Prenatal stretches that every mother should do
As you navigate your journey of pregnancy, you will naturally be confronted by several questions regarding physical activity. Most notably, you may find yourself asking:
- Should I be exercising? Is it safe right now?
- If I am going to exercise, what exercises should I do?
- How often should I exercise, and for how long?
For every mum, the answers to these questions will be different. After all, every woman is built differently, has different physical limitations, and, therefore, needs to abide by different activity guidelines.
Still, there's one type of exercise that essentially every woman can and should do, and that's stretching.
Stretching during pregnancy offers a range of marvellous benefits to both mother and baby. Most notably, it's good for mum's physical health as well as her mental and emotional well-being.
Is it safe to do stretching during pregnancy?
Yes, for most women, stretching during pregnancy is safe. Of course, it is still important to follow some basic safety guidelines.
First, as a rule, midwives and medical experts don't recommend that women do any type of exercise while pregnant that they didn't do before getting pregnant. Of course, this comes with a caveat for stretching.
That is, stretching, generally speaking, is not such a strenuous physical activity that it can't be started once you become pregnant. Just be sure to start slowly if you are not used to stretching or doing any type of physical activity.
Actually, every woman should go slowly. This is true even if you are an avid athlete. That's because being pregnant means your body is in an entirely different state than you’re used to. Your weight is distributed differently, your muscles are starting to loosen up due to the presence of the hormone relaxin, and most notably, you’ll eventually be unable to perform many physical actions that you once did with ease. Certain movements and poses will not only be challenging, but they may actually be dangerous. This is true when it comes to strength and balance, especially.
Ease into pregnancy stretches, and you will become accustomed to your changing body and be able to prevent falls and injuries from occurring.
Benefits of stretching during pregnancy
Stretching while pregnant can provide a multitude of benefits for both you and your baby. The regular exercise can reduce your risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and it may also diminish your chances of needing a cesarean section. Likewise, frequent stretching can help reduce emotional stress and anxiety and may even prevent stretch marks.
Here are some other benefits of stretching during pregnancy:
Muscle tension relief
Your body will change in innumerable ways when you’re pregnant. Your ligaments will relax, the distribution of your weight will change, and your balance will shift as well.
All of this can cause your muscles to tighten and become uncomfortable, especially as you gain an increasing amount of weight. Stretching your muscles regularly will provide you with much-needed relief.
Emotional stress relief
Aside from the physical benefits of stretching, you’ll also notice a calmer mind and spirit when you take time out of your busy day to focus on yourself and exercise.
Stretching is generally a calming and relaxing activity. You can make it more so by dimming the lights, putting on some soft music, and lighting a pregnancy candle. Doing this can give your mind a much-needed break from constant to-dos and daily worries and stresses. Accompany your stretches with deep breathing for maximum benefit.
More room for baby and better pelvic alignment
Our modern lifestyles have drastically changed the way we move and sit. In general, most people sit far more than our ancestors did even 100 years ago. As a result, our bodies often become unbalanced in ways we don't readily notice.
The pelvis is the cradle of the body, and it’s what your baby must pass through upon delivery into the world. When your pelvis is misaligned, this can cause problems during delivery, including stalled labour, pain and discomfort, and even the need for intervention and cesarean section.
Stretching regularly can help prepare your muscles and ligaments for labour. It can help ensure a balanced pelvis and can actually make room in and around your pelvis for the baby to pass through quickly and easily. Certain stretches and exercises can even help your baby "drop" and engage at the end of your third trimester as you approach your due date.
How often to do stretching?
Ideally, you should stretch every day during your pregnancy. There's nothing wrong with this, especially if you’re changing up your routine and not overexerting yourself.
If it's a challenge for you to find time for stretching every day, don’t stress yourself out. Just do what you can. Remember that stretching four days a week is better than two, and stretching one day a week is better than zero.
Tips for stretching
If you plan on stretching during pregnancy, use these tips to ensure your safety and the effectiveness of your movements.
It’s always a good idea to warm up your muscles before any type of physical activity. This even goes for stretching.
Walking during pregnancy is something that most midwives, doulas, and health experts recommend in addition to stretching daily. Walking is a great way to warm up as well, so a good routine during your pregnancy could be to go for a walk — even if it's just for 10 or 15 minutes — and follow up your walk with a few minutes of stretching. This will get your muscles loose and warm and will help prevent injury.
Many women want maximum benefits from their exercise routine, and why wouldn't they? Still, it's always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to stretching during pregnancy. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. If you can’t perform a stretch just the way your instructor does or the way you see it done online, don't push yourself too far.
Pregnant women have more of a hormone called relaxin in their bodies. This hormone is meant to make birth easier by loosening ligaments in the pelvic area. However, relaxin isn’t discerning. It will loosen the ligaments all over your body. This means that injuries while stretching could be more prevalent, and it’s why you should be extra careful not to push yourself too far.
