Exercises to Help Your Pregnancy

Regular exercise can be as important to the health of your pregnancy as other elements like your dietary habits. Keeping active and fit can have far reaching benefits, making the later stages of your pregnancy easier to manage as your weight increases and your due date approaches. This article gives some examples of pregnancy specific exercises and how they can help you achieve a healthy pregnancy.

Should I be exercising if I am pregnant?

The answer to that question is yes, provided you are careful about how much strain you put your body under. Being pregnant makes your body vulnerable in some ways, and over-exertion can be detrimental to both your health and that of your unborn baby. That being said regular activity and light exercise can do a lot to promote a healthy pregnancy and easier childbirth.

Exercises that are particularly good for pregnancy are those that strengthen the parts of the body that are stressed as your baby bump and its contents grow, namely areas like the back and stomach. More than just strength, these exercises can also promote flexibility, joint health, relieve pain, and improve the circulation of your blood. 

What exercises can help me with my pregnancy?

Many pregnant women suffer from lower back pain, which occurs as a result of the stress caused by the growth of an unborn infant on this part of your body. As the baby gets heavier, this pain can worsen. Exercises to strengthen your stomach can actually relieve this back pain as the additional weight can be carried by your stomach muscles to some extent, relieving the pressure on your back. The muscles of your stomach are referred to as the abdominals.

Exercises where you contract your abdominal muscles are good to this end, however traditional sit ups and abdominal crunches involve you lying on your back which can cause your blood pressure to drop if you are pregnant. This is because the additional weight of your unborn child can press your blood vessels. Because of this one of the best abdominal exercises you can do while pregnant is the box raise, where you kneel down on the floor on all fours ( with your hands and knees on the ground), and then lift and extend one arm and one leg at a time, forcing your abdomen to contract to keep your body stable, and thereby strengthening your stomach if you repeat the movement often.

Throughout an exercise like this you have to be careful not to sag your back too much, and keep it in what is called a neutral position. Sagging your back can potentially worsen lower back pain, and prevents you from getting the full benefit of the exercise.

Exercises that work on pelvic tilt are also useful in the context of a pregnancy. These prevent your hip joints from becoming stiff and painful by moving them regularly. A standard pelvic tilt exercise involves standing with your back against a wall and tightening the muscles of your stomach to pull your belly button in towards your spine to flatten your back tight against the wall. Hold your stomach in this position for about 4 seconds and then relax, then repeat the process about ten times regularly to achieve the full benefits of the exercise.

Pelvic floor exercises are another set of exercises recommended during pregnancy. The pelvic floor is actually a very important muscle which is under a lot of pressure during pregnancy and the actual process of delivering a new born. The pelvic floor is so named because it is basically a many layered sheet of muscle which stretches across the bottom of your pelvis (hip bone).

Because of the strain caused by a growing unborn child on the pelvic floor, any sudden movements like those caused by sneezing or coughing can result in leakage of urine, which while embarrassing is actually quite commonplace during pregnancy. This leakage is called stress incontinence, and can be alleviated by exercises which strengthen the pelvic floor. In fact because of the benefits of pelvic floor exercises it is recommended that women perform them prior to pregnancies as well.

Performing pelvic floor strengthening exercises can be a little bit tricky at first, because unlike other muscle groups you don’t really repeat a visible movement during the exercise. What you need to do is contract your anus and vagina simultaneously and then relax the two, as you perform the exercise more and more often, the muscle grows stronger and you can hold the contractions for longer periods of time.

Many other exercises are available that serve similar ends, namely to prepare your body for the physical stresses of pregnancy and labour. Your midwife or doctor will have plenty of information about these, and there are many antenatal classes which also provide information about these. Your partner can help you by supporting an exercise regime to help strengthen your abdomen, back, and pelvic floor.

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