Pregnancy

Exercising while pregnant seem overwhelming? 3 tips on where to start

Ideal vs. Reality

I am a mother of three and the owner of a physical therapy practice focused on women from pregnancy through to their return to fitness. With my first daughter, I was sick from 5 to 15 weeks while working full time as a PT, my husband was deployed, and I was throwing up constantly. Working out was so far from my mind. I wanted to be the fit and healthy mom who can handle it all and look adorable in pregnancy workout clothes. But sometimes reality just ain’t that pretty. So if you are like how I was, I want to give you some tips on what you can be doing to help prepare your body for birth if exercise just isn’t happening.

3 Practical Tips To Start Today

Breathing

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Really, breathing? Yes, really. I will admit that early in my career as a physical therapist I thought focusing on breathing was a waste of time and blew it off as not important. After over ten years of experience and retraining breathing with women I am a true believer in breath work.

The way you breathe influences the pressure placed on your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor EVERY TIME you take a breath. Many of the conditions causing pain for my patients can be directly attributed to the inability to handle the pressure created by the way they are breathing. This also influences how much stress hormone, cortisol, is floating around your body.

Cortisol is your body’s built-in alarm system and can contribute to anxiety, depression, headaches, problems with digestion, trouble sleeping, and weight gain.

Does this sound like a list of the many things women struggle with, especially after having a baby, that can all be tied back to how they breath? That’s why we place such importance on this with the women we work with at our practice.

Using Your Arms Now

In a few short months, you will birth a rapidly growing infant that you will carry, feed, diaper, place in a carseat, take for walks, and love on. Most newborns are 6-10 pounds and quickly get heavier and heavier. Are your arms and neck ready for that? How much do you use your upper body right now?

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Many new moms I speak to complain of neck and shoulder pain that they attribute to feeding or nursing positioning. What I most often discover is that women are all of a sudden using their upper body more frequently with sustained holding and carrying. Their neck and shoulders simply are just not prepared for it. Start using your arms more now in preparation. Here are some examples. Place the cup or pan you use most often on the highest shelf of the kitchen so that you are reaching and holding above your head many times per day. Carry your groceries in one bag at a time to increase carrying time. If you are at the park with other children use some of the playground equipment to hang on, or do inclined push ups on the slide while your kids are playing. Get creative and have fun with it!

Walking

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Walking is the first exercise I have every one of my patients start if exercise seems impossible or overwhelming. If you are currently someone who does not walk for exercise, start with 10-15 minutes at a comfortable pace. You should be able to talk without difficulty during this walk to gauge that you are not walking too intensely. If you are someone who does walk for exercise already, I recommend adding intensity by adding inclines or declines.

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Pregnant with Back Pain? What You Can Do Right Now To Feel Your Best

Pregnancy and back pain go hand-in-hand for many women. Increased stress from weight gain, hormones, and even the way you move throughout the day can all contribute. As a mom of three and a physical therapist, here are three tips I used while was pregnant and that I also give my pregnant patients to relieve back pain.

Use a Towel Roll While Sitting

Take a towel or small pillow and place it on the back of your chair. Sit on the front half of the towel to force your hips forward in a neutral sitting posture by pushing them slightly forward. A neutral posture allows your spine and pelvis to support the weight of your upper body efficiently. This also helps you avoid sitting on your tailbone. Your tailbone (coccyx) was never meant have the weight of your body on it while sitting and can be extremely sensitive during pregnancy.

Use a Foot Stool While Standing

Standing, just like sitting, in one place all day is not healthy. A foot stool encourages movement while you are standing and is one of the best ways to reduce pain in the low back for women who stand for a long period of time. Raise your foot up on the stool, rock it on the edge, and stretch to reduce the amount of static stress on your back.

Tennis Ball Massage

The tennis ball massage is my absolute favorite tip for any type of muscle pain in the body. I use single or double tennis ball setup to massage different body parts depending on the pain. I find that a single tennis ball is the most pain relieving when muscles are located away from the spine like the hips, legs, and shoulders. I use the double tennis ball, or bean shaped ball, to massage the muscles on the sides of the spine from my neck down to the low back. Keep tennis balls handy in your desk or family room so they are always nearby and ready to use. And here is the link to the Yoga Tune Up Balls I mention in the video.

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Don't Ignore Your Pelvic Floor

What difference does a good foundation make?

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About a year our house was completed, we noticed large diagonal cracks were forming above the doors. We patched the cracks and then three months later noticed they reappeared and were slowly getting bigger and bigger. Nail pops in the ceiling came next, followed by doors that would no longer open or close correctly.

Time to call in the experts

What is going on here? Why do these issues keep reappearing and getting worse? We quickly realized that we needed help. We needed experts to assess what was really going on. We called in foundation experts who performed all kinds of tests and determined the symptoms we were seeing, the cracks and misaligned doors, were caused by a faulty foundation.

What does this have to do with my pelvic floor?

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We see the same type of pattern in our bodies. The foundation of your body (your pelvis and pelvic floor) need to be functioning well to support the rest of your house (shoulders, knees, neck, etc). When your foundation is faulty, the pain and symptoms can be felt in body parts that are far from the problem site. These symptoms are like the nail pops and cracks in my house and cannot be resolved without correcting and maintaining your alignment. We know that your body is not in a static position all day long (or shouldn't be) so we need a healthy pelvis and pelvic floor to function during our movement/work/daily activities. Once you have a healthy foundation in place, you have a solid base from which your arms and legs can work.

Time to get to work

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Good news for you! Physical therapists are the foundation experts for the body. We assess your normal standing and sitting alignment and pelvic floor function. We teach you how to find your ideal alignment to get your pelvic floor activated and stabilizing your pelvis. I refer to this as your "home base." In the beginning, we teach you to start from home base before you move and over time your body will naturally return to this new home base without consciously thinking about it. Like with our house, you may need professional guidance or expertise to figure out how to adjust your foundation or change your habits to maximize the ability to use your body in pain free ways. Have you tried to spot fix your body only to have the pain return or new pains begin?

If this sounds like you...It might be time to call in an expert.

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