Hi, my name is Dr. Maria Brady, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with the Balance Chicago family. When I joined the team, I was six months pregnant. I was very excited to do what I love again and help people get back to participating in their life fully. With that being said, I was coming off of four months of not working and the change in activity level proved to be a challenge for me physically. This was a good reminder of how important it is for us pregnant ladies to protect our bodies throughout pregnancy.My goal is to share with you just a few tips to help you protect your body during pregnancy, prepare you for labor, and assist in your recovery.
The first tip is to strengthen your hips during pregnancy. Overall, the consensus for exercise during pregnancy is to work towards 30 minutes a day of an activity that will increase your heart rate. This can be accomplished simply by walking or swimming. Also, performing a few strengthening exercises daily is recommended. Strengthening your hips is always essential, but it is particularly beneficial to do during your pregnancy. As you grow your baby the relaxin circulates through your system, stabilizing your pelvis and low back is more important than ever. Strengthening your hips will assist you in accomplishing this stability. As you shift your weight from two feet to one, as required in walking or navigating stairs, the muscles on the side of your hip need to activate to help keep your hips near level. This reduces the stress placed on your low back and pelvis and, therefore, can help reduce pelvic and low back pain.
The video provided gives one example of a hip strengthening exercise. This exercise is one of my favorites and is called side-lying leg raises. The activity is simple but surprisingly challenging. When performing this exercise, you want to feel the muscles on the side of your hip working. Ensure the top leg does not pull forward as this will activate more of the muscles into the front of your hip instead of the target muscle, the gluteus medius. I also see people making the mistake of lifting the top leg too high. Lifting your leg a foot off of the ground is typically sufficient to activate the gluteus medius without placing too much stress on other muscles. Please, remember that anytime you plan to change your exercise routine, it is essential to clear the change with your physician.
The second tip is to invest in your shoewear! I am someone who tends to walk around barefoot in the house, and most of my shoewear is not very supportive. If this is you, you are going to want to adjust your lifestyle during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, you are more prone to develop foot pain. This is for two main reasons. The first is as you gain weight; more stress is placed through the tissues on the underside of your foot with each step you take. Second, there is a pregnancy hormone called relaxin that circulates through your body. This hormone’s job is to relax the ligaments in your body to allow for your pelvis to accommodate your baby as you give birth. Since it circulates through your entire body, however, all of your ligaments will have more laxity. If you are not wearing supportive shoes, the tissues on your foot’s underside can stretch out, causing pain. This can leave a long-lasting effect even once pregnancy is said and done. Women may even develop plantar fasciitis, which makes standing and walking a painful task.
So what to do? Find shoewear that has both cushion and arch support. There are many ways to accomplish this. I chose a tennis shoe that has a thicker sole and provides good shock absorption. I paired this with a moldable insert that supports my higher arch. The orthopedic insole I used can be molded up to three times in the oven. This is helpful as it accommodates your foot as it changes during pregnancy. In addition to having something to wear out in the community, it would be beneficial to find something you will wear around the house. This will be helpful, especially as that nesting urge takes over, and you find yourself organizing, cleaning your home, and maybe not taking as many rest breaks as your body needs. Pick something that you will use. I gave myself the option between a “house only” tennis shoe and a flip flop with cushion and arch support. Your feet will thank you in the long run if you show them a little TLC during pregnancy.
The final tip I would like to share with you is a breathing technique commonly used during labor. Utilizing breathing exercises during labor has many proposed benefits. It helps to ensure that you are taking effective enough breaths to allow for adequate gas exchange. This assists in maintaining good oxygen level for both you and the baby. Breathing exercises also allow you to redirect your energy to manage the pain associated with labor. In this way, it can provide you with a sense of control and calmness during a relatively stressful time. It is beneficial to begin practicing a breathing technique during pregnancy. This will help to make this breathing technique more second nature to you once you are in labor.
There are many different variations of breathing techniques for labor. My favorite method is called paced breathing. The goal of paced breathing is to find a pace that is slow, even, and relaxed. During labor, when a contraction begins, you start by finding a focal point where you can direct your energy. This can be a spot in the room, or you can close your eyes and envision your favorite place. Begin with one deep, cleansing breath. A cleansing breath is a deep breath inhaling fully through your nose and then out through your mouth. Continue with paced breaths through the duration of the contraction. During paced breaths, inhale for five seconds allowing your ribs and abdomen to expand, and then exhale for five seconds allowing your ribs and stomach to fall. Do not worry if the breaths are through your nose or mouth. Choose whatever is more comfortable for you. When the contraction subsides, finish with one final, deep cleansing breath. Again, this is great to practice during pregnancy, maybe when you notice some pain or feel a little stressed. Utilize this to promote comfort and relaxation.