Working with prenatal clients is truly a privilege. You’re getting to support and help this clientele through a very special time in their life, where your guidance can be invaluable in making these nine months as empowering and symptom-free as possible. Over the past 16 years, I was lucky enough to train dozens of prenatal clients and practice Pilates during my three pregnancies. I distilled my experience into the following principles:
- Safety first! Educate yourself with specific workshops and extra certifications focusing on working with prenatal clients or, at the least, by reading some online research. Get familiar with the primary physiological changes the prenatal body goes through in each trimester. Be aware of general contraindications such as not lying on the back for a prolonged time, managing intra-abdominal pressure (to avoid diastasis recti), and common pregnancy symptoms like SI joint dysfunction, Symphysis pubis dysfunctions, sciatica, etc. When in doubt, ask your client for their physician’s approval to start or continue their Pilates practice.
- Don’t make assumptions (my pet peeve) – ask! So often, people have various stereotypes about pregnancy. Don’t assume your client is fatigued, nauseous, or has lower back pain. Like Jay Grimes always says, “teach the body in front of you,” and I believe even more so when working with a prenatal client. The pregnant body keeps changing rapidly every week, and as a teacher, you need to adjust the session according to the body in front of you that day. The fact that your client was feeling nauseous during your last session doesn’t mean they’re not feeling energized and strong in your current session.
- Train your prenatal client like an athlete. I once read that Joseph Pilates treated all his clients like athletes. Giving birth, no matter how, is a tremendous physical event, and you should help your prenatal client prepare for that. Some birth workers compare delivery to running a marathon, and I couldn’t agree more. Keep building strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and symmetry throughout the body. These will help your client with a more comfortable pregnancy, a smoother birth, and a much easier recovery.
- Know your ‘why’ and check all egos at the door. When choosing the right exercises for your client, keep asking yourself why you are choosing this specific exercise. How will it benefit your prenatal client, and is this the best apparatus to achieve this benefit? For example, side splits are a great exercise that can help strengthen, among other things, the outer and inner thighs and the pelvic floor. All of these are highly beneficial to your prenatal client. However, standing on the narrow frame of the reformer with a bump that throws the client off balance might not be the best idea, and we can achieve similar benefits working with the magic circle on the floor. Another example, perhaps your client can still do full back bends on the reformer or ladder barrel. Ask yourself: why would you want them to practice that? Remind yourself and your client that the fact that they can do a particular exercise doesn’t mean they should do it. Their ligaments are already loose with the extra Relaxin hormone in their body; hence the extra stretching has no benefit and may even pose some risks.
To summarize, tune in to your intuition and, most importantly, your prenatal client’s intuition. Communicate with your client openly about how they’re feeling before and during your session to ensure you make the right choices and help them feel empowered, energized, and in control of their pregnant body.