Tweak your body’s alignment for a pain-free pregnancy. A tense neck, sore back, twinges in your hips, throbbing feet-when you’re pregnant, aches and pains are just part of the deal, right?
Not necessarily. “These problems may be the norm in our population today, but that wasn’t always the case”. “Pregnant women today suffer more than they did 100 years ago.”
Our bodies are actually well-designed for pregnancy : “We wouldn’t have lasted very long as a species if reproduction wrecked us. But the modern women is doing so many things that wreak havoc on our tissues. We sit too much, drive everywhere instead of walk, wear high heels and are often overweight and inflexible. Our machinery is basically out of whack.”
But you needn’t suffer unnecessarily. There is a designed and exquisitely quick and simple program to address the crux of today’s prenatal ailments: poor alignment. Even a mild version of that stereotypical Lucille Ball pregnancy posture-back arched, belly thrust forward, feet splayed like a duck-throws your muscles, tendons and ligaments out of whack. Spinal discs and nerves get compressed, compromising your body’s natural ability to withstand the physical challenges of pregnancy.
When you’re in poor alignment, as most of us are, and you add 25 to 35 pregnancy pounds or more in a mere nine months-hello, joint pain. “It’s like a car”. “When the alignment’s off, things wear out faster.”
Five moves here will help relieve back, shoulder, neck, arm, hip, knee and foot pain, and can help you power through pregnancy by getting your body into the alignment it was designed to be in.
Repeat each of these exercise three times, holding moves for 30 to 60 seconds without bouncing. Feel free to do them throughout the day if you like; the idea is to increase awareness of your posture and proper alignment.
1. The Issue : Back pain
The combination of extra pregnancy weight and poor alignment puts excess pressure on the spinal bones (vertebrae), disks, ligaments and nerves. The common habit of thrusting your pelvis forward makes matters worse. Rather than tucking your pelvis and tailbone under to decompress your spine, which flattens your back, you can train yourself to gently but your pelvis into alignment.
The Solution : Align your spine
Stand barefoot in your normal posture. Do you feel your weight on the front of your feet? If so, back your hips up slightly, until you feel your weight stack evenly over your heels. Make sure you can lift your toes. As you gain weight throughout pregnancy, slide your hips back to take the pressure off you lower back and pelvis.
2. The Issue : Shoulder, neck and arm pain
New habits, such as sleeping on your side, along with decreased space for breathing (as your baby grows, there’s less room in your chest for you to breathe deeply and expand your lungs) can lead to tension in your upper body. Stretching your thoracic spine (the upper part of your back) and shoulder can ease your discomfort.
The Solution : Thoracic spine stretch
Place your hands on the back of a chair, palms facing up. Slowly walk your feet back until your arms and legs are straight. Back your hip up until your torso is fully extended and your hips are behind your feet to create the correct angles. Take deep breaths so that you feel the sides of your rib cage expanding.
3. The Issue : Pelvic and/or hip pain
The forward expansion of your body during pregnancy combined with the softening of connective tissues as your baby prepares itself for labor can result in pain in your hips and pelvis. Keeping the deep hip rotators (the muscles underneath the buttocks and around the lower hips) flexible can keep pain at bay.
The Solution : Sitting hip stretch
Sit in a chair and bring one ankle across the opposite knee. Wanting to tuck your pelvis under at this point is common, especially if your hips are tight. Instead, untuck your pelvis (in other words, stick your butt out) to increase the stretch in this area. Sitting on a rolled towel will help you move your pelvis forward into the correct position. Switch legs and repeat.
4. The Issue : Leg and knee pain
The habit of tucking your pelvis under to relieve back pain, wearing high heels and simply carrying extra pregnancy weight can tighten your hamstring (rear thigh) muscles. Stretching these large muscles will create space in your knee joints and help ease tension in your legs.
The Solution : Hamstring stretch
Standing barefoot, bend forward to place your hands flat on the seat of a firm chair. Slowly straighten both legs. If your hamstrings are very tight, your spine will round up like a mountain. Allow your pelvis to untuck, creating a natural lumbar curve, or “valley,” in your spine. The tighter your muscles, the more you will feel this down the backs of your legs.
5. The Issues : Foot pain and/or ankle swelling
Tight calves can reduce circulation in your lower legs. Gently stretching your calves not only soothes achy feet but also helps increase blood flow in your legs, aiding circulation and decreasing ankle swelling.
The Solution : Calf stretch
Place a rolled-up towel or yoga mat on the floor and stand facing it. Place the ball of one foot on the towel, and gently lower your heel to the floor. Take a few seconds to straighten both legs, keeping the thigh muscles relaxed. When you’re settled into this position, take a small step forward with the other leg. To increase the stretch, continue to move the front foot forward. Switch legs and repeat.
Get up, stand ups
Exercise is not only way to help minimize pregnancy aches and pains. “A lot of pregnant women are active, but they’re not carrying their bodies the right way, so it negates some of the benefits of working out.” These minor tweaks to your posture will take pressure off your joints and nerves, allowing your muscles to pull their weight.
- Sitting Try a standing work station, or at least use the last five minutes of each hour to stand, stroll and stretch your calves. When you do sit, park your bottom directly on your sit bones. (You can find these bones by grabbing each butt cheek and moving the flesh out to the sides.) Sitting this way will get you off your tailbone and create a small curve in your lower back.
- Standing Shift your pelvis back so your weight rests on your heels and you can lift your toes. Wear only flats or negative-heel shoes, like Earth shoes , which position the toes a few degrees higher than the heels and help decompress your lower back, Bowman says.
- Walking Keep your torso upright, not leaning forward. Let your arms swing naturally, with your shoulders relaxed. Don’t waddle. If your feet “duck out,” steer them forward. If they swell, make sure your shoelaces aren’t too tight; you should be able to fit a finger under them.
The Straight Scoop
When you strength-train, stellar posture is a must. Good alignment protects your joints, tendons and ligaments from strain and puts more muscle into play. So keep your weight over your heels and stack your head, shoulder and hips in a straight line.