DISCLAIMER: This information is for a woman experiencing a healthy pregnancy. If you are having problems or concerns, please seek medical care from a professional. It is best to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any exercises or lifestyle changes.
During pregnancy, everything changes—your appetite, sleep schedule, and your body. When it comes to ensuring a smooth pregnancy with minimal pain and discomfort, it’s important to control whatever factors, through delivery and beyond, are in your grasp.
Keeping your body in good shape to handle all these changes is key to flourishing while pregnant. You can prevent or lessen common pregnancy complaints like back pain and urinary incontinence with simple tips, exercises, and techniques. Here are three ways to empower yourself with tools for a smooth pregnancy:
Tip #1: Stretch & Strengthen for Reduced Back Pain
If you’re experiencing some back pain in your pregnancy, you’re not alone: 50-70% of women experience back pain during their pregnancies. Let’s cover some of the main causes:
- Hormones. In preparation for birth, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which loosens the ligaments in your pelvis. While this is crucial to allow for greater flexibility during childbirth, it can also cause back pain by changing your normal muscular support structure.
- Weight gain. If you are of an average weight, you’ll probably gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Especially in the later stages of pregnancy, this can put additional strain on your back and contribute to pain.
- Postural changes. As your center of gravity shifts, it can put your posture out of alignment. In addition, if you have any pre-existing postural challenges, this is going to put extra pressure on your back.
To mediate back pain, emphasize your posture to improve structural alignment. It also helps to de-stress, as stress is linked to increased back pain. And consider targeted exercises:
When your core is strong, it provides adequate support to back muscles, pelvic muscles, and ligaments. It can also improve your posture. Here’s an easy, equipment-free exercise to strengthen your core:
- Using a squishy mat to protect your knees, lower yourself down on all fours.
- Extend your right arm and left leg out at the same time, holding for 8-10 seconds.
- Release, then extend your left arm and right leg out at the same time, holding for 8-10 seconds.
- Start by doing just a few cycles of this, then work yourself up to more as your core strength increases. Make sure to avoid excess arching in your lower back while performing this exercise.
- Lie on your back or in an inclined position.
- Bend your knees so that your feet are pressed flat on the mat.
- Squeeze your glute muscles to lift the buttocks from the mat.
- Lower down to the ground, and repeat. Try repeating 10 to 15 times within your comfort zone.
Remain aware of your spinal alignment even while you’re sitting, doing dishes, or working. If you notice you’re stooping, straining, or twisting awkwardly, gently adjust. Try this “wall angel” stretch to improve posture:
- Stand with your back against a wall, so that your glutes, spine, and head are touching the wall
- Bend your arms so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor, so you resemble the letter “W”
- Squeeze your shoulders together
- Unbend your elbows and stretch arms up to the sky so that you resemble the letter “Y”
- Alternate the W and Y postures for 2-3 sets
Tip #2: Practice Kegels to Strengthen your Pelvic Floor
During pregnancy, there’s a lot of increased pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, which support your bladder, urethra, uterus, and rectum and control your continence. Because of this, up to a third of pregnant women experience urinary incontinence during pregnancy, which means they have less control over urination. Strong pelvic floor muscles don’t just prevent incontinence—they provide blood flow and circulation to all the muscles so vital in childbirth. These muscles also support your lower back and sacroiliac joint, as well as contribute to healthy bowel and bladder habits and sexual function.
Luckily, the solution for weak pelvic floor muscle can be simple: Kegel exercises can be done anywhere and help strengthen your pelvic floor for pregnancy, childbirth, and even post-partum:
Kegels can help prevent urinary or even anal incontinence during and after pregnancy. This will reduce the risk of urinating while laughing or sneezing, and might even help you use the restroom less frequently. Most importantly, they help keep your pelvic floor healthy and strong.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, women who have been doing Kegels throughout their pregnancy can have an “easier birth.” This is because the exercises will give you better muscle control during the process of labor. Because Kegels improve circulation in the vaginal and rectal area, they can help reduce the likelihood of tearing or episiotomy during labor.
After pregnancy, Kegels are important for helping you re-establish perineal health and keep your pelvic floor muscles healthy—while still preventing the risk of urinary incontinence and prolapse.
How to do Kegels
First, locate the correct muscles by doing the following:
- Stop urinating mid-stream; the muscles you use for this are your pubococcygeus (PC) muscles. This should only be used as a test, so limit it to 1x a month to avoid negative effects.
- Pretend like you are trying to avoid passing gas; you should feel a lifting or pulling movement if you’re activating the correct muscles.
Harvard Health recommends practicing Kegels lying down at first to get the hang of the contractions. Once you feel confident, you can perform Kegel contractions anywhere, at any time, and in any position by doing the following:
- Locate the pelvic floor muscles and contract them.
- Hold each contraction for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Relax your pelvic muscles for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Repeat the cycle 10 times.
- Eventually, work up to holding each contraction for 10 seconds at a time, followed by a 10-second rest.
- Try to do at least 30 to 40 Kegels a day, spreading out sessions over the course of the day.
- Feel free to experiment with the length of contractions, working up to 10 seconds but occasionally doing short, 3-second bursts of Kegels.
Tip #3: Physical Therapy for Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an amazing and special time, but it certainly comes with its own set of physical challenges. In addition to the usual culprits like back pain, you might find that your feet hurt more than usual or that you’re developing sciatic pain. When it comes to keeping your body in peak physical shape, it can sometimes be helpful to reach out for expert guidance.
Working with a physical therapist during the course of your pregnancy can help you highlight postural and structural issues before they even become a problem. Physical therapists don’t just work with you in the office: they give you a variety of tips, exercises, and stretches that you can do at home. A trained physical therapist can help you with the following:
- Pain or discomfort in your pubic symphysis (the front of your pelvis) and inner thigh strains
- Optimal bladder and bowel function
- Prevention and exercises for the sacroiliac joint (helps with low back and upper back pain)
- Behavioral and corrective exercises – so you can work on your posture on your own time
In pregnancy, it’s important to empower yourself to seek solutions for the smoothest, easiest, and most relaxing pregnancy possible. If you want to work with someone to develop solutions for structural imbalances, back pain, or pelvic floor dysfunction, seek out a trained, licensed physical therapist to work with your needs. Contact us today to set up a physical therapy session for a smooth pregnancy.