by Jennifer Gianni
Women who are pregnant or who have just given birth are in a stage of their lives when they are seeking guidance and advice, especially first time moms. Having a baby is an experience filled with uncertainty and anxiety. As mind/body professionals, we can be an important component in helping our clients during this amazing milestone. Pre and post natal women need classes tailored to the changes in their bodies, lifestyle and their schedules. They want to feel that their fitness regimen can continue during pregnancy or that it’s possible to start a fitness routine while pregnant or soon after birth. They’re looking for ways to ensure a problem free delivery and a quick bounce back after birth. These are all problems that your studio can address for this special population.
First, start small with one class that is open to pregnant women in any trimester, as well as post natal women. This will take some extra effort to make sure each student is performing the exercises with the correct modifications. Putting time and energy into planning your class will help create a safe and beneficial program for all participants. Instructors have to be nurturing and supportive, while also remaining quick on their feet to jump in and provide modifications when needed. No instructor should attempt to teach a class for this special population without specific training and experience; there is no room for unsafe practices here.
In a combined class setting it is best to teach to the most pregnant of the group and modify from there. For example, I might start everyone on the stability ball doing hip circles, which is appropriate for all stages. For the two post natal moms in class with their babies, they would hold their babies on their laps or arms as they circle the hips (babies LOVE the stability ball). For the second set of hip circles the post moms would lay the baby on the mat and drape the front of their body on the ball so they are looking at the baby. From there they can hang and stretch or do some upper back lifts. The point is that for new moms, unless they have had a C-section, it is important to spend time on the belly to massage the area and help the uterus return to its proper place and size.
Another example is having the class work the transverse abdominals in quadruped position, either on the hands or the forearms. This is the safest and most comfortable position for pregnant women. During the first set, the post natal moms place their babies on the mat underneath them. (It is also a great idea for the new moms with their babies to have two mats side by side for easy transitioning.) During the second set the post moms can lie beside their babies in a supine position working the same muscle with the same breath pattern. On the next set you can give options for those who need it. This makes everyone feel included in the workout. It also allows those early in their pregnancy to see where they will progress, and they’ll already know how to modify as they move later into their pregnancy, because of their experience in the combined class.
Post natal precautions
Most of your post pregnant clients will not receive a release to exercise until six or more weeks after delivery. Women starting back sooner than four weeks after delivering vaginally should not be doing quadruped deep abdominal raises. It is very rare, but doing this exercise could force air into the blood stream and cause an air embolism (obstructing a blood vessel), which has the potential of being fatal. Here are two general rules.
No post clients in class until 5 to 6 weeks after delivery (exceptions for C-section deliveries).
Start the early post moms (1-4 weeks) on their backs while the rest of the class starts all fours deep ab work.
Pick a good class time
As we all know, figuring out the best time for a class is one of the most difficult things about running a studio. I’ve found that pre and post natal classes work best in the mid-morning. This gives new moms and moms to be time to get other children off to school or day care – and take a little time for themselves before the day gets away from them.
Pre and post natal class example
A welcoming environment and the correct props are also essential. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money on new equipment, but you should have things like blankets, pillows and/or towels for support. Some other great props to use are stability balls, small free weights, resistance bands and stools or folding chairs. It is important that any instructor attempting a pre and post natal class have the proper training on modifications.
Use the wall for balance, feedback and traction. 1) Foot rolling with soft to medium tension ball (no Hard tennis balls, golf balls, etc. 2) Releve balance, cue eccentric contraction coming down. 3) Lunge/ Calf Stretch. Use opposition of hand in the wall and heel to the floor. 4) Supported crescent. 5) Supported Side bends.
Stability ball. For all the seated ball work, the post moms can hold baby in their arms or on their lap. The ball is a sure fire way to soothe a fussy baby.
Modification. For your participants in the third trimester or weeks away from birth, they should not do concentric contractions of the pelvic floor. Only eccentric, lengthening and opening work are appropriate.
Variation. All but third trimester can add the upper body into the circling. First trimester moms who are feeling nauseous will want to just stick to hip circles.
Babies love this one! Your third trimester or early post moms may want to hold off on this one if they are experiencing incontinence. They can focus on just trying to pick the ball up and let it go through the contract/release of the pelvic floor and leave out the tiny bounce. Come off the stability ball and kneel in front of it.
Hold anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. Remove the ball and come into quadruped. Post moms can put babies under them. The eye contact and bonding is great for both of them. For sensitive wrists you can have moms come on to the forearms either on the mat or on a reformer sitting box. If you have post moms who are 1-4 weeks after delivery, they should lie on their tummies and do Prone Leg Lifts and Flight poses.
Side leg work – There are a lot of great side leg variations that work for everyone in the combined class, but remember that your second and third trimester moms need shorter levers. You could start with clamming, 4 point clamming, bent knee circles, etc., and from there vary it to longer levers for your first trimester post moms who are ready for it.
Your C-section moms will have to wait at least 6 weeks after delivery for any belly work, but moms who have delivered vaginally can start right away and need to! In between legs on the side leg series, have pregnant moms rest in child’s pose and have post moms do heel clicks, leg flutters, etc. in prone.
Gentle stretches with deep relaxing breaths.
More pelvic floor work to create more awareness, something they can bring out with them to practice at home. Keep it simple.
Visualizations and relaxation poses and exercises.
This is essential for your pregnant moms, because they need to be honing the skill of relaxing beyond relaxing! And we can all imagine how important a few minutes of down time is for the post moms. Even if their little one is awake and active, I have moms that snuggle up with their babies, and moms that lie on their sides and nurse during a visualization. Sometimes if I’m able to or have an assistant, we might hold the baby for this sequence, so mom can get a few minutes just to herself!
Allowing new moms bring their babies with them to class is something that my clients really appreciate. It relieves the stress of them having to find child care and it’s fun having the energy of these little ones in the studio. It’s also great bonding time for mom and baby.
An unseen and huge benefit to pre and post natal classes is the community that they build. It is extremely helpful for the pregnant women in class to be able to see and talk to the post natal students about their experiences and how the class has helped them. I can’t tell you how many times a pregnant client will stay after class to ask a new mom about her delivery. It creates a strong bond between the women. They share stories, tips and suggestions with each other. I have many examples of women and children (infants who met in class) who have continued their friendships years later. This is a great opportunity to build a tight knit group who see your studio as not only a place to exercise, but as a supportive and vital community.
Jennifer Gianni is a Balanced Body® faculty member and holds Balanced Body courses at her studio, Fusion Pilates in Asheville, as well as in Charlotte and Raleigh NC. She is the creator of the Fusion Pilates Pre & Post Natal series of DVDs, as well as a series of apparatus protocol DVDs designed for professional teachers. Jennifer teaches her Fusion Pre & Post Natal Teacher Training course around the United States and yearly in Japan. She is looking forward to presenting at Pilates on Tour® in London.
Article Courtesy of Balanced Body Inc, Pilates COREterly, Summer 2010, Programming Forum