Five Ways to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
Whether having children is in your 10-year plan or you’ve decided now is the time to start trying, it’s never too early to begin preparing your body for pregnancy. Ensure your body is ready to carry a baby by addressing before pregnancy any pain or problems associated with posture or weakness. Unfortunately, these issues can worsen during pregnancy and cause pain and dysfunction. The good news is a physical therapist can evaluate, diagnose, and treat pre-pregnancy musculoskeletal issues and continue to help you during pregnancy and post-childbirth.
Tips to Help Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy
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). Physical therapists who specialize in women’s health can instruct women in how to perform 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 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 post-pregnancy “pooch” many women find undesirable. But beware, some exercises, such as sit-ups, increase the likelihood of developing diastasis recti.
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 your 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.
So, in the midst of all the planning and excitement, don’t forget to focus on yourself, the mom-to-be. You have a big job coming up. Take time to prepare your body for the rewarding challenges ahead.
What are some of the ways you try and stay in shape before and after pregnancy?
Image: Flickr/Frank De Kleine (Creative Commons)
For more tips from Ryan join her for the #GNO Twitter party, How to be a Fit Mom with MomItForward on Wednesday, May 22 at 9 p.m. ET by following @MoveForwardPT and using the hashtags #GNO and #FitMom.
Physical therapist and American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) member Marianne Ryan PT, OCS, is the owner and clinical director of MRPT Physical Therapy in midtown Manhattan, New York. Ryan has been practicing for more than 30 years and is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist specializing in the treatment of the jaw, pelvis, and spine. She has developed a hands-on patient-centered approach to treatment techniques with strong attention to individualized needs. Ryan has extensive experience in treating prenatal and postpartum patients with particular emphasis in helping women to restore their stomachs with core exercises. Her experience as an educator includes Columbia University School of Nursing– Nurse Midwifery Program, where she taught physical therapy treatment and exercises for prenatal and postpartum women, and New York University Dental School where she taught in the TMJ clinic. She also serves on APTA’s panel of experts for high-risk pregnancies, authored the book, “The Mommy Tummy Solution,” and has an active blog called MRPT Physical Therapy.
Image Credit: Wong Mei Teng