Banish pregnancy aches and pains with our simple fitness solutions.
The problem>feeling heavy
Why it works>In bodies of water, a pregnant woman feels weightless; the water’s buoyancy lifts the burden of gravity and helps shrink swelling. “The pressure of the water against your skin forces much of the extra fluid—usually gathering in your legs and feet—back into the bloodstream,” says Cincinnati physical therapist Gail Wehrman, who specializes in women’s health. From there, the excess fluid heads to the kidneys, you urinate it out and thus, the swelling goes down. “But to get the most of this effect, you must dwell in the deeper end of the pool,” Wehrman says, “where the water can press against every part of your body that is swelling.” And you must move around. Try deep-water aerobics, water Pilates or the bikes that some gyms now offer in pools.
Why it works>Scientists aren’t sure why walking alleviates nausea—they just know it does, says exercise physiologist and prenatal fitness expert Renee Jeffreys of Covington, Ky. (It could be that a moderate walk shunts blood away from the midriff and out to the limbs, where it’s needed for movement.) Whether you’re up for a long, short, fast or slow walk, just get outside—or on the treadmill—for five or 10 minutes and see how it feels. If you feel better, continue for 30 minutes more. If your nausea worsens, though, or if you experience other symptoms, call your doctor.
The Problem> Upper thigh pain
The solution>hip-flexor stretch
Why it works>Pain that radiates through the upper thighs and sometimes down the calves often is the result of hip dysfunction ushered in by the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which loosens and widens the hip joint in preparation for childbirth. The hip-flexor stretch can relieve tension and help move loosened muscles back into alignment. But if you’re suffering from calf cramps of the Charlie-horse variety, you could be deficient in potassium or calcium. Talk with your doctor about your diet and/or supplements; in the meantime, try sitting in a chair and flexing your toes upward to relieve pain.
The move>Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the back of a chair or couch. Bend your right knee to bring heel toward your buttocks. Hold your right foot, knees together, buttocks contracted [A]. Tilt pelvis down and pull right leg back until you feel a mild stretch in your upper right thigh [B]. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat as needed.
The problem>carpal tunnel syndrome
The solution>arm elevation, finger stretch
Why it works>As early as the first six weeks of pregnancy, swelling in the tissues of the hand and wrist can increase, pinching the median nerve, which brings feeling to many of your fingers. The numbness, tingling and pain that follow can be relieved by elevating your hands above your heart and gently extending your fingers (shown), says Robert M. Szabo, M.D., M.P.H., a surgeon and professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine. This pumps fluid out of the swollen tissues that surround the nerve. But whatever you do, Szabo adds, don’t try to exercise your wrist by bending it to extremes, as this will only cause more pain and possibly injury. Experts also suggest wearing a loose splint at night to minimize movement, thus preventing pressure on the nerve. And, if possible, try to avoid tasks that require forceful, repetitive hand movements; such actions can aggravate your symptoms.
The problem>chest tightness
The solution>chest-opening stretch
Why it works>As pregnancy hormones cause your already enlarged breasts to increase in size, shoulders naturally roll inward to support the extra weight. Chest muscles respond by shortening and posture suffers, says Jeffreys, who suggests doing the chest-opener stretch (pictured at right) several times a day. “Think about your posture all the time,” she says. “Stretch a lot, even if you’re just sitting on the floor reading a book.” If the chest-opening exercises don’t help, consult your doctor, as chest tightness also can be a sign of a pregnancy-related heart condition.
The move>Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Place your hands behind your head and lace your fingers together, pulling elbows slightly back. Drop your shoulders down and pull your navel in toward your spine, keeping your head in line with your shoulders. Lean back slightly as you look up, squeezing your shoulder blades down and together until you feel a mild stretch in the chest. Repeat as needed.
The problem>back pain
The solution>cat-and-cow stretch
Why it works>Your swelling abdomen puts strain on your lower back. Stretches can relieve that pressure. A move such as the cat-and-cow stretch, in which you arch and then round your back, does double duty by stretching overworked back muscles and strengthening abdominal muscles. It brings both into better balance with each other, which is important because “the back and abs work together like a natural corset,” says Wehrman. “This stretch actually moves the baby out of the pelvis a bit, which can be a big relief—at least for a few minutes,” Jeffreys says.
The move>Start on your hands and knees, shoulders and wrists in line, hips and knees in line. Pull your belly in and bring your neck and spine in line. Keeping arms straight, inhale as you gently arch your back and tip tailbone up [A]. Exhale as you round your spine, tuck your tailbone under and pull your navel to spine, chin to chest [B]. Repeat 10–15 times.