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Pregnancy Exercises

Ten pre- and post-natal pregnancy exercises to keep you in shape

by expert Jane Wake
from Baby-A-Wake
Neck stretch Gone are the days when women were told to put their feet up and rest throughout a healthy normal pregnancy. Research has now proven that an appropriate regular exercise regime cannot only help you throughout pregnancy but also with birth and with post-natal recovery. As an exercising Mum you're likely to:
  • Feel less tired
  • Have a healthier weight gain
  • Reduce bloating and swelling
  • Reduce back pain
  • Decrease your time in labour
  • Regain your pre pregnancy figure in half the time
As well as the following routine, try to do 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week. You can break this activity up , e.g. 2 x 15 minutes walk to and from work. This also doesn't mean having to go to the gym – simply going for walks or an occasional swim is the best exercise for you. You should aim to work at a level where you are not gasping for breath but where you feel a little sweaty and slightly out of breath but still able to talk continuously. Try to make this activity fit in with your daily life, whether that means dumping the car and walking instead, walking older children to school or going for a stroll with family or friends.
Before you start an exercise programme however you should check with your doctor first that it is OK for you to exercise. You should also stop immediately if you have any of the following symptoms and seek medical attention.
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Sudden Water discharge
  • Signs of Labour
  • Headaches
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Chest Pain
  • Calf pain or swelling
Remember to always keep well hydrated drinking at least 2 litres of water a day and make sure you have eaten a meal 1½ - 2 hours before you exercise or a small snack such as a banana ½ hour before.
Aim to do the following exercises at least 3 days a week. They are best done after moderate activity when your body will be already warm.

1. The secret squeeze

The secret squeeze This strengthens the pelvic floor muscles and is vital exercise for all pregnant women. Do this any time, anywhere, as much as you can!!!!
  • Sit on a chair or preferably on an exercise or birthing ball.
  • Sit up tall but lean forward, keeping your shoulders back and down, tummy held slightly in – think of hugging your baby with your tum!
  • Now concentrate on pulling up inside you. Leaning forward helps to isolate the pelvic floor muscle that sit around the vagina. If you're on a ball, literally think of your pelvic floor resting on the ball and trying to lift it away from the ball.
  • Thinking about trying to stop yourself going to the toilet can also help except aim to take that feeling behind the uretha and into your vagina.
  • Once you've found it, pull up slowly and release, 10 times. If you master this also practise ten quick firing actions, as if flicking a switch on and off.

2. The dumb waiter

The dumb waiter This is an excellent exercise for working the back muscles, which get weak through breast enlargement, poor upper back posture and later on through breast-feeding.
  • Start by sitting tall on a chair or ball, chest lifted, tummy in, shoulders back and down.
  • Place your hands in front of you, elbows bent at 90 degrees, as if carrying a tray.
  • Keeping your elbows close to your ribs, take a breath in and as you breathe out, squeeze in between your shoulder blades to part your hands out to the side whilst drawing your belly in towards your spine, keeping your spine still and tall.
  • Return and repeat 8 – 15 times.

3. Birthing squats

Birthing squats This exercise is excellent for keeping your legs and back side muscles strong and can also be useful in birth if you choose to adopt a squattingposition . Also try to think about your pelvic floor in this exercise – when you drop to the bottom of the squat, try to relax the pelvic floor and then lift it back up as you lift out of the squat.
  • Stand tall next to a wall or sturdy chair back.
  • Check your posture by hugging you baby with your tummy and drawing your shoulders back and down. You should have a natural small curve in your lower back.
  • Sit back, weight in to your heels, keeping your tummy pulled in to make sure you lower back doesn't over arch.
  • Hold for a 2 counts and then lift back up, keeping your tummy held in tight and using your pelvic floor as described above.
  • Repeat 8 – 15 times, making sure that your shoulders stay away from your neck all the time by keeping your shoulder blades drawn in and down.

4. On all fours

On all fours This exercise is excellent for working your tummy and pelvic floor muscles together whilst also working your shoulder area and back of your arm. One word of note, the back in this picture is slightly over arched – due to the weight of the baby pulling the pelvis down at the front! Try to do this exercise in front of a mirror so you can check your back position.
  • In an all fours position, make sure your hands are in line with your shoulders and knees in line with your hips.
  • Lift your head by drawing your chin in – you should be looking down at the floor. Draw your shoulders back and down, bring your elbows in and take your bottom back to form a small, natural arch in your lower back.
  • Bend your elbows back to lower your upper body.
  • Now draw your tummy in to meet your spine without changing the position of your back. Keep breathing and hold for as long as you can.
  • Rest and repeat 6 – 10 times.

5. Side lying leg lift

Side lying leg lift - down

Side lying leg lift - up
This is an easy exercise to do especially if you are feeling very tired and very big! It will work your inner thigh muscle whilst also controlling your tummy.
  • Lie on your left side and place a towel, block or cushion under your head so that you neck isn't strained.
  • Extend your left leg out and bring your right leg forward and bent, resting your knee on a cushion or block so your belly is comfortable underneath.
  • Keeping your hips stacked on top of each other, breathe in and as you breathe out, pull in your belly and lift your lower leg just a few inches off the floor.
  • Feel you inner thigh tighten, lower and repeat 10 – 15 times.
  • Carefully change sides. If you want to stop and rest, aim to rest on the left side.
After your exercises do the following stretches. Hold each one for around 30 seconds and try to relax into the stretch by breathing slowly and deeply.

6. Shell stretch

Shell stretch This is a lovely stretch to relieve your back
  • Go onto your hands and knees and draw your knees out to the side.
  • Pull back into a praying position, your belly going between your knees.
  • Rest your forehead on a block or cushion.

7. Hip and bum stretch

Hip and bum stretch This is particularly good for the muscles in your hip that can be effected by your changing shape. Make sure however, that your belly feels comfortable in this position and be careful of your knee underneath you. If you feel any discomfort, come out of the position.
  • From the shell stretch position, extend your left leg out and lean slightly over to your right until you feel a stretch deep in your right hip.
  • Hold and change sides.

8. Chest stretch

Chest stretch This is very good for opening out the chest muscles which get very tight through heavy breasts!
  • Place your right arm on a ball or seat of an arm chair, arm at right angles on the ball.
  • Keeping your tummy tight, gently press your torso down and away from your right arm until you feel a stretch coming across your chest.

9. Hamstring and calf stretch

Hamstring and calf stretch Leg muscle can get very tight, especially the calf (lower leg) muscle which can suffer from cramps and swelling. This, as well as stretches for the front of your thigh are extremely beneficial. If you find it hard to sit up tall, push your bottom back against a cushioned wall or ball for support.
  • Sit tall, keeping your tummy held in and shoulders back and down.
  • Place a towel or strap around your foot and gently pull on the towel to bring your toes towards your shin and feel a stretch all the way down the back of your leg.
  • Hold and change legs.

10. Neck stretch

Neck stretch This is a lovely way to finish, releasing tension and stress from the neck and shoulder muscles.
  • In a kneeling your sitting position, place your right hand over your head to the side and gently draw your right ear towards your right shoulder.
  • Don't pull too hard, simply ease into the stretch.
  • Hold and change sides.
For more information on specialist pre and post-natal, Pilates and personal training contact Jane Wake via www.baby-a-wake.com