Many expecting moms believe they have to endure the discomforts of pregnancy as part of the process.
However, nine months can feel like a long time to be uncomfortable and those discomforts can even rob some of your joy during pregnancy.
As a mom of three, I know these aches and pains during pregnancy all too well.
I just finished my third pregnancy in four years and the discomfort seemed to get worse with each pregnancy. I always noticed significantly more aches and pains when I wasn’t as consistent with stretching and maintaining good core strength.
In this post, you will learn what causes all those aches and pains, the benefits of stretching during pregnancy, some general guidelines to stretching safely and 14 of my favorite unique and safe stretches during pregnancy.
I can’t promise that stretching will take away all the aches and pains during pregnancy but it can definitely make them more manageable so you can enjoy those nine months as much as possible.
The better we take care of our bodies during pregnancy, the faster we can recovery postpartum. And trust me, you want those aches and pains to linger while trying to care for a newborn!
Why do I have so many aches and pains?
There are two main reasons we experience so many aches and pains during pregnancy.
1. Physical changes
This is the most obvious reason.
The hips and backs are the most common places to feel discomfort. There are many causes of hip and back pain during pregnancy. However, one of the most obvious reasons being that you are now supporting the weight of a growing baby and the extra weight that comes with pregnancy.
As your belly grows, the abdominal muscles stretch and become less efficient in stabilizing your core. The core muscles provide support to the back and pelvis. Therefore, a weekend core is less efficient to providing strength and stability to the pelvis and back as your baby grows.
This is why keeping your core and pelvic floor strong during pregnancy.
No, I do not mean doing traditional ab workouts. This means specific exercises designed to provide strength and support.
2. Hormonal changes
During pregnancy, our bodies release a hormone called Relaxin. True to it’s name, this hormone is responsible for “relaxing” and softening our pelvis to prepare for labor.
However, this hormone is not specific just to the pelvis. It actually softens all the joints in our bodies which can lead to more achy and less stable joints.
When stretching during pregnancy, you may notice an increase in flexibility. Be careful not to push yourself too far because your joints and muscles may not be able to handle the extra flexibility. This is why I always emphasize learning to listen to your body.
Important tips for stretching safely during pregnancy
1. Be cautious of over stretching
Never stretch to the point of tightness. Move in a way that feels good for you and your body at the time. This is not a time to push the limits to improve flexibility but rather a time to open up the body to relieve the stiffness that may be causing discomfort.
2. Move with intention
During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts. Make sure you move slow, listen to your body and do not force a stretch.
3. Stretching should never be painful
If you feel more discomfort than relief, then you are stretching too far.
Many people have a tendency to hold their breath while stretching. Instead, focus on deep breathing while stretching. This will not only help you relax but it also brings more oxygen to your baby to help them grow.
5. Avoid bouncing
Avoid bouncing while stretching as this can increase your risk of pulling a muscle.
What are the benefits of stretching during pregnancy?
Simply put, stretching during pregnancy allows us to move more freely and with less discomfort. Our bodies go through tremendous transformations during pregnancy causing muscles and ligaments to get short and tight. Stretching can help improve mobility and reduce aches and pains to help you enjoy more of your pregnancy.
Other benefits include:
- Reduce leg cramps
- Ease muscle tension
- Improve circulation
- Reduce ligament pain
- May reduce insomnia
How often should I stretch during pregnancy?
As often as you would like! You don’t have to be an avid Yogi to acheive the benefits of daily stretching.
When done safely, stretching during pregnancy is an excellent way to not only relieve aches and pains but it is also a great way to relax your body.
Pregnancy not only brings physical changes but emotional stresses as well. Developing a daily routine to slow down and focus on your breath and your body through stretching is a great way to cope with the physical and emotional changes during pregnancy and postpartum.
Is stretching during pregnancy safe?
Generally speaking, yes. However, I always recommend consulting with your health care provider before starting any exercise routine during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is unique and your health care provider may have certain restrictions.
The most important safety consideration to stretching during pregnancy is to remember that your joints are more relaxed. This means it is important not to over stretch which can lead to pulled muscles or greater joint pain.
What stretches should I avoid during pregnancy?
Most can continue exercising and stretching like normal throughout the first trimester.
You will need to make some adjustments during your second and third trimester.
During the second and third trimester, you will want to avoid:
- Lying on your stomach: Lying on your stomach is not recommended in the second and third trimester.
- Lying flat on your back for an extended period of time: Lying on your back for a few minutes during a stretch is generally fine. It only becomes a problem if the uterus inhibits return blood flow to the heart. In this case, you may feel nauseous or dizzy. The symptoms should resolve once the position is changed. This is why listening to your body is so important.
