Pilates for Maternal Mental Health


Mental health amongst new mums is an area of concern in the community, as Pilates teachers we often see the challenges facing new mums first hand in the studio.

In recognition of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which was last week (3 – 9 May 2021), Louise Taube looks at 3 research studies below to guide teachers with post partum clients.

What is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week?

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy.

It’s all about raising public and professional awareness of perinatal mental health problems, advocating for women affected by it, changing attitudes and helping families access the information, care and support they need to recover.

This year’s theme is ‘Journeys to Recovery’.

Also visit MMHAW organiser’s website for more great resources: perinatalmhpartnership.com

Three articles discussed on the topic of Maternal Mental Health

Written by Louise Taube

Research articles referenced:
Effect of Pilates exercises on postpartum maternal fatigue by Farzaneg Ashrafinia, Mandana Mirmohammadali, Hamid Rajabi, Anoshirvan Kazemnejad, Khosro Sadeghniiat Haghighi, Mehrnoosh Amelvalizadeh
Published: Journal of Women’s Health Vol. 16, No. 10
Link to article: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jwh.2007.CDC10

The effects of Pilates on mental health outcomes: A meta-analysis of controlled trials by Karl M.Fleminga Matthew P.Herringab
Published: Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick, Ireland
Link to article: https://isiarticles.com/bundles/Article/pre/pdf/115893.pdf

The effects of Pilates exercise on sleep quality in postpartum women by Farzaneh Ashrafinia MSca, Mandana Mirmohammadali MScb, Hamid Rajabi Ph.Dc, Anooshirvan Kazemnejad Ph.Dd, Khosro Sadeghniiat, Haghighi MDe, Mehrnoosh Amelvalizadeh M Scf, Hui Chen Ph.Dg
Published: Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2014) 18, 190e199
Link to article: https://daneshyari.com/article/preview/2619219.pdf

The study on The effects of Pilates exercise on maternal postpartum fatigue was exciting for me to read. The study concluded that Pilates “can significantly reduce maternal postpartum fatigue in all sub-scales.” The sub-scales included general fatigue, physical fatigue, reduced activity, reduced motivation, and mental fatigue.

There is a lot of physical and mental stress on a new mum. A new mum has had the physically exhausting and sometimes traumatic experience of childbirth; she is definitely sleep-deprived and in the new role of caring for a newborn with the many tasks and responsibilities this involves. Lack of sleep and stress can develop into mood disorders and postnatal depression. It was so encouraging to hear the positive effects of Pilates in this study.

The study was conducted with the women participating in 30 minute Pilates classes five days per week at home. This approach seemed very practical to me!  This approach is something we can offer postnatal mums who may find it challenging to come to the studio while looking after a new baby. A 30-minute at-home Zoom session would allow them the benefits of increased activity, reduced fatigue, increased motivation, and less mental fatigue. We could offer all our postpartum clients this additional option to assist with maternal mental health.

We need to educate our prenatal clients to keep coming to Pilates, postnatally, not just during Pregnancy. For women who were experiencing poor maternal mental health, the studies showed that Pilates resulted in a statistically significant reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue and resulted in a statistically significant increase in feelings of energy (Effects of Pilates on mental health outcomes).

One thing that I have noticed improves my mental health is the way I teach Pilates breathing. The technique involves exhaling all the air from the lungs and allowing them to fill naturally. Focusing on the breath and being mindful with every move can give the mind a break from the constant stresses calling our attention. If just that 30-minute session created a better quality of life for one woman and her child, then it is worth it. We all know how good we feel after doing a Pilates class – bodies filled with endorphins! We need to pass all these benefits on to our new mums in need of a boost and mental break.

The Effects of Pilates on Mental Health Outcome cited the following as all contributing to improvements in mental health; increased serotonin levels, reduced stress and blood pressure via activation of the parasympathetic nervous system due to voluntary breath control of Pilates exercises, the social interaction of attending a Pilates class, and reduced sympathetic nerve activity due to the deep breathing in Pilates.

In the study Effects of Pilates exercise on sleep quality in postpartum women, findings were that although sleep duration did not lengthen, sleep quality improved. The study was with recently postnatal women, specifically primigravida mothers (meaning this was their first delivery), taking part in Pilates 5 days a week for 30 minutes each morning after breastfeeding.

One thing that I disagreed with in the study was the Pilates exercises chosen were not ones I would choose for a recently postnatal client (72 hours to one week postnatal in this study). Some of the exercises selected were full roll-ups, rocker, and double leg stretch, which are not pelvic floor friendly and may increase the separation of the Rectus Abdominis, or even pelvic organ prolapse. As someone specialising in pre and postnatal Pilates, I would select exercises that do not require excess intra-abdominal pressure. Examples include bridging with a hip lift, the one leg circle, the one leg kick, the sidekick, leg pulls back modified with bent knees, and regressed push-ups in a 4 point kneeling position.

Lack of sleep is associated with depression, so the value of this study was that sleep quality improved with Pilates exercises. I urge you to get in contact with your recent postnatal clients and offer them the support of a 30-minute zoom session five days a week!


About Louise
Louise Taube is a Pilates Instructor and Course Creator. You can find Louise at her website and on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.