Pilates: The benefits for new mums
So, you’ve had a rubbish night. Your baby hasn’t slept, you haven’t slept, you don’t even think you know your own name…does this sound familiar? Extreme tiredness – and its knock-on effects such as anxiety – are all-too common experiences for new mums.
That's why finding ways to feel better about yourself - both mentally and physically - after childbirth is essential. After having my second baby, I was fortunate to discover Pilates. And it was a real game-changer. Post-pregnancy Pilates focuses on dealing with issues that may have arisen during pregnancy and labour and can help to strengthen your tummy, back and pelvic floor muscles. But as well as the practical physical benefits, it's a great way to get some much-needed 'me time' to combat the stresses brought on by the emotional peaks and troughs of early motherhood.The calm and concentrated space of a Pilates class is the perfect place to de-stress and re-connect with your body.
Michelle Hawes, Pilates instructor at In Balance Pilates, Rutland, offers a class specifically for new mums. She says: "Your body is changing continuously over the course of nine months and Pilates is great for new mums because it really helps you to regain the body you had before pregnancy. "Pilates also works to strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and is particularly helpful if you have any abdominal separation. "It is also a great confidence boost by helping you to regain control of your body and enable you get to know, and appreciate, it again.” With the postural changes during pregnancy and all the lifting and carrying of a newborn, many new mums suffer from back pain or sciatica. "Pilates uses the deep abdominal muscles which helps to stabilise the lumbar spine and tackle back issues. “It also helps release tension in the upper body, particularly from lifting and carrying a baby," adds Michelle. One of the post-pregnancy conditions that I had never heard of until it happened to me is diastasis recti or DR – in layman’s terms, separated tummy muscles. During pregnancy, the abdominals are stretched length and widthways to accommodate the baby and separation happens in a significant proportion of pregnancies. In fact, research suggests that at least 60 percent of women have DR six weeks after birth.
Often it sorts itself out but, if it doesn’t, Pilates can really help. What I found interesting is that conventional exercises such as sit-ups, which you probably think would help, can actually make the situation worse. “With diastasis recti, the connective sheath of tissue that runs from your breastbone towards your pubic bone starts to separate and thin to make room for your growing bump. “Sometimes, when you have had your baby it knits together nicely and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not anything to worry about. “I show mums how to test if they have any separation, what it feels like, and how deep it is. “To improve DR we start with some static pelvic floor movements and abdominal work - initially checking you are able to recruit those muscles. We use that as a baseline. “Once we have that really nice connection, then we start to challenge it a bit, with more exercises such as leg slides,” explains Michelle.
Michelle is keen to remind new mums that regaining fitness after pregnancy won’t happen overnight. “You’ve taken nine months to grow your baby, you have got to be kind to yourself when you are thinking about regaining your fitness and strengthening your body.”