If You're Pregnant - Mind Your Back
Pregnancy puts a huge strain on your body - particularly on your lower back in the later months when your bump gets bigger.
This is a vulnerable area in all of us whether pregnant or not, and we need to protect and strengthen this vital 'core'. Physiotherapist, Libby Sharp, founder of ESPH, says 'After the birth it's vitally important that you regain any lost tone. For the next few years you'll be bending and lifting more often than you can ever imagine.'
Libby, who has made a lifetime's work out of treating musculo-skeletal problems, recommends a two fold approach to ensure life-long back health. 'If exercise has not been on your agenda before you become pregnant, make sure it is - not just for your pregnancy but for the rest of your life. A simple set of exercises and stretches done on a daily basis will help strengthen the muscle 'corset' which supports your spine and keep the spine flexible.
'When your baby arrives the muscles in your abdomen, lower back and pelvic floor may be weaker and more stretched than before and it is important that you continue gentle strengthening exercises and take special care of your back. For example, if your baby has a traditional, high drop-sided cot, be sure to lower the side before you reach in to lift your baby. Bend your knees before lifting and hold the baby as close to you as you can. The closer to your body you keep your baby the less strain it puts on your spine.
'Always bend your knees before lifting anything and try to keep your spine lengthened with the core muscles switched on. Think about gently stretching your spine so that you feel tall. If you have to carry heavy shopping, be sure to balance the weight evenly between your two arms and keep the bags as close to your body as you can. When you push a heavy pram or buggy up hill keep your back upright with your core muscles switched on and use your legs to help push. (It's really important to check that the handle height of the pram or buggy you choose can be adjusted easily to suit everyone who's going to be pushing it).'
Libby suggests some simple exercises you can do safely and offers the following advice:
'All women should regularly exercise their pelvic floor muscles whether pregnant or not. You can activate these muscles by imagining you are peeing and want to stop in mid flow. Use a gentle contraction which does not include clenching your bottom muscles or holding your breath. You can pull in the pelvic floor muscles sitting, standing or lying and you should contract for about 10 seconds and repeat several times a day.
'During the first six months, providing you are healthy, you can also do wall slides, pelvic tilts, bridging exercises and walking. Gentle swimming or exercise in water is suitable throughout pregnancy but in the last two months avoid jumping, running or anything that might jar. This is because your ligaments become even more lax in the final stage of pregnancy, the pelvis is vulnerable to shearing forces and may even go out of alignment. A useful tip to remember when getting in or out of a car or rolling over in bed is to keep your legs together.
Getting back in shape'Despite what various celebrities claim they do to regain their pre-pregnancy bodies in a matter of weeks, the healthy and safe way is to start doing pelvic floor exercises regularly after the birth. Three weeks after a normal delivery and six weeks after a Caesarean you can start gentle abdominal exercises, gradually increasing the intensity to regain normal muscle tone and a flat tummy.'
Libby recommends that anyone planning to become pregnant or who is newly pregnant should seek expert advice on the right way to exercise and strengthen their whole body. Check on the website of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy to find a suitably qualified physio near you, or ask at your local gym or health centre for someone who specialises in classes for pregnant women.