Pregnant pole dancers don’t exist only in viral videos. In fact, pole fitness is an excellent way for pregnant women to exercise and feel empowered. I know because pole dance has been a significant part of my life for the past seven years, spanning an international move, a marriage, three pregnancies, and two births. Practicing aerial pole has been a huge confidence, not to mention strength and flexibility, booster for me, all of which played an important role through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and recovery. I’m currently eight weeks postpartum, and you better believe this mama is getting back on the pole.
I was first introduced to pole dance in 2011 at a bachelorette party. After witnessing the aerial acrobatics of the class I observed before the party, I was hooked. It looked like something out of Cirque du Soleil, and I wanted in. I bought a Groupon and enrolled in the intro class. It was hands down the greatest physical challenge I’d ever faced, and I loved it. Within a year, I was performing in the student showcase. At the year and a half mark, I did my first competition and soon after was invited to be in the studio’s performing group. I was in the best shape of my life and feeling more confident than ever before. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was in that frame of mind and body that I met the man who would become my husband.
When we got engaged the following spring, we decided it was time to try for a baby. That summer, I participated in another competition, auditioned for a role in another pole studio’s production, and prepared to take over for another dancer in a local show. I was operating on the assumption that, at the age of 33, it would take some time to conceive. My husband and I were married in August, and a few weeks later, I was staring at a positive pregnancy test. I was shocked. We’d only been trying for four months, and my due date was nine months from the day of our wedding. I always say pole helped me get pregnant (and not just because it’s sexy). I have no doubt that my level of physical fitness was a significant factor.
Practicing while pregnant is somewhat controversial in the pole community. There are arguments (and strong feelings) both ways. Before I got pregnant, my teacher advised me not to invert and warned me of the particular danger of falls (always a possibility in aerials) to a pregnant woman. Pregnancy can also throw of your balance, increasing your risk for injury. Contraindications include everything from premature labor to preeclampsia, although those are for any sports workout during pregnancy. However, most practitioners say it’s OK to continue with any exercise regimen you’ve already established. It’s not a good time to start pole dancing, but if you’ve already been doing it, proponents say, then low- to mid-impact exercise can contribute to a healthy pregnancy.
It ended up being a moot point for me because shortly after I saw those two pink lines, I became violently ill. I had what I wouldn’t know until my second pregnancy was hyperemesis gravidarum, and the severe fatigue, constant nausea, and frequent vomiting kept me away from pole class. Even when I felt better at 20 weeks, I stayed away, worried that my acrobatics would hurt my baby. I opted for prenatal yoga instead, but it wasn’t the same. It would be three years before my schedule, location, and new reality as a mother would allow me to start back up again. I was thrilled to be back in a studio and began working diligently to regain the strength and skills I’d lost.
And then… I got pregnant. Don’t get me wrong — we’d been trying for a second baby, so I was delighted, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. I’d just tested into the most advanced level at my new studio and now I’d have to quit again. Or did I? Since my prior pregnancy was not high risk and I didn’t have any complications or preexisting conditions, I thought it might be a possibility this time. With the go-ahead from my midwife, I decided to try and stick with it. My pole instructor was one of the first people I told the news. She was supportive and more than willing to work with me, so together, we developed a pregnancy pole plan.
I would enroll in a lower level class and work on maintaining my skills as long as my growing belly allowed. I would not attempt to add new tricks to my repertoire but would instead focus on dance elements, choreography, and flow. Pregnant women can be susceptible to overstretching due to softened joints, so I’d save working on my splits for postpartum. Warming up is an essential part of any workout, and I would be sure I was properly warm before ever touching the pole. I also committed to staying hydrated, avoiding overheating, and sitting out if I felt dizzy. The most important guiding principle was to listen to my body.
The first trimester was the most difficult to get through. I had severe nausea and vomiting again, but I kept showing up to class. I took lots of breaks. Sometimes I would go throw up in the bathroom, and my teacher would give me a knowing, sympathetic look. Other times, I would simply sit on the side of room and watch my classmates. If everyone else was running a combination twice, I would only do it once. When the rest of the class was doing a move on the spin setting, I would leave my pole on static. Even the small amount of exercise perked me up and having the class on my schedule kept me accountable.
Second trimester is the honeymoon period for most pregnant women, and I was feeling significantly better by 16 weeks. I was able to participate more fully in class, although I did start to have to modify. By that point in pregnancy, you’re not supposed to do any exercises lying on your back, so instead of doing crunches on the floor, I did them upright on the pole. I didn’t want to put any pressure on my growing belly, so if a move called for me to put my stomach on the pole, I simply attached at my hip instead. It was around this time that I chose to reveal my pregnancy to my fellow dancers, and they couldn’t have been more supportive.
By third trimester, I’d gotten pretty big and uncomfortable, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I was still able to do a lot. I was strictly not inverting, although I let myself climb since the poles weren’t very high. I could still hold my body weight in a bracket grip, but my fan kicks were tiny thanks to baby taking up more real estate in my abdomen. I knew I was close to the end of my pregnancy pole practice when I started to get winded after doing arm circles in the warm up. I made it all the way to 35 weeks before I called it quits. My teacher and friends sent me off with best wishes, encouragement, and a pair of baby booties.
I’m so grateful for the role pole fitness has played in my life, especially as I became a mother. I know my training helped me through the births of my children, from being able to activate the muscles needed to push to the confidence in my body’s ability to rise to any challenge. Being fit before I got pregnant certainly helped me get my body back after I delivered. (My midwife, during a postpartum massage, exclaimed, “How do you have abs already?!”) But the impact has been way beyond just the physical. It was having the opportunity, every week, to feel confident, sexy, and powerful alongside supportive badass women that made the biggest difference in my well-being those nine months and beyond.