The power of strengthening your body with Pilates for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery.

I discovered the benefits of pilates in 2017. At the time, I was seeing different physical therapists, a nutritionist, and a naturopath doctor who encouraged alternative modalities, like acupuncture, to help manage my symptoms. Despite treatments, I still felt physically weak.

I looked for any low-impact exercises I could do that wouldn’t be boring. I sold my snowboard and gave up the dream of returning to martial arts classes. I read case studies and learned that some patients found relief over a 5-10 year span if they maintained a regimen of doing pilates for at least 3-5 times a week. Mind you, there isn’t a ton of research about this, but what I discovered appealed to me.

What I’ve learned from experience is that pilates can help you learn how to control your body mechanics. This means strengthening the core, aligning your posture, and improving overall day-to-day movement of your muscles and connective tissues.

Pilates changed my life. I’m not entirely joking when I say that I felt so good I had a baby. For the first time in two years, I didn’t have neuropathy, chronic pain, or problems with rolling my joints (not the fun kind). I could sit at a desk for longer periods and not struggle with lifting more than 15 lbs.

Hypermobility and connective tissue disease in pregnancy and postpartum recovery

I’m what you call “hypermobile.” I never realized just how prone it makes me to injury until I tried taking yoga classes in my 20s. Having a baby made it worse, given how much relaxin the body produces during pregnancy.

Fun fact: relaxin stays in your body while breastfeeding and it can take a couple of months after you stop for your body to quit producing the hormone altogether. At 7 months postpartum, I dislocated my knee while getting up from a chair. It likely happened because of my hypermobility and connective tissue disease, but according to my therapist, the relaxin could also have been a factor. I think any new mom should be aware of this scenario, as your body is likely not in its strongest state in the first year postpartum.

In pregnancy, pilates helped me maintain stability and balance. I had very few physical discomforts in the third trimester. Pilates also kept the snissing at bay… if you don’t want to click the link, that’s the humiliating act of pissing yourself when you sneeze. You’re welcome.

Pilates strengthened my pelvic floor in preparation for labor and delivery. I read and practiced The Pilates Way to Birth with my instructors. After getting an epidural — I’d had 12 hours of unmedicated back labor that wouldn’t let up no matter what position I tried — I was still able to push on all fours doing cat/cow and use a squat bar. The doctors were surprised I knew how to push at all, let alone move with the epidural. I attribute this to doing pilates 3 times a week throughout my pregnancy.

Despite an atypical c-section, my postpartum recovery was a lot faster with pilates. 6 weeks after delivery, when I was able to resume classes, I saw noticeable results. I didn’t have any issues with my pelvic floor, my core came back, and my hip flexors eventually stopped feeling so tight. Over the course of the “fourth trimester,” I was able to stretch and move without any abdominal pain. And the best part? I didn’t have any back pain from carrying my son, even when he weighed in at 18 lbs at his 6 month check up.

I’m a firm believer in doing Pilates if you suffer from chronic pain, neuropathy, or just need low impact rehabilitation exercises to help increase your range of movement after an injury. It’s been great for managing some of my autoimmune symptoms. While I was fortunate to not experience diastasis recti or require pelvic floor rehabilitation, my instructors were by my side and ready to help me if I had. If you’re thinking of conceiving, I highly recommend starting a pilates program before you try to get pregnant. This will allow you to keep practicing pilates throughout your pregnancy in preparation for labor and delivery.

Image Credit: Soma Pilates
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