5 Ways to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
Is your body ready to carry a baby? You can ensure it is by addressing any pain, posture, or muscle weakness before getting pregnant. Here are some tips to help prepare your body and guard against pain and other problems during pregnancy and afterwards.
1. Strengthen your pelvic muscles.
Doing pelvic floor contractions (commonly referred to as Kegels) help strengthen your pelvic muscles. Strength in this area helps prevent leakage when a woman sneezes or coughs. It also can help reduce pelvic pain during pregnancy. Many women do Kegels incorrectly. This may be because the muscles are too tight and need to be relaxed before strengthening. The Kegel exercise involves gently squeezing the sphincter muscles (that control urine), not the buttocks and thighs. Doing Kegels incorrectly can worsen conditions such as:
- Pelvic pain.
- Low back pain.
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 teach you how to do these exercises safely and correctly.
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 muscles that run vertically along either side of the belly button can be forced apart. If these abdominal muscles separate from each other too much, it can result in:
- Low back pain.
- Pelvic pain.
- Other injuries as your body tries to compensate for its weaker core.
- A post delivery "pooch" that many women find undesirable.
Some exercises, such as sit ups, increase the likelihood of developing problems during and after pregnancy, such as:
- Diastasis recti.
- Back pain.
It is important, therefore, to work with your physical therapist on the right exercise strategy to build a strong core.
3. Take a breath!
A physical therapist can help you learn proper breathing and relaxation techniques. This will help prepare your body and mind for a healthy pregnancy. It is important to learn to properly exhale before doing any exercise. With proper technique, your core and pelvic floor muscles will contract automatically. This will give you the most stability and injury protection.
4. Begin a regular fitness routine.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that around 45% of pregnant women begin pregnancy overweight or obese. Regular physical activity aids in weight management. It also can benefit your physical, mental, and social health, and prevent or improve many chronic conditions, such as:
- Heart disease.
- Some cancers.
Mild to moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, also decreases your risk for urinary incontinence.
Exercise helps to reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body. It also boosts muscle and heart (cardiovascular) strength. This is strength you'll need to carry that extra baby weight. Once you become pregnant, consider doing low-impact activities, such as:
- Walking on even surfaces.
- Using an elliptical machine.
Runners should be aware that loosening of their ligaments may make them more prone to knee and ankle injuries. During pregnancy, the muscles and ligaments that support pelvic organs weaken. The repetitive forces of running can cause these organs to descend. This is known as pelvic organ prolapse. Physical therapists strongly recommend that women wear pelvic floor supports or compression shorts while pregnant and for a while after delivery. These garments can help to prevent pelvic organ prolapse.
Women should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and postpartum (after delivery). Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
5. Practice good posture.
Poor posture can have a major effect on every part of your body. This is especially true regarding pain during pregnancy. A physical therapist can evaluate your posture and suggest muscle-strengthening exercises and educate you on lifestyle changes to improve your posture. Examples include not sitting at a desk for long periods and the proper way to carrying groceries. Laying the groundwork for healthy posture habits — pre-baby — will prepare your body for the extra weight of pregnancy. It also will lessen your chances of low back and pelvic pain.
Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To locate a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.
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Acknowledgement: Marianne Ryan, PT, OCS