Manage common pregnancy aches and pains with these stretches and tips from wellness and fitness expert Lisa Raleigh.
Guidelines for stretching during pregnancy
As your pregnancy progresses your body weight will start to shift as a result of your growing belly. This will lead to postural changes that may result in a stiff and sore lower back, neck, chest and hip muscles.
- Do it daily: Stretching during pregnancy is recommended 5-7 days a week and doing it on a daily basis can help keep those niggles at bay.
- Don’t bounce: The stretches need to be slow and controlled and not exceed your pre-pregnancy flexibility levels. The hormone relaxin is secreted in high amounts during pregnancy, which makes your ligaments and tendons looser than usual and can result in over-stretching and injury. Take the stretch to a mild discomfort level and hold it there for 20-30 seconds. It should never be painful. Some women feel stiffer as their body tries to protect itself from injury by counteracting the high levels of relaxin.
- Be consistent: Perform stretches whenever you feel the need for relief. If you sit behind a desk all day, get up every hour to move around and stretch to prevent stiffness.
Tight chest and upper back tension
Tension in the chest and upper back can be caused by the weight of your growing breasts as your pregnancy progresses. This causes your shoulders to become rounded, creating tension in the upper back and causing tightness in the chest due to the muscles shortening. It’s important to address this as soon as possible as it tends to get worse once your baby is born and you begin breastfeeding.
- Kneel on a soft surface.
- Start with your bum on your feet, shoulders rounded forward and head dropped slightly to the floor.
Squeeze your bum as you come up out of the kneeling position, circling your arms around and backwards while opening the chest and gazing upwards to the sky.
- Hold this stretch for a few seconds and return to your heels, rounding your shoulders forward again and dropping your head.
- Stand with your back against a wall, but leave a gap between the wall and your lower back.
- Place your arms on the wall at 90° angles, with your forearms, wrists and hands against the wall.
- Retract your shoulder blades towards the wall, maintaining contact with the wall.
- Slide your arms up the wall until they’re straight above your head. It’s OK if you can’t keep your arms connected with the wall the whole time, just do your best to keep reaching back, but focus on mastering the alignment of the rest of your body first.
- If you feel you are starting to compromise your alignment, stop reaching.
- Do 10-15 repetitions.
Round ligament pain
This is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy and can occur as early as the second trimester. Several thick ligaments surround and support your uterus as it grows during pregnancy and one of them is the round ligament, which connects the front of your uterus to your groin. The round ligament stretches as your baby grows, tightening and relaxing slowly.
Reaching abdomen stretch
- Kneel on one knee with the top of your left foot pressed into the ground. Place your other knee on the ground and position the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh. Place one palm on the ground behind you, fingertips pointed away from your body.
- From this position, slowly extend your left hand overhead and press your hips up.
- Lower yourself back down to starting position.
- Repeat as many times as you like, then switch sides.
- If this, or any, stretch makes your round ligament pain worse, all movements that stretch the abdomen should be avoided.
Lower back pain
Lower back pain is caused by your centre of gravity shifting with the weight of your growing belly. Your lower lumbar (lordotic) curve becomes exaggerated by up to 60% during pregnancy. This places extra load on your lower back, which can lead to increased pain as the pregnancy progresses.
Child’s pose (with or without ball)
- Kneel with the tops of your feet pressed into the floor. Place both palms on an exercise ball or flat on the floor.
- Keeping your hips over your knees, tuck your chin to your chest and extend your arms to roll the ball forward until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and arch your lower back to a comfortable position, holding for 30 seconds. If you feel your abs working, bring your hips back to release pressure.
- To return to starting position, tuck your hips in as you roll the ball towards you, bringing your spine to an upright position, or simply bring your chest upwards if you’re not using a ball.
Stiff hip flexors
Many women who work in a seated position for most of the day during their pregnancy will experience this pain. Stretching your hip flexors daily will help keep them flexible so you can get into the best position while giving birth. These moves can also help you maintain a neutral pelvic position.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
- Kneeling with one knee on a soft surface and the other bent 90° in front of you, maintain an upright posture.
- Gently lean forward into the bent knee to perform a lunge until you can feel a mild stretch in the hip flexor muscles.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat as desired.
- Switch legs and repeat.
The hormone relaxin especially affects the pelvic joints (symphysis pubis or the sacroiliac joint). This increased movement in the joints can cause the bones to painfully rub together. The best thing you can do is avoid any movement that leads to instability of the pelvis. For some women, walking may intensify this pain. Wearing a pelvic support belt can help.
- Lying on your side with your head, hips, and heels in line, support your head with your bottom arm and stretch your top arm out in front of you while pressing your hand into the floor.
- Exhale and squeeze your glutes to lift your top knee into the air. Your heels should stay together so the range of motion is small. Your glutes should be burning on the leg you’re lifting.
- You can add a resistance band around your knee to make the exercise a little harder.
- Repeat on the other side.
These become more common during the third trimester due to the extra weight gain during pregnancy, combined with a decrease in blood circulation to the lower extremities. Your baby could also be placing pressure on the nerves and blood vessels running to your legs.
Wall-supported calf stretch
- Lean with your hands against a wall, keeping your legs straight and your heels on the floor.
- Lean forward into the wall, keeping your heels on the floor and allowing the calves to stretch.
- Hold for a few seconds and release.
- Repeat as desired.
More tips for calf cramps:
- Rest with your legs elevated.
- Massage your calves and feet to increase blood circulation.
- Apply local heat.
- Wear support stockings.
- Exercise will increase blood flow and circulation to your whole body.
The sciatic nerve runs all the way down your bum into the back of your leg. Sciatic nerve pain usually occurs later on in pregnancy and is usually a result of lower back pain or a slipped disc. This can be extremely painful and daily stretching can help to ease the pain.
Seated piriformis stretch/half pigeon pose
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Cross one foot over the opposite knee.
- Slowly lean forward with your chest towards your legs, maintaining a flat back until you feel a mild stretch in your bum and lower back.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
“You can perform these stretches throughout the day, but keeping fit and moving during your pregnancy will go a long way in alleviating various pains as your posture will be better and your core will remain strong. It will also help prepare you for birth,” says Lisa.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.