Prenatal Pilates exercise

Prenatal Pilates: An Instructor Do-and-Don’t List

by Leslie Braverman on July 19, 2015

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and IDEA Health & Fitness—the world’s largest association for health and fitness professionals—encourage regular exercise during pregnancy to:

  • improve energy
  • strengthen muscles
  • help control weight
  • build and maintain strong bones
  • improve sleep
  • improve mood, body image and reduce postpartum depression

Prenatal Pilates exercise on Pilates Reformer

Certified, experienced Pilates professionals—specifically, Pacific NW Pilates instructors—are poised to teach moms-to-be, following exercise guidelines offered by both organizations. It is important that Pilates teachers are familiar with how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy, and how to safely modify exercises for expectant clients.

Prenatal Pilates Exercise Guidelines for Instructors


Labor, delivery and early motherhood is highly physical and demanding. The average delivery lasts 12 hours—with some rest periods—and requires strength and endurance. At home, a new mother needs upper body strength to carry her infant, lift awkward carriers and push strollers. Preparing intentionally for pregnancy and the physical challenges of caring for a newborn may minimize the risk of injury during recovery.

Get ready: Don’t underestimate the value of training for pregnancy.

  1. Work on core and upper body strength and endurance
  2. Improve mobility and strength of adductors, hamstrings and gluteals

Pre-pregnancy is an excellent time to work on mechanics and strength of the arms, shoulder and scapulae as shown here in Side Arm work and Side Twist Sitting:

Side arm work on Pilates Reformer is an effective prenatal exercise     Side arm stretch on Pilates Reformer is an effective prenatal exercise


The first trimester (0 – 12 weeks)

During the first trimester, hormonal changes—increases in progesterone, estrogen and relaxin—make collagen more pliable. A surge of hormones prepares the mother’s pelvis for delivery; those hormones can also make joints and ligaments lax and unstable.


  • Obtain permission to exercise from the client’s physician
  • Focus on good core stability
  • Pay attention to excellent posture

Don’t hold stretches.

Prenatal Pilates exercise using stability ball

An inclined position on the stability ball is a great place to work on the gentle engagement of pelvic floor and transversus abdominis in a neutral position.

The second trimester (13 – 26 weeks)

During the second trimester the pelvis becomes more mobile and the center of gravity is altered. The growing uterus may compress the vena cava in supine (lying on back) positions.


  • Work in neutral anatomical alignment
  • Focus on shoulder stability
  • Encourage natural breathing patterns

Don’t use supine, prone or inverted exercises.

PNWP Last Session Lou & Ryan, etc-88webMoms-to-be can strengthen their legs in an upright position on the Split Pedal Stability Chair.

The third trimester (27 – 40 weeks)

During the final phase of pregnancy, the mother may become short of breath when exercising. Ankle swelling (edema) may occur.


  • Keep ankles mobile to help with circulation
  • Change positions frequently
  • Incorporate squats to prepare for pregnancy

Don’t use supine, prone or inverted exercises.

The benefits of prenatal Pilates exercises are many. The best result of careful, professionally supervised exercise during pregnancy is feeling confident and strong to really enjoy that precious new baby.  

PNWP Instructor Trainer Erica Loder is a fantastic example of a prenatal Pilates exercise.

Instructors, sharpen your skills with two 2018 workshops at PNWP: STOTT PILATES Prenatal Matwork with Stability Ball & Flexband and STOTT PILATES Post Natal Pilates.

Pacific NW Pilates is studio, school and fitness family under one roof. Click to learn more about our education courses and workshops, private studio sessions and group classes. Or call Brette for details: (503) 292-4409.