Pregnancy & Physical Therapy
Common Discomforts During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is often the most incredible experience for expecting mothers. However, it comes with discomfort and health-related challenges. As the body transforms to support pregnancy, many changes happen within the muscles, joints, ligaments, and hips/pelvis. An expecting mother may experience abdominal pain from the womb pressing on other organs, even making it difficult to breathe at times. Towards the end of pregnancy, women may also experience aching in their pelvis due to hormonal changes preparing the area to expand for childbirth.
As an expecting mother gains weight and approaches her due date, she may experience low back pain, muscle aches, joint pain, and a change in flexibility. Carrying weight at the front of the body creates extra pressure on the low back as the body attempts to settle into a new posture. This new weight also creates extra stress on muscles making them work much harder, and women tend to fatigue quite easily during pregnancy.
Low back and joint discomfort can make several activities difficult and painful for expecting mothers. Women may experience low back and joint pain with standing, walking, and even sleeping. Physical therapists seek extra training to work with expecting mothers, understand all of these factors that contribute to pain, and work with women to feel their best physically and enjoy pregnancy.
Best Exercises for Prenatal & Postpartum
You may be wondering if exercise of any type is safe during pregnancy. When completed safely, exercise can actually help pregnancy and labor go more smoothly. However, it is important to be guided by a physical therapist or another healthcare professional because certain forms of exercise can potentially harm the pregnancy (warm temperatures, high-impact exercise).
Prenatal physical therapy aims to strengthen the muscles between the hips and pelvis, keep joints and organs healthy, and improve pain. Physical therapy exercises during pregnancy involve working on flexibility in the legs, stability around the low back, and strengthening the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. It is important to maintain and continue to build strength and flexibility during pregnancy. Exercises such as yoga will build leg, arm, and abdominal strength and stability, allowing the muscles to adapt to the new posture of pregnancy.
In addition to exercise for strength and flexibility, expecting mothers should work on their endurance during pregnancy. Labor is a long and arduous process, requiring an expecting mother to have good cardiovascular and lung health. Low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, and bicycling are effective and safe to perform multiple times per week. Additionally, women who exercise are less likely to gain an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy. When mothers gain the recommended amount of weight, around 30 pounds, they tend to have lower complication rates with delivery and recover more quickly from pregnancy and delivery.
How A Prenatal Physical Therapist Can Help
Prenatal physical therapy is a great way for expecting mothers to be guided on safe and beneficial exercise throughout their pregnancy. Physical therapy will help expecting mothers through pregnancy, labor, and after childbirth to return to normal pelvic functions. Prenatal physical therapists are trained in monitoring response to exercise and will be able to adjust exercise programs to the tolerance of the expecting mother. Your prenatal physical therapist will also recommend that you continue many of your previous activities, besides things like contact sports, to maintain your general health and contribute to a healthy baby.
Many mothers also struggle with finding comfortable positions to sit or sleep in during pregnancy. Physical therapists are experts on posture and positioning and will suggest things like certain pillows or cushions to make sitting and sleeping more tolerable.
You can think of your prenatal physical therapist as another member of the team to achieve a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Your PT knows that you need to recover quickly from pregnancy to care for your newborn. By completing exercises to solve your weaknesses and flexibility issues at the direction of your physical therapist, you will bounce back from pregnancy quickly and be the best new mother that you can be!
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