Pilates program design and health benefits for pregnant women: A practitioners’ survey

Ms Melissa Mazzarino1

1Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

Aim: Evidence to support safe and appropriate instruction of Pilates exercises to women during pregnancy remains scarce. The aim of this descriptive study was to examine Australian Pilates practitioners’ perspectives regarding Pilates program design for pregnant women, and to elucidate their views on the potential benefits, restrictions and contraindications as according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) (2002) guidelines for  exercise during pregnancy.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey was performed. Invitation to participate was sent to Pilates practitioners affiliated with Pilates practitioner training organizations, Pilates professional organizations and physiotherapy organization based in Australia. Participants were surveyed about their experience and views on: screening processes in alignment with ACOG (2002) guidelines; (ii) aspects of exercise design and (iii) physical and mental health benefits of Pilates for pregnant women.

Results: 192 Australian Pilates practitioners who have instructed Pilates to pregnant women participated in this study. Although the majority of Pilates practitioners (84%) conducted a formal screening on pregnant women prior to commencing Pilates, medical approval was not routinely sought from the woman’s primary care doctor. Perspectives in instruction Pilates exercise in the supine position, spinal flexion exercises, single-leg stance exercises and breathing varied. Views regarding absolute contraindications for Pilates exercise during pregnancy including for persistent bleeding, premature labour during current pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, placental praevia at 32 weeks, and incompetent cervix were not consistent with the ACOG (2002) recommendations for absolute contraindications for participation in exercise during pregnancy.

Conclusions: This study identified variations in perspectives and practice of pregnancy Pilates exercise between practitioners and ACOG (2002) recommendations for practice. Further research in screening and individualised Pilates programming, whilst also aligning the recently published ACOG 2015 recommendations for physical activity and exercise during pregnancy into current Pilates practice is warranted.