How To Do Pilates While Pregnant

***This continues a series of posts where I’m going to tell you what has worked for me during my pregnancy. I am not a doctor. I do not play one on TV. I don’t think I even played doctor much as a kid. (I was more the ballerina or veterinarian type…) So please, please, please talk to your doctor if you have any questions before following my suggestions.***

When I first got pregnant, I scoured the internet looking for information about doing pilates while pregnant. Was it encouraged? Should I skip it? What sort of modifications should I do to my practice? How long can I keep teaching? And… I found nothing.

There were plenty of good articles about adding basic pilates moves to your prenatal exercise regime and the benefits of pilates after baby, but nothing for someone already comfortable with a mat-based practice.

How to Do Prenatal Pilates

So here are my thoughts on prenatal pilates.

1. Listen to your body.

I’ve listened to mine and it can do a lot more than the cautionary tales tell me it should. As an example, I find that I can still do standing balancing poses without a problem. On the other hand, I realized last week that I can no longer do the Seated Forward Fold move since the baby simply can’t get out of the way.

I go a lot slower than I did before and am much more aware of “how does this feel” vs. just going through the motions. You need to do this every time you practice as your body starts to change at an increasing rate. I’m assuming this will become more important as my belly grows and my center of gravity shifts.

2. Don’t lay on your back after the first trimester.

How to Set Up for a Prenatal Mat-Based Pilates ClassOK, so that’s what the doctor is going to tell you. Overall, I agree. I’ve created this set-up using a rolled up mat (or bolster, if available) and a couple of yoga blocks to lay back against when I normally would be flat on the floor.

That said, in pilates you’re never laying stationary on your back for any length of time, so if you are comfortable in that position, I say give it a whirl. The second you feel any tingling in your legs or feel faint, please sit up, take a break, and use something behind your back (even a couple of bed pillows could work for home practice) going forward.

3. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it (like you used to.)

Lady, you’re growing a baby. If you can’t grow a baby and do a full teaser, it’s OK.* I know that’s much easier for me to say than you to believe, but I am confident that practicing even the smallest moves are beneficial to you now, during labor, and when you’re recovering after baby. The basic pelvic tilt removes some of the lordotic curve you’re adding to your back to compensate for belly growth. Small plié squats strengthen leg muscles that will be crucial for labor (and will be flexible for repeatedly picking up baby later on!)

*I’m always a believer in “slow and graceful” when it comes to pilates vs. yanking yourself through the moves. So I’d have to ask… why are you even trying teasers when you’ve got a basketball in the way, mama!?!

And extra bonus points if you’re just adding pilates to your repertoire now. I have marathoner athletes come to my class and struggle on a regular basis. It’s not the easiest class to just jump in to.

4. Modify! Modify! Modify!

I was going to call this one “don’t lay on your belly”, but 1. you may still be able to comfortably do so in month four and five and 2. there are so many other modifications that may come in handy.

I’m way beyond the point where I can lay in a prone position, so I just skip those moves (Ah  ha! I am the teacher and you will do what I say!) or do them on my side. Another option is to try the moves from a tabletop position. This is a great way to strengthen the back and get ready for labor (and take some of the pain out of the hips from all the side-lying work).

If/when you find yourself at a point where neither back nor front nor side is comfortable, try standing up. A proper Mountain pose stance engages abs, back, inner thighs, hamstrings and shoulders. Add in a bit of movement (while holding the extra weight of your belly in place) and whew, doggies! You’ve got a workout ahead of you!!


If you are in the Milwaukee area and would like to try this in action, I’m teaching a short, 30 minute prenatal pilates class at 11 am on Saturday, November 2nd at the North Shore Wisconsin Athletic Club. I believe nonmembers are welcome for a small fee (or just agree to take the tour and you get a day pass). All classes that morning are complimentary to members.

Otherwise, I’m here for questions if you have any. I’d love to hear about your experiences and if you have any other tips for doing pilates while pregnant.

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