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How Pilates works during pregnancy - the magic of Pilates as the best pre and post natal exercise 

by: Timea Presley

As an advanced level certified Pilates instructor of many years and Head Pilates Instructor at MINT Health Club and Spa in DC, I have worked with many women during and after their pregnancies. When I found out this year that I was pregnant, I decided to turn to a top expert to hear why she suggests Pilates as the best pre and post natal exercise.

Melanie Byford-Young, Master Instructor Trainer of Rehabilitation for STOTT PILATES, physical therapists and Founder and Co-Owner of Pacific Northwest Pilates, Oregon, was able to answer some questions:

Timea: What is the most important advice you can give to women practicing Pilates during pregnancy?
Melanie:
The most important advice I give is to change their focus and intention. Conditioning is no longer about developing flat abs and getting great cardio. The goals when pregnant are to develop or maintain strength and endurance for the duration of the pregnancy, the birth process and most importantly, for post partum.

Timea: What happens with a woman’s center and core as the belly protrudes?
Melanie: During pregnancy, the abdominals elongate to support the woman’s spine as her center of mass shifts, which causes the spine to pull into a lordosis, an inward curvature. It’s also important to think about preparing for post partum - strong upper back for feeding and carrying, strong back, abs and glutes for bending down and carrying the child, especially  for transfers in and out of cars.

Timea: While giving natural birth, the mother will need a lot of strength. Which muscles should be particularly strengthened during prenatal Pilates sessions to support labor?
Melanie: Truly, having a strong and supple balanced body is what you need for labor. No need to practice bearing down or bracing for the contraction phase. You must be able to let the pelvic floor relax and open for safe passage of the baby.

Timea: After giving birth, which are the first exercises that new moms can start to practice as the very first steps of recovery? How soon can and should these be started, if considering there were no complications during labor?
Melanie: The new mom should be up and walking very soon after delivery. The return to easy exercise and muscle contractions can begin 7-10 days post partum, but traditional strengthening must wait several more weeks. 

Women who practice Pilates as their prenatal exercise, report feeling more empowered and in control of their bodies. They often feel more energetic and ready to deal with the physical challenges of a changing body that is temporarily heavier and goes through postural changes. The toning and strengthening element helps to balance loose joints. The beauty of Pilates is that it can be modified and adjusted to anybody’s ability and fitness level, especially when working in private sessions.

Three women describe their experience in their own words about the magic of Pilates in their pre and post natal phase:

Vanessa Defornier (Washington, DC): “I practiced Pilates for a year before my pregnancy. While pregnant, the goals of my training changed. It was still about finding space and relaxing, thanks to the breathing and concentration required to perform the movements, but I also thought that the stronger I was, the easier it would be to put in a real effort on the big day of giving birth. I was in very good shape even the last days of my pregnancy. I was satisfied with my weight and I felt strong enough and motivated about what was going to happen. I deeply believe that Pilates helped with this strength sensation. I knew my body was ready and prepared to go through this. Being a professional and having a family is a challenge, and my Pilates classes are my little pleasure of the week.”

Lauren Aronson (Washington, DC): “Once I became pregnant, I began taking private lessons instead of group Reformer. My ligaments felt sore and Pilates helped gently and safely stretch and strengthen the muscles for support. I took my last Pilates session at 32 weeks into pregnancy. Giving birth requires you to be in the best shape of your life, and the Pilates strength training I did helped me get through the delivery and labor very well. My recovery was easy as well and the classes helped me build back my strength and tone my body.”

Lizzie Anderson Worden (Washington, DC): “I originally began with Pilates after a herniated disk in my lower back in 2000. My physical therapist and spine specialist both recommended Pilates. I was determined to keep my back healthy without surgery. Many years have gone by and I had been taking 1-3 classes a week both mat and Reformer and still no need for surgery. In my new life situation of carrying a baby, I became concerned about protecting my back and took my classes more seriously. Pilates always feels great, so it felt great just to be in class. I like the atmosphere of a group class and being with others when I exercise. It helps keep my spirit high. I took my last session just 3 weeks before giving birth.”

Please consult your physician for information on what will be appropriate for you during pregnancy. If it is safe for you to maintain a regular Pilates regimen, make sure to work with an expert that is qualified and experienced to work with a prenatal clients at all levels.



Timea Presley is a fully certified, advanced level STOTT Pilates Instructor, certified Polestar Pilates Instructor, certified Yoga Instructor, certified Spinning Instructor and holds a degree in Modern and Contemporary Dance. Timea owned and operated her Pilates studio in Berlin, Germany and has been teaching movement since 2000. Timea has been focusing on advanced and specialized Pilates apparatus instruction based on the Stott Pilates method, hybrid forms of Pilates and developing her own vocabulary of movement material within the frame of Joseph Pilates’s work in the past few years. She has been with MINT Health Club and Spa in Washington DC for 5 years. She built the Pilates program from scratch and turned it into a successful investment and a popular destination for fitness devotees of the nation’s capital. She has worked for MINT in various roles such as Mind Body Program Director, Pilates Program Director and Head Pilates Instructor. Additionally, she has led instruction for numerous prestigious institutions including the IMF, World Bank, FBI, the National Gallery of Art and Constantin Film.

Timea gave birth to Priya Presley on 3/3/2013 and confirms: Pilates made her feel confident that she could go through a long, natural labor with no pain medications. Her doctors approved a water birth because of her strength. She kept up a routine of Reformer work, swimming and walking until the day before labor.

A week and a day after delivery her pelvic floor is still strong and she is now beginning gentle exercises.

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