Pregnancy is an exciting and transformative time in women’s lives. Hormones create many changes including fatigue, nausea, mood shifts, backaches and sleep disruptions. Daily activities like exercise need to adapt to the growing baby yet maintain the health and well-being of the mom. I am frequently asked about whether it’s safe to start or continue doing Pilates during pregnancy as well as when it’s safe to begin exercise after the baby’s delivery.
First, always consult with your physician- s/he knows you and your medical history best. If you are given the green light, then the next step is to choose your exercise wisely. Although pre-pregnancy you may have been the “Planking Queen” at your last Pilates studio, did you know that you could be at risk of Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation)? Many of your activities of daily living—bending over to pick up groceries, twisting to put your other children in their car seats or doing planks and traditional crunches can cause this separation.
Diastasis Recti (DR) causes back pain, umbilical hernias, and loss of functional strength in the abdominal core. All of your hard work pre-pregnancy will be a distant memory. If your core feels “mushy” postpartum despite your attempts to firm it up, its time to do a “Rec” Check. Crunches and planks will just make it worse. DR is not going to kill you or make you sick. If left unresolved, it could lead to chronic back pain and a functionally weak core. I have seen several post-menopausal women with this condition who didn't realize they had DR but knew that something wasn't quite right with their abdominal muscles. As much as they tried to contract them in Pilates mat classes, nothing would happen for them. They also were never able to get their stomachs flat enough after having children to get back into their pre-pregnancy weight pants.
To prevent DR, there are specific pelvic floor conditioning exercises and adapted core conditioning exercises designed for pregnant women to help support the growing baby, teach proper movement, maintain functional core strength and stabilize posture. We have an ongoing program at BellaBody Pilates for working with pre and postnatal women. If you are postpartum and already have DR, these exercises will help you restore your core function. Surprisingly, not only women have DR—men can have this too, especially golfers (sorry guys!). The strong forces of the golf swing along with being overweight contribute to the DR tear. Left unresolved, back pain will eventually affect the golf swing and not for the better --we all know what happens at that point--higher golf scores. A simple test can be performed to see if you have DR and if you are a candidate for DR Restoration.