Pregnancy: Strength and Balance Exercises
Pregnancy is a time of remarkable physical and emotional changes, from your growing belly and glowing skin to that all-too-common moodiness and forgetfulness. You may have even noticed significant changes in your sense of balance, causing you to trip and stumble more than before.
While an accidental fall during pregnancy can certainly be upsetting and painful, it is not uncommon. A study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal found that 27 percent of pregnant women suffered a fall during pregnancy, and some even fell two or more times. Luckily, you can reduce your risk of falling by conditioning your body to adjust to changes in your balance through some simple exercises. As always, talk to your doctor about your exercise regimen to ensure that it’s the right one for you.
Why Falls Happen
During pregnancy, your body produces relaxin, a hormone that prepares you for childbirth by relaxing the ligaments in your pelvis. Relaxin has the same effect on other ligaments too, though, creating instability in your joints. Your body’s center of gravity is also changing constantly during pregnancy and gradually starts shifting up and forward as your uterus enlarges. Because your body is not accustomed to this, you’ll be less coordinated and may find it harder to maintain your balance.
Regular exercise during pregnancy helps improve your posture and decreases discomfort and fall risk. Maintaining a strong core, thighs, and hips creates a solid foundation for your changing body and its balance. Be sure to have your doctor’s approval before starting any new exercise program and stop if you feel uncomfortable.
Once your doctor signs off, here are some exercises to get you started:
- Core. Pelvic tilts are a great way to strengthen your abdominal and back.
- Legs. Squats strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
- Hips. Hip extensions increase stability by strengthening the hip and lower back muscles.
- Whole body. Swimming, walking, and indoor elliptical machines help tone your entire body to assist in balance.
Natural changes in your body may affect your balance and coordination. Add some regular, simple balance exercises to your pregnancy workout routine to maintain good neuromuscular control and further reduce the chance of falling.
- Single-limb stance. This exercise involves standing on one leg for a length of time (with a nearby chair or other object to hold for support). This helps reinforce the feeling of your center of gravity over the ankles.
- Marching in place. Supported standing marches is good practice for weight shifting.
- Sidestepping. Sidestepping strengthens your lateral balance.
- Prenatal yoga and Pilates. These improve your posture, core stability, and balance.
No matter how much you practice and exercise, avoid activities that increase the risk of falling, including climbing ladders, walking in high heels or slick-sole shoes, and walking on steep or uneven ground. Be particularly careful when descending stairs, stepping off curbs, or walking on slippery surfaces.
These strength and balance exercises will help you feel more comfortable with your changing body, and it’s great to stay active during the nine months of pregnancy. Your safety, however, is the top priority, so find a healthy balance of working out and getting your rest.