5 Ways to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
Ensure that your body is ready to carry a baby by addressing before pregnancy any pain or problems associated with posture or weakness. Here are some physical therapist tips for helping to prepare your body for pregnancy and to guard against musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction during and after it.
1. Strengthen your pelvic muscles. To strengthen your muscles, use pelvic floor contractions (commonly referred to as Kegels), which involve gently squeezing the sphincter muscles (rather than the buttocks and thighs). These tightening exercises help prevent leakage when a woman sneezes, coughs, etc, and also can help reduce pelvic pain during pregnancy. However, many women do Kegels incorrectly (perhaps because muscles are too tight and need to be relaxed before strengthening). Doing Kegels incorrectly can worsen conditions such as incontinence, pelvic pain, and even low back pain. This is why it is important to consult a women’s health physical therapist before beginning an exercise program. Physical therapists who specialize in women’s health can instruct women in how to perform these exercises safely and correctly. (Encore Rehabilitation has a specialized clinic that treats incontinence and pelvic pain, located in D’Iberville, Mississippi).
2. Prepare for “baby belly” by focusing on your core. Core exercises can help prevent diastasis recti —abdominal muscle separation. As your belly grows, the abdominal muscles that run vertically along either side of the belly button can be forced apart, like a zipper opening. If these abdominal muscles separate from each other too much, the result can be low back pain, pelvic pain, or other injuries as your body tries to compensate for its weaker core. This also can result in the postpregnancy “pooch” many women find undesirable.
Some exercises, such as sit ups, increase the likelihood of developing diastasis recti, incontinence, and back pain during and after pregnancy. It is important, therefore, to work with your physical therapist on the right exercise strategy for establishing a strong core.
3. Take a breath! Learning proper breathing and relaxation techniques from your physical therapist will help prepare your body and mind for a healthy pregnancy. It is important to learn to properly exhale before performing any exercise. With proper technique, your core and pelvic floor muscles will contract automatically, and this will lead to optimal stability and injury protection.
4. Begin a regular fitness routine. Exercise will help reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body and will boost your muscle and cardiovascular strength—strength you’ll need to carry that extra baby weight. Once you become pregnant, consider engaging in relatively low-impact activities, such as swimming, walking on even surfaces, biking, or using an elliptical machine. Runners should be aware that loosening of their ligaments may make them more susceptible to knee and ankle injuries. Also, when the muscles and ligaments that support a woman’s pelvic organs weaken, the repetitive jarring of running can cause these organs to descend. This is known as pelvic organ prolapse. Physical therapists strongly recommend that, to prevent this condition, women wear undergarments that offer pelvic floor support, or compression shorts that support the pelvic floor, both during and after pregnancy.
5. Practice good posture. Poor posture can have a major effect on every part of your body, particularly with regard to pain during pregnancy. A physical therapist can evaluate your posture and suggest muscle-strengthening exercises and lifestyle education (such as not sitting at a desk for long periods, and carrying grocery bags properly). Establishing healthy posture habits—pre-baby—will better prepare your body for the extra weight of pregnancy and lessen your chances of low back and pelvic pain.
5 Ways to Return to Your Pre-Baby Body
While moderate weight gain is a common concern for women during and after pregnancy, there are many other factors to consider in the 4 to 6 weeks after childbirth. You may want to get back into pre-pregnancy shape immediately, but it is important to make a slow return to full activity. Here are some tips on what you can do in the first 6 weeks after delivery to begin getting your body back into pre-pregnancy shape.
1. Get help with tasks. A new mom needs an ally in the weeks following childbirth. During this time, a woman should not lift anything heavier than her baby, in spite of the temptation. Make sure all the heavy nursery equipment is set up by someone else in advance of the baby’s arrival. It’s important now for you to rest and engage in light activities only.
2. Breathe. Believe it or not, something as natural and instinctive as breathing will require focus after childbirth. This is because the growing uterus pushes the diaphragm upward, causing it to lose its ability to descend during inhalation. Since the diaphragm forms the top of the core muscles, it is important to work with a physical therapist, who will prescribe exercises to help restore your diaphragm function to its full capacity.
3. Focus on your core. A woman’s abdominal muscles undergo a great deal of strain during pregnancy. In fact, separation of abdominal muscles, called diastasis recti, is a common occurrence. Also, engaging in inappropriate exercise, such as sit ups, can worsen the problem for some women. A physical therapist can prescribe exercises to help “close the gap” between muscles. Gentle core-strengthening exercises also can be done, paving the way for more-vigorous abdominal exercises 6 or more weeks after delivery.
4. Strengthen abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Physical therapists recommend that immediately post-partum, women focus on exercising the abdominal muscles and the muscles of the pelvic floor. During pregnancy, these muscles often are stretched and weakened. Strengthening them gives women a strong, stable base from which to work and move. This can alleviate pain later on, and makes much simpler such tasks as carrying the baby, getting in and out of the car, and lifting and reaching.; Women who have had a caesarian section should be watchful of discomfort during abdominal exercise. Pain could indicate that the exercise is being done too soon, incorrectly, or too vigorously.
Fortunately, women can do gentle Kegel (pelvic floor) exercises immediately after childbirth, whether the birth was vaginal or by caesarian section. Kegels can be done during everyday activities such as nursing or feeding the baby. Strengthening the pelvic floor also can improve sexual satisfaction and help prevent incontinence. Physical therapists can recommend several types of Kegel exercises—for endurance, (in which the woman contracts or lifts the pelvic floor muscles and holds them for 5 to 10 seconds) and to produce quick, brisk muscle contractions.
5. Every minute counts. Over time, a woman may begin incorporating fitness into her everyday routines—such simple activities as taking a family walk around the neighborhood or participating in a fitness group with other new moms. Remember to go at your own pace. New moms should sleep whenever they have the opportunity.
Acknowledgement: Marianne Ryan, PT, OCS
These two articles were not written by Encore Employees but found on the APTA website. Read the complete articles here: Article 1 and Article 2