Monday 19 November 2018

Exercise in pregnancy - Pilates

Staying in shape while pregnant can seem daunting, but pilates can help with numerous issues, including incontinence, posture, back pain and getting your body back in shape post-pregnancy

Who wants to pump iron or do cardio classes when heavily pregnant?

Instead many women are taking up pilates, a gentler form of exercise that is still effective in maintaining a healthy shape and keeping your body healthy throughout pregnancy. However, pilates is not just about the body beautiful. It also helps with many pregnancy-related issues such as back pain, incontinence and labour itself, says chartered physiotherapist and pilates instructor Adeline O’Dowd.

“The main focus in any ante-natal pilates class should be on three main areas: pelvic floor, posture (including back pain prevention) and tummy strength,” says O’Dowd.

“When a woman is pregnant, a lot of strain is put on the pelvic floor because it helps support the weight of the baby – it’s the only muscle that keeps the baby in and it also controls bladder and bowel continence. Two thirds of women experience some form of incontinence ante- and post-natally. During your pregnancy, you’re trying to keep your pelvic floor strong and healthy and prepare it for childbirth.”

The second big issue is posture, says O’Dowd. “When pregnant you put on weight rapidly, and because there’s a hormonal influence on your body, where your ligaments relax, your posture also changes,” she explains. “Added to this is a propensity in the Irish population to be hypermobile (double-jointed). This can all lead to instability in the pelvis and back.”

O’Dowd says pilates can help to improve stability in these regions.

“This should reduce back pain, and as a result mum can stay more active during pregnancy and stay fitter. If a mum is more active it generally leads to an easier childbirth and shorter recovery post-delivery.”

The third aspect focuses on tummy strength, says O’Dowd. “When mum is pregnant, her rectus abdominis muscles (ie her six pack) divides to allow the baby to grow, which is completely normal. We can’t stop that happening but we can keep the integrity of the muscle intact. This is where it’s really important to go to an instructor who knows what they’re doing because if you go to wrong person, you could end up with hernia.”

She sums it up by saying that core strength will keep your back strong while tummy strength will help you get your shape back post-birth.

O’Dowd advises her clients to practise pelvic floor exercises six times a day pre-birth, and she says most will do a few of the other pilates exercises every day too. “Ideally they will be able to incorporate pelvic floor and core activation exercises into their day and they can do them while driving or sitting at work.”

Pelvic floor exercises also feature heavily once the baby is born. O’Dowd says the key point of pelvic floor muscles at this point is to avoid incontinence.

“After childbirth, most mums would experience some degree of leakage (either bladder, bowel or wind), so again you want to get that under control. Long ago, our grandmothers could be experiencing incontinence for years, but there’s no reason for that to happen these days.”

As a chartered physiotherapist, O’Dowd can assess her clients’ tummies post-birth to see if the rectus abdominis muscles have returned into position, and says all women should must have this done before beginning pilates post-delivery. “I would then do a lot of exercises with new mums in order to strengthen these muscles, and to encourage overall tummy strength.”

She says it is also important to develop upper back strength. “Women, especially those who are breastfeeding, can tend to slouch so it’s important to focus on this.”

Crucially, O’Dowd advises any expectant or new mum thinking of taking up pilates to check for a fully qualified instructor who has lots of experience in pre- and post-natal pregnancy pilates.

“Seek advice from the physiotherapy department of your maternity hospital or your midwife. It is absolutely vital that your instructor knows what he or she is doing.”

Adeline O’Dowd can be contacted on 087 2115150 or see

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