A woman’s body undergoes a multitude of physical changes during pregnancy. As a personal trainer, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about what’s changing and why – and what we can do about it. Here are a few of my favorites, along with a few points about how starting or maintaining a fitness routine can help. I believe it’s important for moms to understand how and why her body is morphing to create life, and how exercise can be beneficial. (Read the sequel: Mom’s New Postpartum Body: From the Baby Blues to Kegel’s, A Few of My Favorite FAQs.)
Why do I feel bloated?
One of the earliest changes is increased water retention. In preparation for the need of extra blood to the uterus, the body begins to retain water and make more red cells. Water retention leads to breast tenderness and the dilation of veins. (A couple of larger bras will be necessary as your baby grows.) It sounds counterproductive, but consuming water will help ease the discomfort of bloating. And frequent activity such as walking, or any type of exercise will increase circulation in your body and ease bloating discomfort.
Why do I feel dizzy?
At this early stage, there is also a potential for a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in resting heart rate. This drop in vascular resistance is caused by progesterone. As a result the possibility of dehydration increases, and improper fluid replacement can lead to dizziness and fainting.
Standing up to quickly, becoming overheated or hungry (dropping blood sugar) can also contribute to feeling lightheaded. Since the brain and the nervous system need a constant level of sugar to function properly, eat small meals frequently and have snacks and water handy, especially before and after any kind of physical activity. (I prefer electrolyte enhanced waters to keep body balanced.)
Why can’t I lie on my back?
As your pregnancy progresses, the extra weight will also begin to compress blood vessels running to and from your heart, especially when lying flat on your back. After your 20th week of pregnancy, it is recommended to avoid lying on your back for no more than two minutes. If you exercise at a gym you can make an easy switch from a flat bench to an incline bench, and use a large physio ball rather than lying on floor.
What causes my back ache?
The increase in weight in the front of the body causes muscles along your spine to contract, often leading to back tension and discomfort. I suggest adopting a conservative stretching program to alleviate discomfort. Prenatal yoga is excellent supplement to a cardio and strength training program.
Additionally, in the second and third trimester, the growing uterus and fetus will begin to shift your center of gravity, causing your pelvis to tilt forward and increasing the curve in your lumbar spine. In order to compensate and maintain balance, pregnant women tend to stand further back on their heels. This causes even greater forward curvature of the spine and can sometimes result in backaches, shortness of breath, and tension in the shoulders and upper back.
How can I help alleviate back discomfort?
Begin by being more conscious about your posture, start with “ABC’s”:
- Abs: start by contracting abdominal muscles and tucking the buttocks under slightly to correct the forward tilt of the pelvis.
- Body weight: distribute body weight evenly through both feet.
- Chest & Chin: Stretch upward, lengthening the neck and spine, open the chest by lifting the sternum and tuck the chin in slightly.
- Shoulder Blades: Draw the shoulder blades back and down toward your spine.
Your musculature is now working extra hard to compensate for the physical changes that are occurring. In particular, more work is expected from your low back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and abdominal muscles.
Should I do be doing Kegel exercises?
The pelvic floor muscles are often overlooked, but yes, even if you know you are having a caesarean birth, Kegel exercises should be practiced regularly. These muscles together with their surrounding tissue are responsible for keeping the pelvic organs –bladder, vagina, uterus and rectum– in place and functioning properly.
Women can weaken or damage their pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy or childbirth, this can cause backaches, pelvic pressure and/or pain and both urinary and bowel incontinence. Some might have the sensation that something is falling out of their vagina, a potential indication of a pelvic organ prolapse.
It is important to have a targeted fitness program to help increase or maintain your core strength to prepare for the ‘main event’ of birth. Active Moms’ Club can help you navigate the do’s & don’ts of prenatal exercise. Our unique Small Group Prenatal Fitness program is live-streaming and perfect for you if you are expecting, are comfortable exercising, looking for cost-effective professional guidance, and camaraderie with other expecting women.