5 Postpartum Pilates Exercises
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Pilates expert Brigitte Arle, owner of Little Bridge Pilates, about the benefits of doing Pilates after having a baby. “Postpartum Pilates is a wonderful way for new mothers to reconnect to their center, improve posture, and safely strengthen their body after their baby is born,” she explained. “Unlike other systems, Pilates uses the deep muscles of core support to initiate and maintain freedom of movement, not just during your time on the mat, but for everyday life!”
Considering my daily life currently involves wearing my 20-pounder in a carrier, lifting him up and putting him down a few dozen times a day, and hunching over to breastfeed him every couple of hours, I could definitely use a stronger core!
Here are five core-strengthening postpartum Pilates exercises that Ms. Arle suggests for new mothers. Please note that, while safe and gentle, these exercises are intended for women who are at least six to eight weeks postpartum. Check with your doctor or physical therapist if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you.
The pelvic floor is a multi-layered basket of muscles that holds your organs in your pelvic basin. Located in the area between your pubic bone, tailbone, and sitz bones, it is the foundation of your core and is too often neglected.
To begin, draw your attention to your pelvic floor. Next, lengthen your spine and keep it lengthened during the course of this exercise. Engage your pelvic floor as if you were squeezing to stop the flow of urine mid-stream, and maintain that engagement while you lift your pelvic floor up vertically.
Ms. Arle provided this helpful image that has changed the way I do Kegel exercises: “Imagine your vaginal opening wrapping around a straw, then, gather the muscles inward, lifting up as though your vagina were sipping from the straw. Just as important as it is to engage and lift, we must gently lower and fully release the pelvic floor. Contracting these muscles alone will not work. For muscles to be functional, healthy, and strong they must lengthen and relax as well as engage.”
The transverse abs are the deepest layer of abdominal muscles. Ms. Arle explains, “They are what’s working when you put on a pair of jeans fresh from the dryer and suck in to zip them up.”
Start by trying this exercise on all fours. Take one hand and place it on the center of your abdomen. Inhale, pushing your belly out like a balloon. Exhale, slowly pulling your belly in deeper and deeper, as if there were a string drawing your navel in toward your spine.
If you’re having trouble connecting to your transverse abdominals while doing this exercise on your hands and knees, try it seated or supine.
Here’s another great exercise that will strengthen your transverse abs and obliques.
Lying supine with your arms relaxed and knees bent at a 90-degree angle, lift one leg at a time into a chair position. You should now look like you’re sitting in a chair, only with your back on the floor. Place your hands on your hips and engage your transverse abs. Slowly lower your left leg, tap your foot lightly on the floor, and bring your leg back up to your starting chair pose. Repeat with your right leg, and continue alternating legs for as many reps as you feel comfortable doing.
Focus on isolating your pelvis as you articulate from the hip joint. Keep your transverse abs engaged the entire time to prevent your hips from rocking from side to side. Also, avoid arching your back as you do this exercise.
Prone Hip Extension
This move will help lengthen your hip flexors, which can get very tight during pregnancy. It will also strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and abdominal muscles.
Lying face down, with your hands under your forehead (slip a pillow under your abdomen if your breasts are full or sore from breastfeeding), press your pubic bone down into the mat, lengthening your lower back. Slowly lift your right leg, keeping your weight evenly distributed across both sides of your pelvis and taking care not to lift your leg too high or rock your pelvis. Hold this pose for a few breaths and then lower your leg. Now lift your left leg, hold, and bring it down. Continue alternating legs.
Remember to keep the lower back elongated, navel in, and pubic bone pressing down for this exercise to work your core!
Reverse Tray with TheraBand
According to Ms. Arle, “This exercise helps strengthen the muscles that often get overstretched from postural changes while holding or nursing your baby.”
Sitting tall with your legs extended in front of you, wrap the center of a latex exercise band, resistance tube, or long towel around your feet while holding each end in your hands. Begin with an exhale, drawing your navel in as you bend your elbows and move them backwards as far as they’ll go while maintaining your posture. Keep your palms facing each other and elbows in against your waist as you bring them back. Try to keep your torso still while you work your upper back muscles, and avoid rocking back and forth. If you have tight hamstrings, sitting on the edge of a pillow will help to tilt your pelvis forward and prevent rounding in your lower back.
If you decide to take Pilates classes as a new mom, be sure they’re postpartum or postnatal Pilates classes taught by a pregnancy and postpartum certified instructor. Not all Pilates exercises are safe or appropriate for the postpartum period.
Tone up and have fun, mamas!