The Home ‘Stretch’: The Best Pregnancy Stretches to relieve those annoying aches and pains during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of great joy and excitement for the expectant mother; a time when she gleefully anticipates a brand new–and no doubt hopelessly adorable–addition to her life and family. So why should an expectant mother have to concern herself with pregnancy stretches?
Well as much as the glowing mom to be no doubt anticipates the moment that she will hold her newborn child in her arms, she just as doubtlessly looks forward to the time when she can finally rid herself of those telltale aches and pains that all too typically characterize just about every part of pregnancy.
The biological condition of pregnancy stretches and changes a woman’s body, and sometimes to uncomfortable effect. The stomach strains. The backaches. The pains that currently seem to be present in just about every working part of your body.
Many women accept the aches and pains of pregnancy as part of the partum, so to speak; a natural and (please do forgive us) expected part of the pregnancy experience – but she doesn’t have to suffer. Pain does not have to come as part and parcel of the pregnancy experience. This is good news for modern moms, who are trying to maintain an active and highly productive lifestyle that includes work and family commitments, an active social life, sports, and exercise, etc. Indeed, a good bit of exercise can help to relieve the aches and pains of pregnancy; particularly if the routine involves those therapeutic moves known as pregnancy stretches.
Indeed, a well-regulated and physician-approved exercise program involving pregnancy stretches offers numerous and highly therapeutic benefits for the expectant mother. This relaxing but still active regimen can ease and alleviate the effects of backaches, swelling, bloating, constipation, and sleeplessness; while at the same time boosting your mood, your energy, your posture, etc. Partum exercise also promotes strength, endurance and muscle tone; the benefits of which can extend well beyond those nine months of pregnancy.
“Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with labor,” reports AmericanPregnancy.org. “This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after your baby is born.”
Yet when it comes to pregnancy exercise, the type and variety of movement that you do is just as important as the general concept of getting up and getting moving. This may not be the time for vigorous calisthenics and advanced jazzercise, or pretty much any move or mode of activity that is overly straining or strenuous. You are, after all, exercising for two; and while you do want to adopt a challenging routine that will build muscle and energy and boost stamina and flexibility, you may wish to steer clear of exercises that are overly complex, exhausting or taxing at this critical time.
It may be time to ‘stretch the truth’ when it comes to pregnancy fitness; incorporating pregnancy stretches into your custom and specially adapted fitness regimen at this time. And when it comes to this form of exercise, stretching just may be the optimum key to your partum and postpartum workout routine.
Stretching takes on particular significance during pregnancy when your body operates under the effects of Relaxin; a pregnancy hormone that causes the ligaments to fall into a state of lax–thus opening the pelvis to allow for the baby’s entry out of the birth canal.
Relaxin is a hormone created by the ovary and the placenta that seriously impacts the female reproductive system during pregnancy. True to its name, Relaxin most literally relaxes the ligaments within the pelvis as it widens and softens the cervix.
Pregnancy Stretches First Trimester
As soon as you get pregnant, the hormone Relaxin is introduced into and is present in your body, and for many, this can elicit a loosening and destabilizing feeling in your joints. It’s important to avoid overextending and over-stretching during pregnancy, as it could actually lead to injury. The good news is that pregnancy stretches at first trimester are by their nature gentle and flexible, as opposed to hard and jarring.
The challenge of Relaxin is that its ‘laxing’ effect can be experienced throughout the body; a fact that can make stretching and exercise a particular challenge when pregnant, and even for 10-12 weeks after delivery.
During this time of your life, it is best for you to engage in active stretching that connects the muscles.
Activate your body through core strength muscles, thus gifting your body with strength and flexibility, balance and fluidity. Opt for foam rolling over vigorous calisthenics that requires you to change direction quickly and advanced yoga that comes complete with deep poses.
Always establish a range of motion that feels good for your body at this time, and never stretch to the point of tightness. Be active but not forceful in your stretches, forming fascial connections that support as opposed to stress.
Beyond the effects of the relaxin hormone on the pelvis, an opening through which allows the baby to descend to the birth canal in preparation for delivery.
In cultivating the perfect program of pregnancy stretches, it is best to observe a few cautionary guidelines. Please consider just a few tips:
1. Be very cautious not to over-stretch while executing pregnancy stretches. Nothing feels better than a good ol’ full body stretch. Yet during this particularly sensitive time of your life, be careful about overstretching. If you are stretching just to feel that ‘stretch,’ you could actually stretch too deeply during pregnancy; a move which could lead to injury.
2. Connect through your stretches. Body connectedness refers to the manner in which your body parts work as an essential team to both execute and benefit from any given exercise move. If you aren’t connected through your stretches, then you are not getting the support that your body needs to successfully perform and benefit from those pregnancy stretches. You must learn to hold things in place as you exercise. It’s important to learn to connect through your deep core, through your muscles, and most importantly, through the fascia that runs all the way through your body. Turn each in a series of pregnancy stretches into a connective and body unifying experience.
3. As you perform pregnancy stretches, it’s important to relax and release both through your belly and through your pelvis. BUT you must understand and master the specific movements of release – which I will show you below and in the accompanying video.
4. In completing any regimen of pregnancy stretches, move through a range of motion that feels good and feels connected (unless you are relaxing your belly). Please cease immediately if you lose that sense of bodily connectedness.
5. Pregnancy stretching should NEVER be painful! If any regimen of pregnancy stretches proves to be in any way painful or uncomfortable, this indicates you have immersed yourself too deeply in the stretch, and must back out of that painful place as soon as possible. And if pain persists, contact your physician.
