Antenatal exercises are an important part of preparation of pregnancy. An active lifestyle with ample physical activity during pregnancy is extremely beneficial to the mother. This article is expected to inform expectant mother about these aspects of antenatal care.
Apart from preventing excess weight gain and increasing endurance antenatal exercises also improve circulation thus reducing the possibility of formation of clots in the veins of the lower limb, strengthen pelvic muscles thus reducing the incidence of tear and laceration of these muscles during labour and also prevention of urinary incontinence thereafter and prevention of backache. Back care during pregnancy has been discussed elsewhere in this site.
The exercises in this article have been carefully selected to provide optimum be benefit to the pregnant woman, while at the same time minimising the chances of musculoskeletal injury. These exercises are usually taught in most antenatal classes and women who do not have access to these classes will benefit most from this resource.
Although these exercises are safe for all expectant mothers, it is still worthwhile to check with your health care provider especially if you have heart disease, respiratory illness like asthma, prior back problems and hypertension.
Deep breathing and Foot and Ankle exercises
During pregnancy there is retention of fluid in by the body. Excess retention of fluid during this time can lead to varicose veins, vulval veins and cramps. Therefore it is advisable to rest with the legs in an elevated position. This is most easily achieved by keeping a small stool, just of enough height to keep one’s legs parallel to the ground.
Apart from this pregnant women should do the following exercise at least 10 times a day.
- Keep both keens and ankles relaxed. Now bend and stretch your ankles for 30-45 seconds.
- After this make imaginary circles with your feet. You can make ten circles in one direction and then reverse and do ten more in the opposite direction.
This exercise will help prevent swollen ankles and reduce the incidence of varicose veins.
Deep breathing exercises are a very good way to strengthen the diaphragm and improve oxygenation of the blood. This exercise is also very relaxing and is an effective pain reducing technique. Doing these exercises 6-8 times a day will relax the mind and body and reduce anxiety while at the same time strengthening the diaphragm and improving oxygenation.
- To start with empty your lung completely.
- Now close one nostril and take a deep breath through the other nostril. You must try to fill your lungs with as much air as possible. Hold for a few second. Breathe out through the same nostril.
- Now repeat the process with the other nostril closed.
- One must roughly hold their breath in full inspiration for six second for optimum benefit.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
The Pelvic floor is comprised of a layer of muscles which provide support to the uterus. During pregnancy and labour these muscles and tissues undergo a lot of stretch. This leads to weakness of these muscles and associated problems like prolapse of uterus and vagina and urinary stress incontinence. These complications can however be prevented by exercises which strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. Given below is a diagramatic representation of the pelvic floor.
Kegel exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Kegel exercise can be done anytime of the day, and one can do it while doing other tasks like cooking or feeding their baby. One can also do it on the commute home. It can be done discreetly and is rather easy to do, once one learns which muscles to target and how to do this exercise.
Firstly, empty your bladder. Doing Kegel exercises with a full bladder will further weaken your muscles and also cause UTI.
- Sit with your knees apart.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- Don’t clench your buttocks
- Now insert a finger into vagina. Fell the muscles around the finger and try to contract the pelvic muscles. The action required is the same action as required to hold urine or bowels. Therefore try to tighten the back passage as required to hold wind and tighten the muscles used to stop urine flow. When the pelvic muscles contract, the finger inside the vagina will fell the contracting muscles and the pelvic floor will lift up. Keep the muscle contracted for 10 sec and then relax.
- Repeat this process ten times at a go.
- Women should aim to do 8-10 sets of 10 contractions each per day for maximum benefit. With practice one can do this exercise while standing or lying down as well.
Abdominal Muscle Exercises
There are three groups of abdominal muscles. There are the oblique muscles which are the deepest muscles with the muscle fibres running horizontally. The muscle fibres of the transverse muscle run vertically and lie superior to the oblique muscles and the recti are muscles which run centrally from the sternum to the pubic bone. During pregnancy these muscle soften and stretch to accommodate the growing baby.
