Pregnancy can make a person feel very out of control of their own body. It’s growing and changing daily, and you’re not necessarily feeling your best. Exercise can help reconnect you with your body and can benefit both you and your baby. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Even if you’re hoping to meet those recommendations, it can be nerve-wracking to sort out what type of exercise is safe during pregnancy.
In general, many types of exercise are safe during pregnancy for most women. Women without pre-existing conditions or other contraindications can exercise about 30 minutes a day without worry, says Dr. Daniel Roshan, New York City-based high-risk, maternal-fetal OB-GYN. “Any OB issues, including short cervix or history of preterm labor or any other contraindication in pregnancy, you should consult your provider prior to beginning or continuing exercise during pregnancy,” he adds.
While many workouts are compatible with pregnancy, doing Pilates while pregnant can be particularly beneficial. Plus, many gyms and studios that offer Pilates offer prenatal Pilates, which means that you don’t even have to worry about which Pilates poses to avoid while pregnant.
Can you do Pilates while pregnant?
In short, yes, for most pregnant people, it’s safe to do Pilates while pregnant. There are plenty of benefits to exercise during pregnancy in general. “Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to be very beneficial in helping to control weight gain for both mom and baby,” Roshan says. “Weight control during pregnancy can decrease, not eliminate, the risk of gestational diabetes and possibly preeclampsia. Moderate exercise and stretching, such as yoga, can also reduce lower back pain that is often experienced by pregnant women.”
Pilates is a particularly good match for pregnancy, because — like yoga — it is inherently low-impact.
What is prenatal Pilates?
Pilates is a form of whole-body conditioning that is a bit different from other strength training exercises you might be used to. You won’t find heavy weights or lots of jumping in Pilates. “The Pilates Method of body conditioning is an exercise habit training tool for centering, strengthening, and creating discipline,” explains Daniela Mazal, certified Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Old School Pilates. Pilates is intended to address individual students’ needs, and that is especially true of prenatal Pilates.
“Prenatal Pilates is Pilates taught to pregnant people as a tool to address their individual needs throughout each stage of pregnancy and beyond,” Mazal says. “The way we teach prenatal students is very similar to the way we teach postnatal students.” You might find that a prenatal Pilates class focuses on slightly different muscles or that some exercises are adjusted to accommodate your growing belly.
Benefits of Pilates during pregnancy
Not only is it safe for most women to do Pilates while pregnant, there are specific benefits to doing Pilates during pregnancy as well, including:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved circulation
And with the right instructor, Pilates can be customized to fit your exact needs. “Specifically in pregnancy and beyond, some of the common individual needs that we see are sciatica pain, general fatigue, general back pain, constipation, neck pain, incontinence, muscle cramps, feeling weak, public symphasis disorder, diastasis recti, and prolapse.” Mazal says. “All of these can be addressed by a highly-trained and specialized Pilates teacher.”
Pilates is also meant to help you gain mental strength, which can come in handy during the hardships of pregnancy, labor, and new motherhood. “As we learn the discipline of Pilates, we become more disciplined,” Mazal says. “The exercises on the reformer and the mat are learned in a set order. This type of repetition in exercise is scientifically proven to increase confidence, improve speed, and strengthen the connections in the brain that help us learn new skills.”
What can you not do in Pilates while pregnant?
Pilates is a great prenatal workout, but like any exercise, it may have to be modified a bit for your changing body. Pregnant women should avoid any loaded flexion exercises (exercises done on your back), because it’s important to “avoid additional pressure on the vena cava (a large vein in your body that carries blood to the heart),” Mazal says. “This might cause dizziness or lightheadedness if you lay on your back for too long. However, I have had many clients that are totally comfortable laying on their backs all the way throughout pregnancy, so listen to your body and your medical professionals.”
Can you do Pilates in your first trimester?
While you should always speak to your OB-GYN or other medical professional about working out during pregnancy, Mazal says that Pilates is usually safe and effective during any phase of pregnancy, including the first trimester.
“If you are new to Pilates and wanting to try it for the first time, make sure you are going to someone specifically trained and skilled in pre/postnatal,” Mazal says. “If I am taking on a new student that is pregnant, I always do a consult with their doctor/physical therapist first to make sure I am fully versed in your individual needs and contraindications.”
Keep in mind that the first trimester is when many women feel the unpleasant side effects of pregnancy — like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue — most strongly. During those first few weeks, you might not feel fantastic, which could make exercise harder. If you don’t feel up to Pilates in the first trimester, there is no reason to push yourself.
Pilates poses for pregnancy
Some Pilates poses are particularly suited to pregnant women — Mazal recommends the shoulder bridge pose and wall pose — but what is comfortable for you may change throughout pregnancy. A pose you love when you’re 18 weeks along might be way too uncomfortable to do when you’re 32 weeks along, for example. “No matter what exercises you are doing, you always want to make sure you are doing them with proper alignment, proper body mechanics, breath, and control,” Mazal says.
When should I stop doing Pilates while pregnant?
If you experience any of the below, you should stop doing Pilates (or any workout) immediately:
- Premature labor
- Ruptured membrane
- Excessive bleeding
- Fetal growth restriction
- Restrictive lung disease
- Heart disease
- Poorly controlled hypertension or anemia
And, of course, if you start to feel too uncomfortable to continue, for any reason, you should stop. “If at any point while exercising a pregnant woman experiences vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluid, abdominal pain or cramping, dizziness, hyperthermia, or other pain, she should stop and consult her OB provider immediately,” Roshan says.
Exercises to avoid while pregnant
At this point, you’re likely convinced that Pilates is a great prenatal workout. But what about other types of exercise? There are plenty of excellent options out there for pregnant women, but that said, there are some that should be avoided.
“Exercises that include long periods of time laying on your back or strenuous core exercises should be avoided in pregnancy,” Roshan says. “High-impact, high-intensity exercises should be modified or even avoided during pregnancy.” He notes that low-impact exercises, like yoga, barre, and prenatal Pilates, are all great choices.
Dr. Daniel Roshan, New York City-based high-risk, maternal-fetal OB-GYN
Daniela Mazal, certified Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Old School Pilates