- Deep twist: Twisting exercises during pregnancy are generally safe. However, avoid deep twisting which can place too much pressure on your growing belly.
- Anything that causes you to lose balance: You center of gravity shifts greatly during pregnancy. Avoid any stretch that may cause you to lose balance and fall.
- Deep backbends
My Top 10 Favorite Stretches To Reduce Aches and Pains During Pregnancy
1. Butterfly stretch
Targets: Thighs, groin and hips and back
I LOVE this stretch! It not only helps strengthen the pelvic floor (which is super important for delivery) but it also helps open up your hips for delivery. Loosening the hips also helps with low back pain.
- Sit on a mat and bring the soles of your feet together in front of you
- Grab your toes and gently draw them toward your pelvis
- Inhale and sit up tall on your sitbones, not tailbone. Make sure your tailbone is not tucked
- Exhale and gently press your knees toward the ground only to the point of tension.
- Sit tall with your spine straight and gently bend at the hips to lean forward toward the ground. This movement will be limited as your belly grows but you will get a good stretch in the inner thighs.
- Release any tension in your neck by dropping your chin.
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Perform 3 sets of 30 seconds
2. Frog Stretch
Targets: Hip flexors and inner thigh
Tight hip flexors can cause lower back pain. This stretch is great for opening the hip flexors and inner thigh. It may feel a little awkward but it is one of my favorites!
- Begin by kneeling on the ground.
- Supporting yourself on your forearms, spread your knees as wide as possible with your toes pointing out and feet against the ground
- Do not allow your heels to come together behind your butt. This reduces the stretch.
- Keep your ankles in line with your knees
- Sit your butt back toward your heels until you feel the stretch in your inner thighs and hip flexors.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then release
- Return forward pausing for a few seconds then repeat
- Repeat 3-4 sets
- You may slowly rock back and forth and you may even work to open your knees further
3. Runners lunge
Targets: Hip flexors, obliques
- Begin by kneeling on your right knee with toes down and place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you
- Keep your front knee bent and aligned with the ankle
- Keeping your back straight and core engaged, lean forward and shift weight to the front leg
- Avoid arching your low back into the stretch
- You should feel it in your hip flexors
- For an added stretch, reach your arm in the air with a slight tilt to deeper into your hip flexors and obliques.
- Placing your hand on an exercise ball helps provide extra stability and support if needed.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds and release
- Repeat 3 times on each side
4. Simple side stretch
Targets: the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, & parts of the low back
- This stretch can be done in a straddle position on the ground or sitting on an exercise ball.
- Sitting on an exercise ball helps to open the pelvis.
- Keeping core engaged, extend your right arm up and slightly bend to the left side.
- Keep you neck relaxed and do not allow your shoulder to scrunch up into the neck.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch sides
- Repeat 2-3 times
Targets: Outer hips and low back
- This exercise can be done lying down on your back in the first trimester
- Sit comfortably in a chair with feet on the ground
- Cross one foot over the other knee to create the shape of the number four
- Make sure your foot remains flexed and with back straight
- Exhale and slightly hinge forward keeping your back flat until you feel the stretch in your lower back and outer glute area
- Focus on elongating your spine rather than curling your shoulder toward your lap
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side
- Repeat for 3-4 sets
6. Forward Rolls
- Begin by kneeling with an exercise ball close to your body and you hands on top of the ball
- Exhale and gently tuck your chin and roll the ball out
- Inhale and hold this extended position
- Breath deep into your belly while gently drawing your shoulders down and away from your ears
- Allow your low back to arch into a comfortable position
- Keep your hips over or behind your knees to avoid too much stress on your core. If you feel too much pressure on your core, simply shift your hips back over your heals
- To return to the starting position, exhale and gently tuck your hips and gently pressing your hands into the ball
- Focus on “hugging your baby” as you slowly move back to the seated position
- Repeat for 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Targets: Back and front body
- Position yourself on your hands and knees with arms shoulder width apart and knees hip width apart. If you are in your third trimester, a wider position may feel more comfortable.
- Cat phase (upward): Exhale and lightly contract your core by hugging your baby underneath your belly.
- Gently push your spine up toward the ceiling
- Allow you head to fall toward your chest, maintaining alignment with your spine.
- hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
- Cow phase (downward): Inhale and slowly let your belly drop to the floor to increase the arch in your low back.
