Most women have an idea of what to expect during their pregnancy, the bigger breasts, a bigger belly, maybe even being a bit out of breath. But do we know why we have not-so-amazing experiences like leg cramps and backaches? More importantly, do we know how to ease these aches and pains?
As a personal trainer and a mama who is pregnant with her second child, knowing how to relieve discomfort in pregnancy is essential. Pregnancy aches and pains mainly come from two sources:
1. A change in your hormones—relaxin which softens your ligaments, and progesterone which slows down your digestive tract.
2. Over-stretched muscles and ligaments that are accommodating the growing baby in your uterus.
Aches and pains are normal in pregnancy, but so are the movements and stretches that ease them.
Here are my top tips for relieving the most prevalent aches and pains during pregnancy: (Please consult your doctor, chiropractor, or physiotherapist before trying these at home.)
As the uterus grows, it puts a greater demand on your back and abdominals - your core. Pregnancy can make your low, middle, or high back twinge as it holds up your uterus.
Child’s pose - kneel on the floor with your knees spread apart (wider the further along you are in pregnancy). Inhale and bring your arms over your head. Exhale and slowly bend at the waist until your forehead rests on the floor. (Or sink to your most comfortable point). Repeat 5x.
Cat/Cow pose - start on your hands and knees with a neutral back. Inhale and let your stomach expand towards the floor as you look up to the ceiling. Exhale and look under your belly as your back arches up to the ceiling. Repeat 5x each way.
Thread the needle - start on your hands and knees with a neutral back. Inhale and take your right hand off the floor, slide it behind your left arm, under the left side of your body. Exhale and bring it out and up to the right. Let your gaze follow this movement. Repeat 5x each side.
Thoracic rotation- lie down on your left side with your knees bent and facing left. Inhale and place your left arm out to the side, palm up, and place your right arm on top of it. Exhale and move the right arm up across your body until it is lying flat on the right side of your body. Place your left arm on top of your knees. Repeat 5x on each side.
As your stomach expands in pregnancy, the front of your body is unbalanced, so the back of your body tries to compensate by working harder. Muscles on the back of your body (like your calves or hamstrings) are pulled, stretched, and tightened. This can cause soreness or cramps in your calves.
Also, you have 33% more blood circulating through your body during pregnancy. This puts extra pressure on the veins in our calves, which can cause varicose veins. (Totally normal, I’ve got some.)
Seated toe touch - sit on the ground with your feet straight in front of you. Inhale. Exhale and slowly bend over and try to touch your toes. You can also bend one leg and stretch towards the opposite leg. Repeat 5x each side.
Standing calf stretch - stand near a wall and place your right leg out, foot flexed, toes touching the wall, and heel on the ground. Place your hands on the wall. Slowly press the right leg into the wall. Repeat 5x each side.
Calf raises - stand with your toes facing forward. Go up on your tippy toes and back down 10x. Repeat with your feet and toes facing out (like a ballet plie), then again with your feet and toes turned inward.
As mentioned above, hormones soften our ligaments to help our body make room for the baby and relax the pelvis so we can birth the baby from our body. Sometimes this softening and stretching causes hip pain as the hips expand.
Hip hug - lie on your back on the floor. Gently bring both knees to your chest and hug them. Repeat 5x.
Hip flexor opener - get into a half kneeling position, with the right knee and shin on the ground and the left leg bent and left foot planted on the floor in front of you. Clasp your hands behind you, shoulders down and relaxed, and inhale. Exhale and press your weight gently forward into your left leg planted on the floor, feeling the left hip relax and open. Repeat 5x on each side
As your pregnancy progresses, limit unilateral movements like lunges which can increase hip instability and pain. Instead, focus on bilateral movements like squats.
Pelvic discomfort is probably the least surprising part of pregnancy. It’s exactly where the baby is growing and putting pressure. You’ve probably heard of round ligament pain, which comes and goes during pregnancy. These movements are for general pelvic discomfort.
Tail wag - begin on your hand and knees with a neutral back. Inhale and shift your pelvis to the right and hold for 3 seconds. Exhale and move it back into neutral. Repeat 5x on each side.
Pelvic clock - begin on your hands and knees with a neutral back. Inhale and tuck your pelvis under towards your belly button and hold for 3 seconds, then exhale and flex it out and back for 3 seconds. Repeat 5x each way. (You can also perform this while standing upright with your hands on your hips.)
Sometimes the best thing we can do for pelvic pain is rest. Lie down on your left side and take a nap. Or spend 5 minutes taking slow, deep, belly breaths while lying on your side.
Try sleeping with a pregnancy pillow. Or put a regular pillow in between your knees, pulled all the way up to your groin, place a rolled-up towel or small pillow under your bump, and a rolled-up towel under the top of your hips. This helps align your hips and spine in neutral.
You’ve got this mama! Remember aches, pains and discomfort can be eased and relieved. They don’t last forever.