Hence it is not unusual to find weakness of these muscles during pregnancy. Exercising the abdominal muscles in the ante-natal period will ensure a speedy return to normal function post-natally, effective pushing during labour and lessening of backache during pregnancy. Exercise that involves the oblique abdominal muscles should be avoided in later pregnancy because these muscles are inserted into the linea Alba. If twisting movements are performed there is the danger that the shearing effect may pull the linea Alba and rectus bellies apart. If this occurs the condition is known as Diastasis Recti and is more often diagnosed post natally.
Sit comfortably or kneel on all fours with a level spine. Breathe in and out. Gently pull the lower part of the abdomen below the naval keeping the spine still and breathing normally. Hold up for10 seconds and then relax. Repeat up to ten times. This exercise tones up the deep transversus abdominal muscles which are the main postural support of the spine and will help prevent backache in future. When mastered this simple exercise can be practiced in any position and whilst doing other tasks concurrently.
Pelvic tilt exercises
Do this in the half lying position, well supported with pillows, knees bent and feet flat. Place one hand under the back and other on top of the abdomen. Tighten the abdominal muscles and buttocks and press the small of the back down on the underneath hand. Breathe normally, hold for 10 sec and relax gently. Repeat up to ten times, Pelvic tilting can also be done sitting, standing or kneeling.
Back Care in Pregnancy
During pregnancy the back bears a lot of stress due to the weight of the baby compounded by the weakness of the abdominal and pelvic muscles. This may lead to back pain during pregnancy and almost all expectant mothers will experience some amount of back pain and discomfort during pregnancy. Antenatal exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles and abdominal muscles will alleviate back ache to a major extant. Apart from this pregnant women should pay particular attention to their posture. The following are the attributes of good posture:-
- Stand with your back erect. Do not slouch
- Tighten the muscles in your buttocks, this will support the back and prevent strain
- Keep the abdomen muscles tight. This will pull up the spine and prevent back ache.
- Keep knees relaxed and distribute weight evenly.
- When moving from sitting to standing position, tighten the pelvic muscles. This will prevent sudden stretch to the back.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
• Get as much rest as possible. Try to sit down for ten minutes every couple of hours:While sitting ensure to keep the legs slightly above the level of hips.
• While getting out of bed, tighten the abdominal muscles, keep the keens together and roll on to one side. Thereafter push up with the arms and get up.
• Get some exercise every day. One must aim to get at least 30-45 minutes of brisk physical activity every day. Swimming is a very good exercise and it is advisable to swim at a comfortable pace. One must leave the pool after 20 minutes and women with painful pelvic joints should avoid the breast stroke as it often exacerbates the pain.
• Do not stay in one position for a long time. If one has been standing one must sit for 10-15 minutes every two hours or so. If one has been sitting it is advisable to get out of the chair and mobilise for a short distance. Women who have sedentary professions are advised to walk a few hundred meters every two hours or so.
• Do not stoop. When lifting, one must bend knees, keep the back straight and pull up the pelvic floor as one takes the weight of the object. It is also advisable not to lift or carry heavy weights. Anything more than 10 pounds should classify as heavy during pregnancy. Since many toddlers will be more than 10 pounds, they can be heavy to carry. Hence they should be encouraged to be independent.
- Do you feel fat and unattractive?
- Are you Gaining more than four pounds per week?
- Are you gaining weight at the wrong places?
- Do you fear that you will not be able to lose this weight after pregnancy?
If you answered yes to more than one the above questions, you are at risk of excessive weight gain during pregnancy.
Excessive weight gain is associated with a prolonged and difficult labour. It also increases the risk of high B.P, gestational diabetes and post dated pregnancy.
The good news is that this excessive weight gain can be prevented by an inteligent mix of exercises and nutrition. Pregnancy without pounds is a proven, effective method to help you remain fit and trim during pregnancy. To know more about pregnancy without pounds Click Here!