Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps prevent disease, is important for
healthy bones and can help reduce stress, manage fatigue and lead to a better overall quality
of life. All of which is very important when there is a newborn to care for.
Pregnancy and childbirth have a major impact on a woman’s body, both internally and
externally. During pregnancy, every system is affected, including respiratory,
cardiac/circulatory, hormonal, biomechanical and musculoskeletal. This can lead to shortness
of breath, tiredness, swelling, morning sickness, varicose veins, postural changes and issues
such as lower back pain, pelvic joint pain, carpal tunnel symptoms, diastasis recti (separation
of the abdominal muscles) and urinary incontinence.
Is Pilates safe in the first trimester?
Yes! Although each trimester is different, in essence, the exercises used are the same. There
are critical modifications that are specific to each stage of the pregnancy, and most
importantly, to each individual. Instead, the focus should be on your Pilates foundation, like
breathing and stabilization. Only do as much (or as little) exercise as you feel comfortable
doing. It is important to pay attention to how you are feeling and start to become more in
tune and aware of the needs of your body on any given day. Pilates workouts can be easily
adapted to accommodate the prenatal body and how an expectant woman is feeling from
What are the benefits of Pilates in the First Trimester?
In addition to strengthening and conditioning the entire body, prenatal Pilates can help
counterbalance some of the issues that come up during pregnancy in a safe, gentle manner.
For example, posterior work (e.g., glute strengthening) is emphasized to prevent any postural
problems that might surface due to the weight of your growing bump. The breath taught in
Pilates oxygenates and energizes the body while serving as a tool to better cope with the
emotional ups and downs that prenatal women might experience.
Exercises to try
The Reformer is an excellent way to safely challenge the body during the first trimester since
the spring tension can support the body against gravity. The elevated surface of the Reformer,
and the Cadillac, is helpful for prenatal women who might find it difficult to lie down on a
mat. Due to increased blood volume in your body during pregnancy, you may find yourself
prone to dizziness. Mat exercises are another safe, effective way to exercise during this time.
If you find yourself experiencing fatigue, you can reduce your pace but still get the benefits of
a boost in core strength and stability.
Exercises to avoid
Although the Reformer and Cadillac can be a supportive way to work the entire body, it needs
to be introduced in an appropriate way. If you have never done Pilates, it’s important to learn
the movements and body mechanics before adding the challenge of resistance. If you are
already comfortable on the Reformer, it is recommended for moms-to-be to opt for a heavier
spring tension during stability exercises and to go lighter during leg or arm work. The good
news is that there are no specific exercises that are off-limits during the first trimester.
Recommendations when practising Pilates in the First Trimester
• Maintain a moderate intensity. Due to the cardiac changes, the body is already in an
exercised state, therefore we do not want the maternal heart rate to exceed 70% of
the maximum heart rate.
• Keep cool and avoid hot, humid conditions. The maternal core temperature should
not exceed 38 degrees. Wear loose clothing, stand near a fan or air-conditioner if in a
gym, as the baby is not able to regulate temperature.
• Stay hydrated and drink lots of water.
• Due to circulatory changes in the body, warm-up and cool-down well in order to avoid
blood pooling and leg cramps.
• Avoid unilateral exercises, wide lunge/stance positions as this can put extra stress on
• Activate pelvic floor muscles during all exercises to keep as strong as possible, during
the later stages may be harder to feel.
• Stop if feeling dizzy, nauseous, if vaginal bleeding or leakage of amniotic fluid.
Precautions and modifications
Although all of the exercises in Pilates, on both the mat and on the equipment, are technically
safe to perform during the first trimester, in general, it’s important to take care not to
overexert or overheat your body. In addition to slowing down and taking breaks when
needed, paying attention to your range of motion during Pilates is important for safety. Avoid
overstretching, since the ligaments of the pregnant body are more sensitive. To keep things
within a safe range, support props, such as balls, therabands or foam rollers, especially during
rotation, can be helpful.