These are the safe and effective pain-relieving stretches that you can do at home, at any time of the day.
Stretching is very beneficial for pregnant women, as it helps you to feel relaxed and relieves pregnancy discomfort.
During pregnancy, your muscles will become more relaxed due to the hormone ‘relaxin’ released by the ovary and placenta. Relaxin levels go up during pregnancy, and this hormone helps relax the cervix and ligaments in preparation for labour. For this reason, you may feel more flexible during your workouts. However you should be careful of over-stretching and causing injury, especially in activities such as yoga. Tip: stretch less than= what you did before getting pregnant. Now is not the time to push your limits!
While most prenatal stretches are safe for pregnant women, you should also be aware of certain stretches to avoid as your baby bump grows bigger. For instance, abdominal muscles do not need to be stretched as your baby will be doing that for you.
What Stretches Should I Avoid?
Avoid the following stretches in the late stages of your pregnancy (especially in the second and third trimester):
• Stretches that involve lying on your stomach.
• Stretches that require lying on your back for prolonged periods of time. This position decreases blood flow to your uterus and can result in low blood pressure.
• Stretches that put pressure on your belly. This is because your abdominal muscles will start to stretch and weaken as your uterus expands.
• Stretches that involve twisting of the body – any form of twisting puts extra strain on the belly and may restrict blood flow to the uterus.
Which Stretches Are Safe For Pregnancy?
The stretches listed below provide gentle stretching to the common muscles affected by pregnancy – namely the lower back, calves, and hips, to reduce muscle tension.
Seated Piriformis Stretch
Pregnant women suffering from lower back tightness and sciatic pain will benefit from this pose. This stretch works on the piriformis muscle, which is a small muscle located deep in the buttocks that can cause pain in the back and leg when it gets tight.
To start off, sit on a chair with your feet placed flat on the ground. If your left side is in pain, cross your left ankle on your right knee. Keeping your back straight, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your lower back and buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch again.
Hip Flexor Stretch
If you are experiencing tight hip flexors, this is the stretch for you. Hip flexors are the muscles that run along the front of your hip. During pregnancy, the hip flexors can become tight due to a change in position of the pelvis.
Start by kneeling with both knees on the floor or a yoga mat. Step one foot forward to make a 90-degree angle with your hips and front knee. Lean forward and put more weight on your front leg until you feel a stretch down the front of your hip and leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch for the other side.
This stretch is great for stretching the spine, lower back, hamstrings and calves. Tight hamstrings can cause lower back pain and sciatic pain.
Stand behind a chair with feet slightly wider apart than your hips. Slowly lean forward with your hands on the top of the chair. Keep your back flat and your arms straight. Continue leaning forward until you feel a stretch in the lower back. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Standing Calf Stretch
Calf muscles tend to cramp easily during pregnancy due to the redistribution of calcium to the baby. Frequent stretching may help to stretch the calf muscles to prevent leg and foot cramps.
Face a wall and place one foot 2 feet away from the wall. The other foot should be close to the wall. Place your hands on the wall and keep your shoulders and hip square. Once in position, bend your left knee forward until you feel a stretch in your right calf. Your right heel should be placed firm and flat on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat the stretch for the other side.
You should aim to hold each stretch to the point of mild tension, as this will be the limit of the muscle’s flexibility. Remember to not bounce – you may injure yourself by overstretching the muscles. Stretches should always be done after warm-ups and at the end of workouts.
Recent studies show that women who include stretching into their pregnancy workouts have reported feeling less pain during labour. Hence, by doing these stretches everyday you can help lessen the discomfort you feel and enjoy your pregnancy to its fullest.