The Do’s And Don’ts Of Prenatal Workouts, According To Prenatal Pilates Expert And Doula Erika Bloom
Erika Bloom is one of New York and Los Angeles’ most sought-after pre and postnatal specialist for fitness and overall wellness. Her method is informed not just through countless advanced certifications but by working with thousands of clients to help them heal and optimize the body through movement as well as holistic health. She is deeply passionate about postpartum recovery including diastasic recti correction and natural birth.
Outside of your Erika Bloom spaces, many fitness studios and apps now say they can easily modify for pregnancy. Do you encourage people to take their favorite pre-pregnancy classes and modify or do you suggest women adjust their fitness routine during pregnancy?
People should adjust their workout routine. I think the right movements are all so dependent on an individual’s body. Instead of taking the same classes from before pregnancy, take from someone who is a prenatal expert. Classes that offer modifications often teach movements that can be counterproductive to both a healthy labor and a healthy postpartum period. They might teach ‘no more crunches and no more lying on your belly’, but one of the modifications they use instead is all-fours or plank, which for some people is safe but for most it isn’t. Similarly, if you are really locking the pelvis and tightening the pelvic floor in class, that can lead to stall in labor or tear in labor which can lead to C-section.
We want to be really particular in how the pelvic core is activating during pregnancy. Through one-on-one sessions, if available, a specialist can define what’s appropriate in each trimester. They also understand the rate of hormones shifting and how that relates to the pelvis expanding and pelvic floor shifting. It shouldn’t just be based on a modification for safety, women should try to find a program that benefits labor and safe recovery.
What are the specific risks involved in continuing on with pre-pregnancy workouts like HIIT or similar classes?
The problem with, for example, HIIT is that it can cause diastasis. The linea alba is already being compromised by a growing baby, and when engaging the core with force like we do in HIT it can cause it to split. It can make postpartum recovery so much harder. Preventing diastasis is not just about aesthetics either. A toned linea alba helps our organs stay where they need to be and function properly. Often with diastasis, people will get digestive issues, or uterine prolapse. We also have the looseness of ligaments from pregnancy that last into postpartum. There is a strong chance that you will knock your pelvis out of alignment and when we have pelvic misalignment we have pain and the baby can position itself in a less than optimal place and might not have room to turn for various reasons.
I think pregnancy is a time to pause some cardio workouts. By pausing them, you’ll be able to get back to them sooner because you won’t have sacral injury, or pelvic floor dysfunction, or a variety of other ailments that can result. We can have our bodies be better than they were before before pregnancy if we are careful in the pregnancy period.
What are the types of workouts you suggest to your clients and friends who are on a pregnancy journey?
It’s always a better choice to work toward easy labor and recovery rather than strength in pregnancy. A lot of classes focus on strength, but the pelvic floor needs to have suppleness and control, too. That’s true in terms of core engagement, too. The focus should be on making space for the baby to grow so you don’t end up with diastasis. People think this only applies to traditional ab work, but all of our movements are coupled with core activation. Even legwork, squats, arm work with weights; if there isn’t proper queueing of core work and proper breath activation and pelvic floor activation, then you could be setting yourself up to have diastasis or back pain.
Instead, I would suggest walking. Pregnancy is your time to be taking nice long walks and do breathing exercises and rest. You’re about to have a newborn! In addition to walking, try movements that are more connecting and open up the respect and joy related to growing a baby.
I am a firm believer in doing one-on-one sessions with a prenatal Pilates expert. I don’t mean one-on-one traditional Pilates and not just a weekend prenatal certification, but really finding someone who specializes in prenatal workouts and can do them one-on-one. Weights and machines should not be used because when we are using weights we are not being queued to activate the core in the right way. But if someone is more comfortable with group classes, then try ones that focus on standing, only using body weight and moving slowly with control, like a ballet class.
What types of movement do you feel are most important for baby-safety, preparing the body for delivery and hopefully an easier recovery?
Detailed breath control is really important. I think that doing moves that create connection and suppleness in the pelvic floor so you can control, contract and open the pelvic floor are important.
So many complex movements include working the abs in some way. How can pregnant women know when is enough and when is too much?
It’s not about enough is enough, it’s about your ability to decouple the rectus abdominis engagement from transverse abdominis engagement. If you’re gripping your rectus or obliques then it’s not good. That’s why privates can be so good for working on the deep muscles that can push baby out. But if you’re causing compression and tightness, it can cause a less than ideal labor and recovery.
What lessons around fitness and preparing for labor with Pilates did you learn in your own pregnancy? How can more women have a magical birth experience?
In my first pregnancy I had a distisis. I did not do enough opening work with the sides and pelvic floor. I was strong and tight and really tiny at the time. In the early parts of pregnancy I needed to make more room for things to open up than I did. I was prenatally certified at the time, but that wasn’t enough. I also really thought that I was a good breather but I had never had it tested. I was locking my pelvic floor. I fixed these things in my second pregnancy and I ended up having a 20-minute labor and a super-fast recovery. Having someone who can help talk you through what’s happening with breathing is really important.
It’s totally possible with proper prenatal training that prepares the body for labor to have a magical birth experience. I’ve worked with people who had an episiotomy with their first and C-section with their second and successfully did a home birth VBAC for their third.
What else can women do outside of their 60 minute workout each day to keep the body tip-top and as best prepared for delivery and postpartum?
I really recommend doing a therapy series around fears of being a mother. The way that humans have evolved, if there is stress, the labor will stall. Labor-stalling can come from stress-hormones. In the modern day, these stress hormones come from the birthing experience and from becoming a mother.
We are so go-go-go in this world. That’s something that becomes impossible when you have a baby. Trying to understand how you deal with your anxiety and assessing inside and outside stressors should be a big part of your prenatal experience.
There are other mental exercises, too, that can help. When I was a dancer, the night before we would go onstage we would go for a mind walkthrough. Or think about athletes who picture success. I think that’s an amazing thing to do while you’re pregnant. Visualizations of what the pushing will feel like and how it will feel to have your baby exit the birth canal and to hold them for the first time I see leading to a more successful labor.
Another physical exercise movement that isn’t fitness related is perineal massage. Starting around 35 weeks, doing perineal massage and manual pelvic floor opening can be really effective. If someone is uncomfortable with that, doing pelvic floor stretching is important. At that point it’s about opening rather than stability.