Elle’s Postpartum Journey: Pilates and Pregnancy

Elle’s Postpartum Journey: Pilates and Pregnancy

Elle Pirie, trainer at Vive Active and the creator of our Vive Stream 12 Week RENEW Program, speaks open and honestly about about her very own postpartum journey.


Can you tell us about your exercise/fitness history? 


Fitness has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember – I always played sport growing up and got into working out towards the end of high school. I started working in the fitness industry whilst I was at university. Initially I taught high impact classes, yet I felt like I was constantly getting hurt due to old sporting injuries.


That meant that when I came across reformer pilates it changed everything! It made me feel strong but without the constant niggles in my body, and I learnt how to properly engage muscles I wasn’t even aware of, making me feel stronger in all my other training. 


I became addicted and decided to train to become a Pilates instructor. I moved from fitness being a side hustle to it becoming a full-time job. Working in the fitness industry, I am lucky enough that I am able to constantly move my body while I work. Prior to falling pregnant my average week consisted of:


  • Teaching 9 reformer classes (in these there would be the occasional demonstration but not too much working out);
  • 12 spin classes (where I did about 80% of the class);
  • 3 mat work Pilates classes (where I did about 90% of the class);
  • Filming one reformer class for Vive Stream;
  • Participating in one Vive Stretch class (they are a game changer! I wish I had time for more); and
  • 3 reformer workouts for myself a week 


Can you tell us a little bit about your pregnancy journey? 


I was pretty lucky with my pregnancy journey, experiencing only mild morning sickness in the first trimester, but I believe that continuing to exercise helped me get through it. I had been cleared by my doctor to continue with exercise and the main thing I had to focus on was not getting too hot or not letting my heart rate get too high.  


At the start of my second trimester I went to see a women’s health physio and get an assessment of my transverse abdominis and pelvic floor. This meant that I knew what I needed to work on throughout my pregnancy, both to help keep me strong and moving with as little pain as possible and also to try and help my recovery on the other side of birth. I gradually reduced the number of classes I was teaching, and modified exercises that I did (especially with ab work). 


The third trimester things were definitely uncomfortable, so I further reduced and modified the number of classes I was teaching as I becoming quite fatigued. Having strong glutes from Pilates was helpful in minimising my lower back pain, but I also had significant pelvic girdle pain which meant that I had to reduce my range of movement in a lot of exercises (lunges and kickbacks and any other unilateral lower body exercises). I continued to teach spin and reformer up until 36 weeks of pregnancy, and continued to do mat-work and some gentle reformer until 38 weeks of pregnancy. 


What are the steps you took post birth before getting back into exercise?


Within the first few days of giving birth, I started to do pelvic floor exercises (just whenever I remembered really, if I was feeding Artie or sitting down for a period of time then I’d do them) and it was a surprise how hard it felt! In those first few weeks I just started going on some walks and I did some light 1kg arm exercises. At the six week mark I went to both my doctor and women’s health physio to get checked. 


I knew I had ab separation before I went to the physio, as I’d learnt about it when studying pre- and post-natal Pilates and I knew it was going to be fairly unavoidable for me (I have a short frame and had a gorgeous but big 4.2kg baby – which leaves not much room for the baby to grow apart from putting pressure on the abdominal wall). 


What I wasn’t prepared for (because I feel like it is not spoken about openly), is that I had a stage one prolapse. I felt gutted when I found out – I didn’t know of anyone who had had a prolapse, it was not something that I had thought of as a possibility and I honestly wondered what it was going to mean for my career in fitness. I’ve now come to learn how common they are and whilst it was going to take a hell of a lot of pelvic floor exercises, some EmSella sessions (at Vive Sculpt Neutral Bay) and patience, I was going to be able to get back to doing all the things I wanted to. I have tried to be really open about this with the women around me so that maybe someone else doesn’t have that gutted feeling that I had when finding out they have a prolapse. 


How has your body changed, how did it feel getting back into exercise and how has exercise made a difference? 


I was quite naïve about how it would feel getting back into exercise post birth. So many people had told me how I’d bounce back because I was a pilates instructor, but I guess what I’ve come to realise is that every pregnancy, every birth and every recovery is going to look and feel different. I started to do post-natal pilates most days at the 6 week mark (and started filming the Vive postnatal series). I gradually got back into spin and continued walking; it was humbling how hard things had become that had previously felt like second nature. 


Over the next few months, I started to feel stronger, my abdominal separation came back together and I moved from post-natal pilates back to being able to do a normal VIVE TOTAL class. My prolapse improved and I was able to start running and jumping again. 


Being able to rebuild my strength and maintain my mobility through postnatal Pilates has helped with so many aspects of life as a new Mum. This includes all of the heavy lifting that you do as a Mum, like constantly holding a baby, lifting prams in and out of cars, juggling groceries and the rest. The extension work in Pilates also helped counteract the rounded position that we are often in when feeding a baby. Strengthening my glutes and abs in pilates also means that getting up and down from the floor became easy as I like to spend as much time as I can playing with Artie on his mat. 


Now seven months postpartum and I feel fit and strong again. Maybe not as fit as I once was, but my priorities have shifted and I don’t have the same hours in a day to commit to working out. 


Whilst I’m still learning to wear every stretch mark on my stomach with pride (and to see it as a sign of love for my little man rather then something that needs to be hidden away), I have a newfound appreciation for what my body is capable of and how good it feels to move with freedom again.