BENEFITS OF STRETCHING DURING PREGNANCY
As your pregnancy progresses, your posture shifts to redistribute the weight of your growing baby belly and breasts. For many women, this can result in tightness in the lower back, neck and chest. The good news: Stretching can help alleviate these aches and promote a smoother and more comfortable pregnancy, especially when you incorporate a few stretches into your daily routine.
And don’t forget that stretching has many of the same benefits as other exercises for your baby, working wonders for the little one in your womb
SAFETY TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND WHILE STRETCHING
Your body will benefit from stretching as long as you remember the following safety tips:
- Warm up.
Stretching cold muscles can cause injury, so always warm up before jumping in. A few minutes of brisk walking or alternating knee raises, which can be performed in place, should do the trick.
- Don’t bounce.
Bouncing while you’re stretching can result in a pulled muscle. Instead, focus on sustaining each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, getting as far as you can into each position and holding at a spot where you feel the stretch but don’t pass the threshold of pain.
- Don’t overdo it.
During pregnancy and in the weeks after giving birth, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which loosens ligaments in the pelvis to make it easier for your baby to make his way down the birth canal. The thing is, relaxin affects all the ligaments in your body — which means you’ll likely feel more flexible and have more range of motion from head to toe throughout your pregnancy. The only problem is that this newfound skill can ultimately lead to overstretching, which can cause injuries. The best way to protect yourself is to limit your stretching to a range of motion that feels good and never painful. Pain is a telltale sign you’ve crossed the line. So always listen to your body.
On the other hand, some women feel stiff during pregnancy. Experts think it might be the body’s way of protecting itself from newfound flexibility in an attempt to stabilize the joints.
Just remember: If a stretch doesn’t feel good (and especially if it feels painful), pull back or don’t do it — and choose one that does work for you.
After warming your body up, practice these stretches daily to alleviate aches and pains before they start — or bookmark this article and come back to these stretches whenever your body needs some extra TLC.
Like a modified child’s pose, this stretch can help elongate your back muscles safely.
- Kneel in front of an exercise ball with both palms on top of the ball and the tops of your feet pressed against the floor behind you.
- Keeping your hips over your knees (or behind them), exhale as you tuck your chin and extend your arms to roll the ball forward until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and allow your lower back to arch in a comfortable position. (Note: If you feel your abs working, bring your hips back to take the pressure off. This should feel good — not like an abs workout!)
- To come out of this position, exhale and tuck your hips as you press your hands into the ball and roll it toward your body as you focus on bringing your spine back to an upright position.
This exercise helps ease tension in your neck.
- Sit up straight in a supportive chair.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply, then gently tilt your head to one side and let it slowly drop toward your shoulder. Don’t raise your shoulder to meet your head, and don’t force your head down.
- Hold for three to six seconds, then switch sides.
- Repeat three or four times.
- Gently bring your head forward, letting your chin relax into your chest.
- Roll your cheek to the right toward your shoulder (again, don’t force the motion, and don’t move your shoulder toward your head) and hold for three to six seconds.
- Switch sides and repeat.
This heavenly stretch relieves tension in your chest and upper back.
- On a pillow or rolled-up mat to give your knees some soft support, kneel with the tops of your feet pressed against the floor behind you.
- Exhale as you sit back on your heels, rounding your shoulders forward and letting the head drop gently forward as you reach your arms out in front of you.
- Squeeze your butt to come back up on your knees as you inhale and lift your arms out to the sides and gaze up overhead. Circle your arms back, down and around to starting position.
- Repeat as many times as you’d like, then reverse directions.
This stretch helps to ease tension in your shoulders (especially good if you spend a lot of time at the computer).
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bring your left arm out in front of you at chest height and bend it slightly.
- Take your right hand, place it on your left elbow, and then gently pull your left elbow toward your right shoulder as you exhale.
- Hold the stretch for five to 10 seconds, then switch sides.
Open the front of the body with this liberating stretch, designed to elongate the muscles working so hard to support your baby belly.
- Kneel on your left knee with the top of the left foot pressed against the ground. Place your right knee on the ground and position the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh. Place your right palm on the ground behind you, fingertips pointed away from the body.
- From this position, exhale as you extend the left-hand overhead and press your hips up.
- Inhale to lower down placing your hips back on the ground. (Place a pillow under your hips if this is uncomfortable.)
- Repeat as many times as you’d like, then switch sides.
6. Hip Flexors
The hip flexor muscles allow you to lift your knees and bend at the waist; stretching them periodically will help keep you limber, and make it easier for you to spread your legs when it’s time for the baby to emerge. To flex your flexors:
- Stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs as though you were about to climb them. Hang on to the railing with one hand for support.
- Place one foot on the first or second stair up (whatever you can comfortably reach) and bend your knee.
- Keep your other leg on the floor behind you, knee straight.
- Lean into your bent leg, keeping your back straight. You’ll feel the stretch in your straight leg.
This classic hip opener can also help relieve discomfort related to sciatica and stretch your belly while you’re at it. (If this pose feels too difficult, you can place a small pillow or rolled up towel under the hip you’re stretching for support.)
- Kneel on the floor and bring your left knee in front and slightly to the left of your left hip, extending the right leg out behind you, toes pointed. Aim to get your left shin parallel to your hips.
- Place your fingertips on the ground in front of you for support.
- Gently push away from the floor through the fingertips, bringing your shoulders away from your ears. Keep a slight arch in the lower back as you focus on squaring your hips to the ground and stretching your belly.
- Hold for up to 20 seconds while breathing deeply into your belly and ribcage.
- Switch sides.
Swelling, cramping…let’s face it, pregnancy has been tough on your legs. Give them a much-needed break with this easy stretch.
- Stand and hold onto a countertop, the back of a heavy chair or another sturdy object for support.
- Bend your right knee and bring your right foot back and up toward your buttocks. Grasp your foot with your right hand and bring your heel toward your buttocks while extending your thigh backward from the hip joint.
- Keep your back straight and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the left leg.
9. Entire Body
This stretch opens your back and chest to promote deep breathing, which alleviates stress and the physical tension that accompanies it.
- With an exercise ball in front of you, sit in a kneeling position with knees spread wide enough to allow room for your belly.
- Cross your forearms on top of the ball and roll it forward, bending from the waist.
- Relax your upper body into the ball as you take slow deep breathes and relax your pelvic floor muscles. Hold for one to two minutes.
BREATHING EXERCISES DURING PREGNANCY
What pairs perfectly with stretching? Deep breathing, of course — and it’s especially important for pregnant women. Not only is it relaxing, it can also improve your body awareness and teach you to control your breath (especially helpful in coping with labour pain).
For all of the above stretching exercises, focus on breathing deeply, allowing your lower abdomen and lungs expand fully for better gas exchange and more oxygen to the baby, instead of taking typical shallow breaths from the upper chest.