Today I am speaking to Jo Everill-Taylor, a passionate Pilates teacher of 15 years, owner of Better Body Training, a successful school in Surrey. Jo also provides tutoring for training Pilates teachers all over the country. Her antenatal classes are very popular with South London and Surrey Mums.
KL: It’s great to speak to you Jo. Let’s start by asking the most common question raised by many Mums-to-be: if someone has never tried Pilates, is it a good idea to start when you are pregnant?
JE-T: Hi, yes that’s a great question. Our Pregnancy Pilates sessions are specifically adapted around the needs of a mum-to-be so no prior experience is needed. The pace is gentle and flowing so is easy to follow even for a novice.
Exercising in Pregnancy has been shown to help keep your back strong and mobile strengthen your pelvic floor/core and stabilise your pelvis. This can in turn lead to an improved birth experience. The work we do in All 4s can also help to optimise baby's position to prepare for delivery.
Over the years we’ve had many ladies who have only started their Pilates journey once they were pregnant and have still achieved a lot in class and got the outcomes they were looking for.
KL: Here at Bumpkyn we are great advocates of sleep and relaxation when you are pregnant, something to let the body and mind prepare for the joys and challenges of birth and early motherhood. When would you recommend women should exercise to be able to unwind at the end of the day and achieve better sleep?
JE-T: Gosh yes, sleep is so vital when you are pregnant. If you are doing more vigorous exercise, I would always suggest doing it earlier in the day if possible, to allow your body to calm down later on to prepare for sleep. If you are doing sessions such as Pilates or Yoga, then later in the day is absolutely fine. These sessions will have elements of flow and relaxation to help calm down your nervous system to prepare for a well earner rest.
KL: When I was pregnant, I was given a set of pelvic muscle exercises by my midwife, but I often neglected to do them by simply forgetting it was such a key area! I later deeply regretted this when my children invited me to join them on the garden trampoline… How important is it to take care of your pelvic floor muscles with Pilates to prevent those occasional leaks?
JE-T: Haha! Yes, the good old pelvic floor muscles can take a real hit during your pregnancy and birth. I always really emphasise just how important it is to start and continue training your pelvic floor muscles both during pregnancy and after your birth. If you can get the brain communicating to this area with specific exercises during your pregnancy it is much more likely you’ll have a quicker response after you’ve given birth.
The pelvic floor muscles form part of your core musculature so if you lose strength and control in them your core will also not be working efficiently leading to issues such as lower back pain. This is on top of the issues of incontinence and prolapse- topics we still don’t talk about much but absolutely should!
In Pregnancy Pilates sessions you’ll be taught various ways to engage your pelvic floor muscles. But the real work does come by integrating them into your daily routine- so maybe when you stop at a set of traffic lights- do your exercises then, when you’re seated feeding baby- do them then. Try and associate a task with doing your exercises- that way they become an automatic thing to do and not a chore to remember.
Many women also aren’t aware that they can get extra help for women’s health physiotherapists via a referral from their GP, so if they are really struggling with incontinence issues or prolapse then that is a great starting point.
We see a lot of women post-natally on our Pelvic Floor workshops and the difference training this area is life-changing. Being incontinent alters your whole life yet simple prevention and training can improve this vastly.
I’m a bit passionate about this………..!!
KL: You certainly are! In today’s culture there is certainly a perception (unfortunately fuelled by social media) that women should be able to ‘bounce back’ quickly to their pre-pregnancy figure. They often forget that their body needs a lot longer to recover from pregnancy and birth and muscle strength takes a while to restore. How can you manage this with Pilates?
JE-T: Yes indeed! I do always try to educate women to see the whole process of “9 months in- 9 months out”. Anything else is usually hidden by Photoshop and Spanx!!
The body can only heal and re-gain strength so quickly and once you’re busy looking after a baby you have less restorative sleep and less time to devote to yourself. It is tempting to jump right back into high impact exercise (especially if you want to lose a bit of extra weight) and start to do inappropriate abdominal exercises. The trouble is you can actually cause more issues by going too hard too soon. The linea alba (front abdominal connection) may not be strong enough to take full on ab crunches but you can certainly re-build safely with deep core connections that you are taught in Pilates. It’s all about getting the appropriate loading into muscle groups and the Pilates method lends itself really well to modifications in this area.
Carrying around baby (and all the extra kit that they need!) plus all the feeding and bending to change nappies etc can also really take a toll on your posture and lower back. In Pilates sessions you’ll be taught lovely stretches and releases for these areas as well as stabilising exercises to help give you the support that your shoulders and upper back need.
KL: Is exercising on your back safe in later stages of pregnancy? I hear some women suffer from Supine Hypotensive Syndrome, how can this be alleviated during exercise?
JE-T: That’s’ right. Supine Hypertensive syndrome is a small risk when lying on your back after around 20 weeks. It can lead to you feeling faint and possible claustrophobic. If you do ever feel like that all you would need to do is roll over onto your side to alleviate the pressure which is causing those feeling. Lying on your back can compromise the blood flow coming back into the heart but your body will respond by moving position- so please don’t have nightmare worrying about it when you are sleeping in bed!
Obviously, we don’t want to have anyone suffer from this in our sessions, so we use a supported position called “Semi-Supine” which means that the upper back is lifted and this alters the pressure on the vena cava. So, it’s a safe, comfortable position to work in. We also do lots of our work in standing, side-lying, All 4s and sometimes on chairs.
KL: Is there any evidence that women who attend antenatal Pilates classes experience a better birth?
JE-T: There are many elements that lead to a better birth and both full clinical research and anecdotal feedback that points to Pilates as a positive form of exercise in this area.
Let’s look at Optimal Foetal Positioning - there is research that shows that working in All 4s and having good posture helps baby to align correctly to descend into the birth canal and this leads to a swifter birth with less intervention( full research here http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ofp.htm#bmj).
Breathing techniques can lead to improved control over both the mum’s emotional state during labour and controlling contractions ready to push baby out.
I’ve taught hundreds of ladies during their pregnancies and receive lots of feedback regarding how their births have progressed. Ladies have reported their midwives being impressed by their breath control, their strong core and backs and their endurance during longer births. It’s fantastic to know that their Pilates exercises have helped them on this journey.
KL: What exercises should new Mums avoid straight after birth?
JE-T: Please, please, please don’t do things like abdominal crunches or planks until you are sure your core is strong and intact. You need to get your abdominal muscles checked- so checking for rectus diastasis (separation of the abdominals)
If you do sit ups with any weakness or separation you are only going to make it worse; you need to focus on your deep core muscles first. If you are breast-feeding, you will still be releasing a hormone called Relaxin with alters your collagen connections to help with the birthing process, but this also means you are still at risk post-natally. You will not be as strong and stable. So, work on your stability first before trying to add lots of strength work in this area.
With things like planks you need to have a strong core to be able to lift and hold the position anyway – plus you need to be able to manage something called your intra-abdominal pressure. This is all about being able to control from the pelvic floor up through the deep core- something new mums are not best suited to. Otherwise you could just be loading inappropriately into your lower back.
Start with mobility work for your lower back, stability work for your shoulders, deep core activation techniques and pelvic floor work- sounds like a low-level Pilates session to me!
KL: Thank you so much Jo for all your wisdom. I hope our readers are looking up their local Pregnancy Pilates class as we speak!