Fitnotic’s Top Ten Prenatal Health & Fitness Tips*
1) Minimize separation of your abdominal muscles.
As the uterus expands during pregnancy, it presses on our abdominal wall, causing a separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (commonly referred to as the “six-pack”). This is known as “diastasis recti” and leads to lower back pain, weakened support for the organs, and a “mummy tummy” post-pregnancy. In order to prevent a separation from getting worse, steer clear of crunches, sit-ups, laying straight back or sitting straight up (you may have even noticed a bulge protruding down your midline when doing this). Get into and out of bed by rolling to your side and using your arms to lower yourself down and push yourself up. In addition, be sure to pull your belly button towards your spine and hold it there when you do any forceful motion like cough, sneeze, lift a heavy object, etc. It is also imperative to do exercises called the Tupler Technique during pregnancy in order to minimize a diastasis. These same exercises are used to close a diastasis postpartum.
2) Strengthen your pelvic floor. Toned pelvic floor muscles will make you more comfortable as you progress through your pregnancy, reduce the likelihood of developing urinary incontinence and uterine prolapse, and help make pushing easier during labor. In order to identify your pelvic floor muscles, try to stop the flow of urine as you go to the bathroom. The muscle you’re squeezing when you do this is what you need to focus on as you do your Kegel exercises. With your legs apart and your abdominal muscles relaxed, squeeze your pelvic floor muscle and hold it there for 10 seconds, and then do 10 squeeze-releases. This 10 second-hold followed by 10 squeeze-releases is one repetition. Do 20 repetitions 5 times a day.
3) Work up a healthy sweat. When you stay active during pregnancy you not only feel better about yourself, but you’re more likely to have a healthier pregnancy, a shorter and easier labor and birth, and a quicker return to pre-pregnancy shape after your baby is born. Increasing your heart rate with safe, low-impact cardiovascular exercise will also help ensure that you gain an appropriate amount of weight and improve your endurance and stamina. Walking, swimming, rowing, and elliptical machines are great options, and recumbent bikes can be a comfortable choice for those suffering from lower back pain. Something fun like prenatal hoopdance can help keep your workouts exciting while relieving tension in the lower back and hips. With the approval of your doctor, you may also be able to continue with a modified version of the cardio workout you enjoyed pre-pregnancy. A personal trainer specializing in prenatal exercise can help teach you how to make necessary modifications to your favorite class or activity. Keep in mind that you should be able to carry on a conversation throughout your workout.
4) Obtain the benefits of resistance training. Not only does resistance training enable you to maintain muscle strength and endurance during pregnancy, but it provides you with the strength you need to compensate for the posture adjustments and weight gain that accompany pregnancy. Resistance training will also help keep strong the muscles that naturally weaken during pregnancy, and as a result, will help prevent many prenatal and postpartum discomforts. A good rule of thumb for prenatal resistance training is to do higher repetitions and use less weight. Resistance bands are a great tool and will ensure that you’re using slow, controlled movements to work the muscles more effectively.
5) Invest in a stability ball. Whether you use one of the colorful exercise balls at the gym or purchase one for home, every pregnant woman can enjoy countless benefits from stability balls. These versatile tools will help you strengthen your core muscles safely, and provide a comfortable way to relieve lower back tension and tight hips. Using the ball for upper and lower body exercises will increase the intensity of your workout, and because your core muscles will be working to keep you balanced on the ball, you’ll be strengthening your core simultaneously. Even if you’re not in the mood for a workout, just sitting on the ball while watching TV and rolling the hips around in a circle will help to relieve any pressure or tightness in the hip, pelvic and lower back area. The ball can also be used once baby arrives for fun mommy & me exercises!
6) Try to stay off of the scale. Being weighed at each prenatal appointment is a part of pregnancy that many women dread. Worrying about your weight and constantly weighing yourself at home can add unnecessary stress to what should be a happy time. Although we all hear about the “healthy” range of weight that women should gain during pregnancy, our advice is to listen only to your health care provider. If there is an issue regarding your weight, you will be told what to do to help ensure a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby. If your health care provider isn’t concerned about your weight, take it as a sign that you shouldn’t be either. Eat sensibly, take your vitamins, drink adequate water, and embrace your beautiful prenatal body
7) Attend prenatal yoga class. Even if you were not interested in yoga pre-pregnancy, it is an extremely valuable addition to any prenatal fitness program. Yoga will increase your flexibility, tone your muscles, and help improve your balance and circulation with little to no impact. Prenatal yoga will also provide the invaluable skill of learning how to breathe deeply and relax, which can greatly assist in labor, birth and motherhood. Certain prenatal classes, more than others, will enable you to work up a healthy sweat and get a challenging workout, so try a different class if you were previously turned off by the lack of a sufficient workout.
8) Eat balanced meals. Eating healthy, balanced meals helps ensure that our babies get all the nutrients they need and that they are growing at a healthy rate. Eating five or six small, frequent meals is best, as this will help combat nausea and heartburn. Have quick, healthy snacks on hand at all times, such as nuts (assuming no allergies), raisins, cheese and crackers, fruit, vegetables and yogurt. Keep in mind that protein is the building block of every cell in your baby’s body, so make sure you’re eating adequate protein each day. Although junk food should be limited, satisfy reasonable cravings in order to avoid going overboard later.
9) Stay hydrated. Keeping the body hydrated during pregnancy is imperative, as water is responsible for carrying nutrients through your blood to your baby. In addition, aside from helping to alleviate many side effects of pregnancy including nausea, constipation and swelling, adequate water may help prevent the onset of premature labor as a result of dehydration. Sufficient water consumption also helps to flush out the system and dilute the urine with water, which may reduce the likelihood of the urinary tract infections that often plague pregnant women. Strive to drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day and keep a bottle with you at all times.
10) Take time for you. It is easy to become so bogged down by all the preparations for baby and motherhood that we forget to set aside time for ourselves. This is especially important considering the negative impact stress and anxiety can have on our health, as well as our babies’. Forty or so weeks will fly by before you know it, and soon it won’t be as easy to schedule an impromptu massage, curl up with a good book, take long naps or escape in the middle of the day and go to a movie. Make time for your favorite activities, get as much rest as possible and pamper yourself. Not only do you deserve it, but it will help you better cope with stressful times later.*
The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer medical advice, or replace the recommendations of your doctor, midwife, or physical therapist. The information is intended to apply only to women experiencing low-risk, healthy pregnancies. Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.Sheryl Wilson, founder of Fitnotic, is a qualified Tupler Technique instructor and NASM-certified personal trainer. For more information, please contact Sheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fitnotic.com.