5 of the Best Pregnancy Stretches

Pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to be inactive! Try these 5 easy stretches to help alleviate prenatal discomfort and stay injury free.

This post originally appeared on The Fitnessista.

During this pregnancy, while I’m fortunate that things have been overall very pleasant and enjoyable, I’ve definitely experienced some aches and pains. It comes with the territory of growing a small human, which can alter our center of gravity, put additional pressure on our limbs, and hormones surging through the body to support the little one.

One of the major hormone shifts that occurs during pregnancy is through relaxin, which loosens the joints and makes us extremely flexible. Because we have so much relaxin coursing through the body, it’s easier to overstretch the muscles, which can be painful and take a long time to heal. This is a huge reason why it’s important to exercise and stretch within stable limits and avoid trying to reach your “max,” whether it’s through a workout, yoga class, or stretching. Like I’ve said many times before, focus on maintaining not adding!

Stretching can help to ease some of the aches of pregnancy, and can also help to promote full range of motion within the joints. When we have full range of motion, we’re less likely to alter our movement patterns, which can lead to muscle imbalances and potentially injury. Also, stretching feels sooooo good.

Prenatal Stretches
Here are some of my favorite prenatal stretches. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness changes and honor your body. Instead of stretching to your max, stretch to a comfortable point (without trying to force yourself into a deeper version of the stretch) and focus on taking deep breaths.

1) Cat-cow:

Come onto your hands and knees with your knees stacked under your hips and your hands stacked under your shoulders. Lift up through your core and keep your neck long so your spine is straight.

Cat-Cow: Prenatal Stretches
Take a nice big inhale, drop your belly, and gaze up towards the ceiling.

Cat-Cow: Prenatal Stretches
As you exhale, round your back, gaze towards your belly button (or if you’re like me: where your belly button used to be), and feel the nice stretch through the length of the spine. Continue this pattern, taking long deep inhales, and long, cleansing exhales.

Cat-Cow: Prenatal Stretches

2. Spinal balance

Once again, start on hands and knees with knees under your hips and hands stacked under your shoulders. Keep your neck long (chin lifted and spine straight) and press down through the knuckles of your hands.

Spinal Balance: Prenatal Stretches
Lift one foot off the floor, straighten the leg behind you while lifting the opposite hand, extending it in front of you. Press out through your heel and try to keep your hips parallel to the floor.

Spinal Balance: Prenatal Stretches
Gently lower down and repeat on the opposite side.

3. Tailor sitting

Start in a seated position and bring the soles of the feet together. Let the knees gently fall out towards the sides as far as they’ll go. Do not press down on the thighs at all, and enjoy this awesome inner thigh (adductor) stretch. Focus on sitting up tall, and take nice deep breaths.

Tailor Sitting: Prenatal Stretches

4. Gentle spinal extension to forward flexion

Start standing with your hands supporting your low back. Drop the shoulders and gaze towards the ceiling as you gently arch through the back. (Avoid over-stretching the abdominals here. Keep the movement small and gentle.)

Gentle spinal extension to forward flexion: Prenatal Stretches
Keep your hands where they are as you carefully exhale and fold forward. Bend your knees as much as you need to and enjoy the hamstring stretch. Slowly rise, making sure your head is the last thing to come up.

Gentle spinal extension to forward flexion: Prenatal Stretches

5. Standing hip flexor stretch

Start standing with feet hip distance apart. Step one foot back and come up onto your back toes. Carefully lower the back knee down. You can stay right here to stretch out your quadriceps and hip flexors, or if you want more, take one arm overhead (whichever leg is back, use the same arm) and reach up and over. Hold and breathe for about 15-20 seconds before repeating on the other side.

Standing hip flexor stretch: Prenatal Stretches
As great as it feels to stretch, remember that our muscles also need stability during pregnancy through strength exercises where the pelvis remains stable. (My lovely friend Jess, who is a Physical Therapist taught me about this.) Strengthen the muscles to support the ones that are causing you discomfort. For example, for my sore hips, I’ve been working on exercises like squats, outer thigh work (mostly though band exercises at barre), hip extensions, and bridges. As always, talk to a doc or Physical Therapist if you need help with your pregnancy aches and pains.

What’s your all-time favorite stretch?

Some more of my favorites are here, here, and here.

Photos by Danny Chan

Gina HarneyGina Harney is the creator of The Fitnessista, which has been featured as a top blog is Fitness and SHAPE. She is an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor, NASM-certified personal trainer and Weight Loss Specialist. She teaches BODYPUMP, barre, Spin and Zumba. Gina Harney is the author of “HIIT It!” and co-produced her first dance cardio DVD, Soli Beat. She lives in San Diego with her husband, 3-year-old daughter, two crazy pups, and one baby girl on the way (due in October).