- Allow your shoulder blades to fall together
- Hold for 5-10 seconds
8. Seated Neck Stretch
Targets: Sides of the neck and shoulders
- Start in a seated position
- Place your arms behind your back and interlock your fingers with palms facing together and knuckles facing out.
- Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears
- Drop your left ear toward your left shoulder while keeping your shoulders down
- You should feel this on the side of your neck between your ear and shoulder.
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds
- 3-4 Sets of 30 seconds
9. Seated Straddle
Targets: Hamstrings, inner thigh, back
- Begin in a seated position with legs straight and spread apart with toes pointing to the ceiling
- Extend your arms out in front of your body and place them flat on the floor or on an exercise ball
- Give a little hug to your baby to stabilize your spine
- Holding this position, gently exhale and slowly bend forward from your hips, reaching with your hands.
- Execute the movement from your hips, not your low back by focusing on maintaining a flat back position and avoid rounding your back toward the ceiling.
- Keep your head aligned with your spine, knees extended and toes pointing up toward the ceiling
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat 3 times
10. Banded Glute Bridge
Targets: Back pain
Weak glutes are a common cause of back pain during pregnancy. Activating them can help alleviate a lot of back pain.
- Begin by placing a loop band around your knees and lying on your back with arms down by your side
- Bend your knees and place your heels on the floor close to your butt
- Perform a pelvic tilt and gently tighten and squeeze your pelvic floor muscle
- Activate your glute muscles by lifting your hips and pushing through your feet. Imagining your are picking something up off the ground with your butt cheeks
- Maintain your pelvic tilt to avoid over arching your back. Maintain a straight line from the shoulders to knees.
- At the top of the pose, open and close your legs 5 times then release back down
- Repeat 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Note: I was 10 weeks pregnant in this video! I started this exercise very early in my pregnancy. The reps I demonstrate below are a little fast for pregnancy. This is a clip from the exercises in my Tone in 10 Program. I suggest doing the pulses a little slower during pregnancy to really focus on holding good alignment.
11. Bent arm wall stretch
Targets: Chest opening and shoulders
- Start in a doorway or corner of a wall
- Begin on the left side by brining your left leg back and right leg slightly forward
- Bring your left arm up to shoulder height and place the palm of your hand and inside of your arm on the surface of a wall or doorway
- Your arm should look like a goal post
- Gently lean forward through the space with the support of your front foot
- Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears
- Sliding the arm higher or lower will stretch various areas of the chest
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Switch sides
- 3-4 sets on each side
12. Eagle Arms
Targets: Opens up your back and shoulder blades
- Sitting or standing, reach your arms out in front of you and wrap your left elbow under your right elbow with either the back of your hands touching or your plams.
- If you can not bring your hands together, place each hand on the opposite shoulder
- Bend your arms so the tips of your fingers are pointing toward the sky
- Lift your elbows so that your upper arms are parallel with the floor to target the upper back and shoulder blades
- Slightly lift your elbows while maininting eagle arms, tuck your chin toward your chest to target the back of the neck.
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat bringing your right arm under your left
- 3-4 sets of 30 seconds
13. Calf Stretch
- Stand a little less than arms length from a wall
- Begin by placing the ball of your foot on the wall while keeping your foot flexed and the heel on the floor.
- Keep your leg straight and slightly lean forward for a deeper stretch
- Hold for 15-20 seconds and switch sides
- This can also be done using a curb by placing the ball of your foot on the edge of the curb and dropping your heel. Just be cautious of your balance
14. Malasana Yogi Squat
Targets: Hip and pelvis opening stretch to prepare for labor
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider to make room for your belly. You may also have your toes slightly pointed out
- Keeping your back straight and heels flat, slowly drop down as if you are going to sit into a low chair.
- If you need extra support, you can do this with your back against the wall with feet slightly out in front of you or place a block or blanket under your bottom.
- Bring the palms of your hands together in front of your chest with your elbows pushing against the inside of your knees to help open up the hips. Focus on slow, deep breaths
- To release the stretch, place your hands on the ground and unbend your knees coming to a seat
- Hold for at least 30-60 seconds
- Repeat 3-4 sets
Enjoy your pregnancy!
Exercising during pregnancy is not always easy but stretching should definitely be part of your routine.
Don’t let aches and pains rob you of enjoying your pregnancy. These 14 safe stretches during pregnancy can really help you relax, recover, and move with more comfort.
I’m only one email away from helping you reach your goals or answer any questions. Never hesitate to reach out!
***As always, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider to discuss the most appropriate avenue of exercise for each individual persons and pregnancies.
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.