You may be used to bouncing slightly or "pulsing" while stretching. Some women will do this in order to push themselves further into a stretch and really elongate their muscles. While pregnant, however, do not bounce. Simply hold each of your stretches for the allotted amount of time, slowly lengthening the stretch, if possible, over the course of that 20 to 30 seconds.
Best stretches to do
Prenatal stretches come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on your body type, how much exercise you usually get, what stretches you enjoy, and what stage of pregnancy you are in, different stretches may be recommended. Here are a few ideas to get you started. As always, consult with your doctor or midwife before beginning any new exercise routine.
The cat-table stretch is done on all fours. Use a yoga mat to protect your wrists and knees.
Start with "table." This position should have your shoulders stacked directly above your elbows, and your elbows stacked directly above your wrists. Your arms should be at a 90° angle to the floor, and your thighs should be too. Your knees should be bent and behind you, and your back and neck should be straight and parallel with the floor.
Hold this position for a few seconds before moving to “cat.” In cat, keep the same overall pose, but simply arch your back, and tilt your neck and head downward. Hold this pose for several seconds before returning to table with back straight.
You can go directly from cat-table into child’s pose. Starting on all fours, simply swing your hips back so that your buttocks and thighs relax on top of your calves and heels. Keep your hands planted in the same position without moving them so that they are now outstretched in front of you with your upper arms hugging the sides of your head near your ears.
Keep your head down with your eyes closed or on your yoga mat. Take several deep breaths in this position, then return to table before repeating.
Standing pelvic tilt at wall
Stand with your back to the wall and eyes in a parallel gaze to the floor. The back of your head, your buttocks, and your heels should also be touching the wall. Keep your feet about hips’ distance apart.
Now, gently push your lower back into the wall as well. Think of buttoning your belly button to a button hole that is stuck on the wall. Hold this pose for a few seconds before releasing to a neutral stance and repeating.
Which stretches to avoid?
There are certainly some stretches you should avoid when pregnant. That’s because, during pregnancy, your body and your goals will change. And this means that even if you performed a stretch regularly before getting pregnant, you should think twice about doing the same stretch while pregnant.
Most stretches to avoid include those that contort your body in extreme ways or anything that involves tensing your stomach muscles or twisting your abdomen. You also want to avoid putting pressure on your pelvic floor. Likewise, do not perform push-ups, planks, crunches, or sit-ups. Finally, stick to static poses and slow movements. Do not bounce, jump, skip, or make any sudden powerful movements.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Can stretching hurt the baby?
A: Generally speaking, no. Stretching in general — and in particular, specially-designed pregnancy stretches — are usually slow, gentle, and easy to perform. This means that there’s little chance you’ll cause any harm to your baby while stretching.
At the same time, always proceed with caution whenever you perform a physical activity while pregnant. Certain stretches that put pressure on your pelvic floor or involve tensing your abdominal muscles should be avoided (see above).
Q: Is it okay to stretch during the first trimester?
A: Yes! It’s okay to stretch at any point during your pregnancy — including during the first trimester — as long as your midwife has deemed it safe and you feel comfortable.
In fact, the first trimester is an especially great time to start stretching as it will set you up for an easier time exercising throughout your pregnancy. The sooner you get your muscles used to being stretched, the better, and the less likely it will be that stretching will cause an injury later in your pregnancy.
Q: Is it okay to do stretches for pregnant women during the third trimester?
A: Certainly. In your third trimester, your muscles and ligaments will be looser due to the presence of the hormone relaxin. While you need to go slowly to avoid an injury during this time, stretching in your third trimester can help align baby in your pelvis and ensure your body is ready for the challenges of delivery.
Q: How much should you stretch during pregnancy?
A: Never stretch beyond what you are comfortable with, and always start slow. 10 to 30 minutes of stretching every day is a good duration to start with. Take your time, and don’t push yourself too hard.
Q: Is stretching with a partner a good idea during pregnancy?
Absolutely. If you can enlist your partner to stretch with you, this will enhance your practise even more. Not only will having a partner help hold you accountable for your daily stretching routine, but your partner can also help you perform your actual stretches.
Ask them to apply counter pressure to your lower back, for example. Or, request a nice massage from them at the end of your workout. Use pregnancy-safe balm or lotion to enhance your relaxation and make the experience extra special.
Finally, if you plan for your partner to be with you during your delivery, you can practise some birth positions and movements together. These will be crucial when it comes time for labour as regular position changes can make labour go faster, reduce the pain and discomfort of contractions, and eliminate the need for interventions.
Taking Care of Yourself Is Taking Care of Baby
As a soon-to-be mother, during your pregnancy, you will naturally be most concerned with the health of your baby. But your own wellbeing is crucial at this time as well. After all, you must be healthy and well cared for if you want to extend those benefits to your baby.
Stretching during pregnancy is a wonderful way to benefit both your own body and mind and that of your baby. By investing in your health, calming your mind, and soothing your tired muscles and aching joints through stretching, you are giving a marvelous gift to your baby as well as to yourself.