5 Pilates Moves for New Moms
Safe and gentle postpartum Pilates moves for mothers
New moms deal with a lot of unsolicited advice. From your choice to breastfeed to your child’s name, it seems like nothing is ever too personal for friends, family and even strangers to discuss. The pressure to reclaim your post-baby body can be especially painful to new mothers. While eschewing the beauty ideals of an image-obsessed culture, most women would like to feel at home with their bodies again. Yet, after the dramatic changes of pregnancy and birth, it’s hard to know where to start.
A gentle regimen of postpartum Pilates is a great way for new moms to begin reclaiming their fitness. Pilates is usually safe soon after a C-section or a vaginal birth, and these gentle core-strengthening exercises target some of your weakest postpartum muscles. Just remember to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routines, especially if you’re recovering from a difficult delivery.
Why should new moms do Pilates?
As your pregnancy advanced the tightly knit abdominal wall stretched to make room for your expanding uterus. The main abdominal muscles, two large parallel bands of muscles which run from the ribs to the pelvis, are called the rectus abdominis muscles. These muscles are under a lot of tension during pregnancy. When they stay strong they can make birth and recovery easier. Prenatal Pilates can help with this, but even if you didn’t do Pilates during pregnancy, embracing the practice now can help restore your abdominal muscles.
Of course, the abdominal muscles weren’t the only ones that took a beating during pregnancy and labor. Your pelvic floor also suffered some significant trauma. This is the layer of muscles that run along the bottom of the pelvis and support the pelvic organs. Weakened pelvic muscles also contribute to postpartum incontinence. Unfortunately, these muscles aren’t likely to strengthen by themselves, and often get even weaker as time passes. Pilates will target and tone this critical muscle group.
Special concerns after pregnancy and labor
Sometimes the rectus abdominis muscles will actually separate and remain separated after the birth, a condition called diastasis recti. It’s important to have your health practitioner or Pilates instructor check to see if you have diastasis recti before attempting some popular Pilates exercises, like the hundred or the rollup. Without the appropriate modifications these moves could further injure the abdominal wall. Still, some Pilates exercises can gently rebuild core strength without aggravating diastasis recti. All the exercises we recommend below are safe.
(1) Pelvic Tilts
This gentle move will gradually strengthen your pelvic floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. Inhale to gently expand the ribcage. Exhale as deeply as you can and tilt your pelvis, as if you are trying to make the pubic bone move towards your ribcage. Hold this position for as long as you can, and then inhale, allowing your pelvis and ribcage to return to a neutral position.
(2) Pelvic Lifts
Lie on your back on your mat with your arms at your sides and your knees bent and your feet feet and under the knees. Breathe in. As you exhale tilt your pelvis towards the ceiling and slowly roll your spine off the mat one vertebra at a time until your body forms the shape of a triangle. Your weight should be on your shoulder blades and not on your neck. Focus on keeping your core engaged and allowing your glutes to do most of the work. Allow the sitting bones (the bony protuberances at the bottom of your pelvis) to reach forward, away from your spine, and keep your chest from arching. Hold this position for a moment then slowly begin rolling your spine back down the mat.
(3) Toe Taps
Again, start by lying on your back on the mat with your arms at your sides and your knees bent. Breathe in and raise one leg up until it forms a 90-degree angle at the hip and the back of the knee, a position commonly known as the tabletop position. Inhale. On the next exhale, raise the other leg. When both legs are in a tabletop position, first inhale and then exhale to lower your leg until you tap the floor with the tip of your toes like a ballerina. Inhale and slowly draw the leg back up. Repeat this exercise alternating sides. Place one or both hands on your belly to make sure your abdominal muscles are staying engaged and not separating.
(4) Standing Push-Ups
Done properly standing push-ups will firm your core and also strengthen your arms to lift that baby carrier. Stand a little less than arms-length from the wall with your feet together. Place your hands on the wall, as you would on the floor if you were doing a traditional push-up. Slowly bend your arms and press your chest towards the wall, then push back again. Keep your body in a straight line and your abdominal muscles connected. For more of a challenge, increase the distance between your body and the wall and/or lift your heels off the floor.
(5) The Basic Cat Exercise
This move is wonderful for relieving a sore back from carrying the baby. Start on all fours on your mat with your hands below your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Inhale to raise your head and slightly arch your back. Exhale and pull your spine up to the ceiling and allow your head to slowly fall forward as your back continues to rise into a deeper curl. Your spine should make a ‘C’ shape, like a cat’s raised back. Make sure to keep your abdominals connected at the top of the stretch. Inhale and return to a neutral spine.
Postpartum Pilates is a great place to begin
If you’re a new mom hoping to ease back into a fitness routine, postpartum Pilates is a great place to begin. Even if you didn’t do any prenatal Pilates, after you give birth, Pilates can help you regain strength and improve your posture, alleviate back pain and reduce postpartum incontinence. If you feel like you need some help with your fitness routine, you can visit us at Chicago Northshore Kinetics. We love helping new moms feel confident and strong as they embrace this new phase of life.