Post Natal Pilates
Updated: Jan 9
Why is Pilates so important to do after I have my baby?
Pilates is probably the single most targeted and effective form of exercise to perform post-pregnancy. The many benefits of a postnatal Pilates program include:
Strengthens your Pelvic Floor and abdominals
Helps with any back, pelvic, hip, neck, and shoulder pain
Increases the general strength you need to carry your baby around
Improves your posture - it corrects the increased arch of your lower back and rounded shoulders
Helps regain your pre-baby body shape, particularly the stomach
Being a mind-body form of exercise, Pilates also helps with relaxation and gives you some time to work specifically on yourself
Pilates is one of the best forms of exercise for women to do after having a baby. It can help flatten their stomach as it specifically targets the Transversus Abdominus, which pulls the abdomen in and will help re-strengthen the Pelvic floor muscle.
When Can I start Pilates after having my baby?
Usually around the 6-week mark after your baby is born. It is always best to check with your Dr/Midwife when you can safely begin exercising again. Your Dr/Midwife will check you for any abdominal separation at your 6-week post pregnancy appointment. If there is a separation find out how many finger spaces as this will affect what type of exercises you can perform safely.
What can I expect to feel in my Pilates classes after giving birth?
After giving birth both your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles will be very weak - you shouldn’t expect to be able to instantly return to your previous level of strength for quite some time and after a lot of work - this will take at least several months.
In your Pilates sessions, you may need to initially stick to easier abdominal exercises that focus on the correct activation of your Pelvic Floor and deep abdominals (Transversus Abdominus), and slowly progress to performing harder abdominal exercises over a period of time.
How long will it take for my stomach to return to normal?
A common complaint amongst new mums is that their stomach still looks big, sometimes even like they are still pregnant after giving birth. In some cases, women may be at their pre-pregnancy weight but still have a larger stomach. There are several reasons why this can happen –
The uterus takes 6 weeks to shrink back to its normal size
Body fat/weight gained during the pregnancy is still sitting around the abdominal region and may take a while to lose
The abdominal muscles have been very stretched and will take time to regain their original tone and strength to hold in the abdominal wall. In some cases with a very large baby or the mother has put on a lot of weight, the muscles will have been so stretched they may never go back to their previous length, but this is rare.
A Rectus Diastasis is present, making the abdominal wall incomplete and causing the stomach to protrude
There is excess skin from the skin being stretched beyond its capability to return to normal
What is Rectus Diastasis and will Pilates help with this?
A Rectus Diastasis is a separation of the Rectus Abdominis (or “6 pack” abdominal muscles) that run down the front of the abdomen. This occurs during the pregnancy but is often not detected until after you give birth. Often a physiotherapist will check your abdominal muscles in hospital and let you know if you have a separation, but this is not always the case.
A Rectus Diastasis occurs in pregnancy as the abdomen gets larger. If the muscles can’t stretch enough over the growing baby then they separate in the center and start to move apart, leaving a gap between the 2 sides of the Rectus Abdominis. This can be seen and felt at rest, but is more apparent when performing abdominal exercises such as a sit-up as you can see and feel a gap between the muscles, and a doming or bulging of the abdominals. If the gap is larger than 2 fingers then the Diastasis is significant.
Pilates is one of the best things you can do to help a Diastasis as the treatment is basically avoiding any Rectus Abdominis exercise and focusing on strengthening the Transversus Abdominis and Oblique muscles which act like a corset to pull the separated muscles back together and allow healing. A specific Pilates program of exercises will do exactly that. You do however have to be very careful to avoid any sit-up types of abdominal exercises and hard tabletop abdominal exercises and stick to the more basic abdominal exercises, otherwise, you will be using the Rectus Abdominis and this can actually make the problem worse.
In most cases, the Diastasis will heal with the slow and careful progression of specific and controlled abdominal exercise. In more severe cases the exercises will help, but may not totally correct the diastasis. In extreme cases, surgery may be required.
Will Pilates help strengthen my Pelvic Floor?
A lot of women face Pelvic Floor weakness and symptoms such as incontinence and poor bladder control. There are several reasons why Pelvic Floor symptoms occur:
The weight of carrying the baby for 9 months places strain on the Pelvic Floor
Trauma from a natural delivery can stretch and tear the muscles
An episiotomy cuts through the muscles
There can be nerve damage from the birth
A prolapse may occur
Generally, Pilates is great for Pelvic Floor strengthening and will usually help with the symptoms. Your focus in your class needs to be on making sure that you have your Pelvic Floor muscles working with every exercise you do in the class, and only perform exercises that you can keep your Pelvic Floor and T-Zone on properly.
You will need to stick to lighter abdominal exercises, starting with the feet down, and avoid any more challenging exercises such as some of the exercises in a tabletop position. You will also need to use lighter resistance with all exercises until the muscle control improves.
Performing strong abdominal contractions or using heavy resistance causes downward pressure on the Pelvic Floor and if your Pelvic Floor isn’t strong enough, these exercises may actually make the problem worse.
Basic Pelvic Floor and T-Zone exercises should be performed at home to help.
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