getting pregnant in the first place.
Pain in the pelvis during pregnancy can still remain after giving birth as the hormone relaxin continues to circulate round the body for several months after birth. In addition to all of this, there can be added complications if the woman has had a c-section or stitches.
Many of these problems can be resolved within weeks of giving birth, however, full remodeling of the tissues can take up to 18 months.Because of this, among other reasons, the World Health Organisation recommends waiting two years between pregnancies (for more information see this briefing).
Pilates can help with all of these problems and is also a relaxing way to get back into exercise postnatally. For you as the client, there are several benefits:
Pilates improves postural awareness and muscle control, reducing the split in abdominal muscles by building the abdominal muscles from the deepest muscles outwards. With a stronger core and improved awareness of muscle control, it can reduce pain in the low back and pelvis. It also helps to improve control of the pelvic floor, reducing risk of stress incontinence and other problems. For any women reading who do not have children – now is the time to start your pelvic floor exercises, whether or not you plan to have children. In fact, everyone should be doing them, including men!
As well as this, Pilates can help you return to your regular fitness regime and get back to the activities you want to do. The focus on the deep abdominal muscles, which we sometime refer to as ‘corset’ muscles, helps to regain your pre-pregnancy figure. As a client recently said to me: “I just want my body back!”
Postnatal Pilates will help prepare your body if you plan to get pregnant again in future.
As well as benefits to you, postnatal Pilates will benefit your baby too. Because the exercises make you stronger with better control around your low back and pelvis, you will have more energy and less pain, therefore you will be able to play with your baby and give baby the time she/he needs with you to develop.
Your baby gets to see you exercising from early on, which gives a positive message about exercise and can help them choose healthy habits themselves. You are also able to breastfeed and tend to your baby during the class as needed, so you can exercise whilst your baby is still very little.
What should you expect from a class? Most Mums are able to join our classes after their six week check. Our classes are informal and you can bring your baby. We have babies aged from six weeks through to toddlers. The class is relaxed, a few Mums worry if their baby will be disruptive, but are quite relieved when they arrive to see that everyone is in the same boat!
Pilates is relaxing in itself – as you concentrate on good alignment during the exercises, your mind can switch off from the millions of little thoughts which occupy it at other times. There is the opportunity to stretch and release through tight areas throughout the class.
The classes are taught by physiotherapists trained in ante- and postnatal Pilates so specific problems can be addressed. Any split in your abdominal muscles can be monitored and exercises modified as required if there is a split.
If joining a class is not for you, you may prefer to come for one-to-one sessions. These sessions will address your personal needs and can either be a regular session or infrequent sessions where you work on an exercise programme at home in between. Some Mums who attend our classes come for occasional one-to-one sessions to work on individualised exercises or to discuss any problems they would rather not bring up in class. Babies are welcome to the clinic too!
We also have a very helpful post natal exercise book. This will be for sale along with your first block of postnatal Pilates classes, and also available separately. The guide contains a series of exercises which are presented week by week, with gradual increases in challenge through the weeks. It is designed to be used alongside our classes and will help you get the most from the weekly class. For great results, do the exercises three times a week between classes.
Psst!… Week eight’s exercises are all about stretching, so if you feel the need to stretch out after your exercises, you can dip into week 8 at any point in the programme.
If you have any questions about the exercises in the guide, please see your Pilates instructor.
Please get in touch if you would like to know more.
Images thanks to Darroch Photography