This is particularly true when you unite the concept of pregnancy stretches with that of the yoga stretch. Prenatal yoga is an excellent expression of partum-based fitness, due to its primary focus on breathing and opening. Yet while participating in a prenatal yoga class, you must avoid going into overly deep poses. I would much rather, and would highly recommend, you move through a range of connected motion; a regimen that will make you feel better and stronger, thus preparing your body for a more fortified and overall successful pregnancy.
Now that we have reviewed some of the basic facts about and precautions regarding pregnancy stretches, allow me to introduce you to some of my favorite variations on this classic fitness concept.
Pregnancy Stretches with Pictures
Relaxed Belly Breathing
Relaxed Belly Breathing is a pregnancy stretch exercise that is top quality and highly recommended. It’s incredible for the purpose of opening up your pelvis and relaxing your body and pelvic floor in a safe supported position. As your pregnancy progresses, this is a pregnancy stretch exercise that you may find yourself doing often, perhaps even on a nightly basis. It’s also great to do early on, during your first trimester of pregnancy as your stomach tightens. I highly recommend this exercise for the purpose of opening up through the pelvis and getting your body ready for birth.
I cannot stress enough that when we work with the expansions and transformations happening within our body during pregnancy, and not against them, then it renders the postpartum recovery process so much easier in the long run.
1. With your knees wide, and as your pregnancy progresses, you’ll want to open your knees even wider. Go where it feels comfortable for you. If you need a pillow or anything underneath your knees to facilitate the move, then place this object accordingly.
2. You want to be positioned with regard to your pregnant belly so you are comfortable, parting your knees widely enough so that you’ll gain support for your belly and allow for the opening up of your belly and pelvis. You want to position your arms over the ball, resting your chest on the ball if you so prefer.
3. Relax, turning your focus on your deep belly breathing. Deeply inhale, breathe into your belly and your pelvis, and then exhale slowly. Take your time in working on and deepening your breath and just allowing things to open. This exercise also succeeds in releasing tension in your lower back.
Mermaid Pregnancy Stretch
The classic exercise move known as the Mermaid Pregnancy Stretch is a favorite among my clients and my mommas in my Knocked-Up Fitness membership and also Core Rehab Programs. And even after the baby has arrived, this move feels amazing postpartum too!
1. When you sit in this mermaid position, prop your hip on a pillow.
2. Lightly zip up from the base of your pelvis and grow your posture tall. Place your arm behind you, while feeling your glutes working to support your hips.
3. Lift up and over to the side. We’re focusing on drawing that shoulder lightly down, wrapping around underneath our ribs, breathing out through the sides of the rib cage, while lightly connecting up underneath your pelvic floor–opening up to reach that nice pregnancy stretch out to the side of your ribs. You can hold that for a couple breaths if you like, then lower back down.
4. Switch over and do the other side.
Pregnancy Stretches For Hips
Hip rolls are great during your first trimester of pregnancy, also for many during the second and for some during their third. If you feel uncomfortable lying on your back, this is one that you may want to try–even postpartum. Begin by going to your side then rolling to your back – this is a good habit to aid in the minimizing of diastasis recti.
1. Start with a pelvic tilt, zipping up lightly from the base of your pelvic floor.
2. Begin articulating your spine as you roll up. You’re opening up through the hips and feeling the process of elongation through your body. Avoid going too high with your hips, as you should never feel pain in your low back. When our hips are hoisted up in this position, it is a more beneficial position than that of just lying flat on your back. Know that when your hips are up in this manner, it is a beneficial position for both you and the baby; as long, of course, as you feel comfortable.
3. Slowly articulate, rolling down one vertebra at a time.
4. Inhale at the bottom, then exhale to begin your next rep with a gentle pelvic tilt.
Remember to roll to your side, connecting through your core to come on upward.
Pregnancy Stretches for Pelvic Pain
Chair Cat Cows
Char cat cows is a great modification on the previous pregnancy exercise, hip rolls. I really like to recommend these moves for my pregnant mamas. You experience more tactile feedback when you’re standing, thus I call these my modified or standing cat cows. This move involves a larger portion of the body, and I find that it helps you to connect with your core and is wonderful to facilitate stretching along with your back. When we’re thinking of pregnancy stretches and stretching during pregnancy, we don’t want to just collapse into a deeper pose. We want to achieve a position that is long and connected through your stretches.
I recommend watching the video for additional cues regarding these cat cows.
1. Your feet can be hip-width or even wider in achieving this maneuver. If you’re in your third trimester of pregnancy, a wider position typically feels better.
2. Staying lifted through your chest, lightly connect from your pelvic floor, performing a little hug of your baby underneath your belly. Send your hips and sits-bones back in position. You should feel a little stretch up your hamstrings as you complete this move.
3. Exhale to initiate a small pelvic tilt. Try to open up your lower back as you do so.
4. Inhale to return and feel the spreading of your sits-bones, also known quite technically as the bony part of your back butt.
Pregnancy Stretches YouTube
When you focus on lengthening through these connections, you are strengthening your body in the process: Improving your fascia connections, giving your body and especially your pelvis the support it needs for all those physical changes that are happening throughout your pregnancy. This exercise regimen also helps your body whether your postpartum recovery. And through my Knocked-Up Fitness® Prenatal Membership Program, I teach you far more fundamentals, with lots of tutorials and a nice variety of pregnancy workouts; plus you get access to our private Facebook group for additional personalized support. The testimonials that I hear from moms are absolutely incredible in their praise and support.
Pregnancy stretches form an integral part of any partum fitness program. Stretch your way through a healthier pregnancy–and beyond–with the help of these basic but beneficial moves that will help you through the home stretch of one of your most important and magical life’s journeys: the birth of your child.