Many women enjoy doing yoga and Pilates while they are pregnant. Find out how yoga and Pilates can help you, as well as some positions to avoid during your pregnancy.
What are the benefits of doing yoga and Pilates during pregnancy?
Provided that your doctor or midwife says they are suitable for you, benefits include:
Increased flexibility and muscle strength
Yoga and Pilates for pregnant women provide specific exercises that can help with stretching, flexibility and building up muscle strength. It’s recommended that strength building for pregnant women includes all the major muscle groups.
Better mental health
Both yoga and Pilates use focused breathing and mindfulness, which have been shown to improve mental health by reducing stress, decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving mood and promoting relaxation.
Reduced back pain
Yoga may also reduce lower back pain, depending on the type of pain you have. If you have back pain, it’s best to check with your physiotherapist or doctor and let your yoga or Pilates instructor know about it.
Stronger pelvic floor
Yoga and Pilates classes especially designed for pregnancy often include pelvic floor exercises. These help to strengthen and tone the muscles supporting your pelvic floor, which can stop accidental leakage of urine during pregnancy or after your baby is born.
Tips for doing yoga or Pilates
- Aim to do 2 sessions of strength-building exercise per week, with at least one day between sessions.
- If you are just starting, keep your effort at low intensity, building to moderate intensity. Low intensity means you can still talk comfortably while exercising.
- Be mindful of your breathing. This involves exhaling (breathing out) when you are exerting yourself. Your instructor should also include directions on how to breathe when exercising.
- Ensure that your movements are slow and steady.
What should I be careful of?
High impact sessions or activities
Ensure that your yoga or Pilates session does not involve movements that could cause hard knocks to your baby, make you jump and bounce a lot, involve you suddenly changing direction or risk your falling over.
Getting too hot
To protect the baby, you should not let your own body temperature rise excessively, so avoid doing yoga or Pilates in a room that is too hot or humid. This includes certain types of ‘hot yoga’ such as Bikram yoga which is done at room temperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. High temperatures can also cause you to become tired more quickly, which can put you at greater risk of accidental injury.
Movements or poses in certain trimesters
Some exercises or positions are not suitable as you reach the second and third trimesters:
- After the first trimester, don’t exercise while you are lying on your back because the weight of your baby may push against your blood vessels and cut off supply to your baby or make you feel faint.
- As your baby becomes bigger, your centre of gravity changes so it may be more difficult to balance in poses or perform moves that previously you have been able to do. Avoid movements that may cause you to feel unbalanced or to fall.
- Hormonal changes in your pregnancy can cause your ligaments to become more relaxed which means you may be at risk of injury if you stretch too hard. Stay comfortable and do adequate warm-ups and warm-downs.
- As your body weight increases, it puts more load on your joints and pelvic floor so stay within your comfort zone and stop if you feel pain or discomfort. Walking lunges and wide squats are not recommended.
- If you develop ‘diastasis recti’ (a bulge down the middle of your abdomen), avoid doing abdominal exercises.
For more information about activities to do and to avoid, visit Exercising during pregnancy, Pelvic floor exercises, Pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy and Backache in pregnancy.
Make sure you let your instructor know you are pregnant or choose a class designed specifically for pregnant women.
What kind of exercises can I expect at pregnancy-specific yoga or Pilates?
Yoga and Pilates for pregnant women should be low impact and contain movements to help with core and leg strength, breathing and relaxation, strengthening your pelvic floor and relieving lower back pain. Movements should be gentle and deliberate and allow you to remain cool and comfortable. There may also be cushions, belts or blankets available to help you while you go through the movements or poses.
Where to find pregnancy-specific classes
Remember to check with your doctor or midwife before starting or continuing any exercise program.