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Pilates is a form of exercise that helps to restore correct postural alignment, release tension and develop suppleness and strength. Pilates exercises comprise controlled movements and positions that help you develop strong core muscles in the pelvic floor, abdomen and lower back, while deep and rhythmic breathing techniques enhance concentration and promote a sense of well-being. Pilates offers health benefits that are especially important during pregnancy, labor and the postnatal period. The American Council on Exercise recommends seeking advice from your doctor before beginning any type of exercise during pregnancy.
Before beginning Pilates exercises during your first trimester, it is important to ascertain the strength of your pelvic floor muscles. If you can squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and hold them for at least 10 seconds during 10 repetitions, it is appropriate for you to attend a Pilates class taught by a qualified instructor. Inform your instructor about your stage of pregnancy and any other relevant health issues. However, if your pelvic floor muscles are weak, caution is required, as you are at risk of overstressing joints and ligaments, which already are loosened during pregnancy by release of a hormone called relaxin.
If you have regularly taken part in Pilates exercises prior to pregnancy and wish to continue during your first trimester, inform your instructor as soon as you know that you are pregnant. A competent Pilates instructor can help you find alternative exercises if you experience discomfort from doing regular exercises. For example, fatigue, even exhaustion, is common during the first three months of pregnancy, as are nausea and vomiting. You should remain aware of signals from your body that tell you to rest, or take a drink, and should not attempt to increase your endurance levels to extreme limits during pregnancy.
Exercises to Avoid
Unless you are at an advanced level of Pilates instruction, you should avoid certain Pilates exercises during your first trimester. Dizziness or feeling faint are normal symptoms of pregnancy that are more common during the first trimester due to lower blood pressure and changing hormone levels. You should avoid the following Pilates exercises as they could exacerbate symptoms of dizziness and nausea: inversions, such as Short Spine, Jackknife, Tower and Roll Over; extreme balances; spinal flexion exercises in which you bend forward over your legs, and strenuous abdominal exercises, such as Stomach Series. You also should avoid stretching joints to their maximum capability to avoid straining joints and ligaments.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains that exercise during pregnancy is “most practical during the first 24 weeks,” but recommends special precautions for women at all stages of pregnancy. Wear comfortable clothing that helps you stay cool, and a supportive sports bra. Consume the amount of calories that are recommended for your pregnancy and drink enough fluids to keep you well-hydrated during your exercise sessions. Each session should begin with a warm-up period that lasts between five and 10 minutes to prevent injury. The ACOG advises you to stop exercising and seek immediate medical advice if you notice warning signs such as vaginal bleeding, dizziness or chest pain.