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Rediscovering Strength: Pilates Exercises That Helped Me Postpartum

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Woman stretching on mat

Becoming a mom is a remarkable journey, and so is the process of regaining strength postpartum. As a professional dancer, I have taken for granted the fact that I’ve inherently worked on my strength from a very young age without really thinking about it. My body was never something I needed to “work on” because I was already doing that daily. Of course, injury is another story, and I have many tales of how I needed to build strength for recovery (but that's for another time).

Having a baby humbled me very quickly. After giving birth, I was left with a completely new body and had to re-learn how to use my main instrument. Starting over again is tough, but Pilates really got me through the early stages. Here are some of the exercises that provided me with a gentle reintroduction to movement.

As with any postpartum exercise, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional or a certified postnatal fitness instructor before incorporating new movements into your routine. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific postpartum recovery and fitness goals.

360 Breathing

Okay, so this first one is not exactly Pilates, but it can be incorporated into any workout or be done alone. While I was pregnant, I found that I had a lot of pain and tightness in my ribs. I also found it hard to take nice, deep breaths and was often breathing very shallowly. Having my baby did not take away my rib pain, but I felt that I could breathe again! I started doing 360 breathing after I was told this could be a helpful postpartum exercise for me. So, this is exactly how I started my postpartum movement journey! Keep in mind that you can do 360 breathing while you are pregnant, or even if you aren’t pregnant or postpartum.


360 breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or deep breathing, is a breathing technique that involves breathing deeply into your diaphragm to fully engage your lungs. The name "360" comes from the idea that you are filling your entire lungs, including the lower part of your lungs, allowing your breath to expand in a 360-degree manner.

Here's a breakdown of 360 breathing:

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Focus on breathing deeply into your diaphragm, letting your abdomen expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen to feel the movement.

2. Complete Breath: Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing the breath to fill your lungs from the bottom (diaphragm) to the top (chest). Feel your ribcage (front, side and back) expand outward.

3. Exhale Completely: Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely. Focus on a controlled and gradual release of breath.

4. Relaxation: As you practice 360 breathing, aim to relax your shoulders and upper chest. The emphasis is on using your diaphragm and lower lungs.

360 breathing is commonly used in practices like Pilates, yoga, and meditation. It helps activate the diaphragm, reduces shallow breathing, and promotes a sense of calm and relaxation (just what new moms need!). Incorporating 360 breathing into your routine can enhance lung capacity, improve oxygen exchange, and contribute to overall well-being. The video below shows an example of 360 breathing from Dr. Krystal Fannin.

Pelvic Tilting

Pelvic tilting is something everyone should do, postpartum or not. Being able to have control over the way your pelvis moves is important for postpartum recovery for several reasons.

Lie on the floor, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Your feet can either be hip-distance apart or together, with knees and inner thighs squeezing together. Take a deep inhale, and as you exhale, curl the tailbone under and press the low back into the floor. Inhale and release this position and return back to neutral. Another option is to arch the lower back on your inhale instead of only going to neutral. Below is an example from Howcast.


As a professional dancer, doing something like the marching exercise seemed so mundane to me. After becoming a Pilates instructor, I understand the value of an exercise like this, and after becoming pregnant, I couldn’t live without it!

Marching entails lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor (bent knees) and your arms down by your sides, pressing into the floor. Without disturbing the upper body, lift one leg off of the floor, keeping the knee bent at a 90-degree angle to a tabletop position. Then, place the foot back down on the ground and switch sides. Once you’re feeling a little stronger, you can start with the legs in a 90-degree tabletop position and, one leg at a time, tap the toes to the floor. I have an example below from my YouTube channel at the 3:30 mark.

Adding a stability ball or a Bosu ball can take this to the next level if you’re ready for it, of course!

Dead Bug

Dead bug is one of my favorite exercises! I have injured my neck more than once, and it’s a great core exercise you can do while keeping your head down on the ground (instead of lifting it as you would in a crunch). Of course, it’s also a great postpartum exercise for the same reason. You probably won’t be ready for abdominal exercises that involve lifting the chest right away, but you’ll still be able to strengthen the core. 

For dead bug, you’ll lie on your back. Your arms go straight up to the sky, and the legs are in a 90-degree tabletop position. One leg extends to a 45-degree angle (lower if you need more of a challenge, higher for less challenge) as the opposite arm reaches to the back wall, about where your ear is. Hold the position for 3-5 breaths and return back to the starting position. You can do this with the head down on the ground or lifted for an extra challenge.

Dead bug is a beneficial postpartum Pilates exercise that targets core strength, stability, and pelvic floor engagement. It’s particularly helpful for postpartum women as it addresses some of the physical changes and challenges that may occur after childbirth. Here's an example of dead bug by yours, truly.


I am taking the time to mention bird-dog, because this exercise is a wonderful postpartum and prenatal exercise, but take note that I didn’t practice this one because of a knee injury I’ve had since I was a teenager. Bird-dog is pretty much dead-bug, but inverted. 

You’ll start on your hands and knees and stretch one leg long to the back as your opposite arm reaches forward by the ear. Hold for a few breaths. The goal is for your core to stabilize you since your balance will be challenged. If you need to modify, just do one limb at at time. So maybe stretch just the arm forward and place it down before you move on to your leg. Example below

So, I’ve explained how to do these exercises, now let me tell you why they’re beneficial postpartum.

1. Core Strengthening:

   The abdominal muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, may undergo stretching and separation during pregnancy (diastasis recti). These exercises engage the core muscles, including the transverse abdominis, to promote strength and stability.

2. Pelvic Floor Engagement:

Childbirth can impact the pelvic floor muscles, leading to weakness or imbalances. These exercises encourage the activation of the pelvic floor, helping in the rehabilitation of these crucial muscles.

3. Low-Impact Movement:

These are low-impact exercises that minimize stress on the joints, making them suitable for postpartum women who may be easing back into exercise after childbirth. The controlled movements provide a gentle way to reintroduce physical activity without putting excessive strain on the body.

4. Back Support:

Postpartum, many women may experience lower back discomfort due to changes in posture and the demands of caring for a newborn. Core exercises like these support those lumbar muscles, taking strain off of the lower back. Also, the act of lying on your back and keeping your head down on the floor provides support to the spine while still engaging the core and promoting stability in the lumbar region.

5. Balance and Coordination:

These exercises involve alternating movements of the arms and legs, challenging balance and coordination. This can be particularly helpful postpartum as it encourages the body to work as a coordinated unit, supporting functional movement in daily activities.

7. Mind-Body Connection:

   These exercises and Pilates as a whole emphasize the mind-body connection and encourage women to be mindful of their pelvic alignment and muscle engagement. This awareness can extend to other aspects of postpartum recovery.

As I mentioned before, restarting my Pilates practice postpartum was a humbling experience, but the above exercises give a glimpse into the vast Pilates “playground” that is available to new moms. 

As I share my postpartum Pilates adventures, remember that your postpartum journey is unique to you. Celebrate the small victories and find joy in rediscovering your strength!

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