For pregnant women, obtaining proper health and nutrition is key to good prenatal health and the healthy outcome of the pregnancy. For women with disabilities, the use of proper nutrition and exercise is crucial to producing a healthy baby and avoiding prenatal health complications. As a woman with a disability, understanding the dynamics and benefits of exercise, during the pregnancy, will provide more healthy advantage in the birth of a healthy infant and a more effective process by which to return to pre-pregnancy health soon after birth.
Whether pregnant with a disability or without, exercise, during pregnancy, is crucial to maintaining strength and flexibility, improve muscle strength, promote proper circulatory flow during periods of increased blood volume, keeps the joints flexible and may reduce the risk of developing muscle spasm of the calves, commonly referred to as “charley horses”.
However, in women, both those with disability and those without, there are limitations to exercises because of pregnancy. First, the risk for joint injury increases due to the substantial hormonal changes and the impact on connective tissue. Secondly, the change in the body, with the growth of the uterus, may result in a woman’s center of gravity shifting, resulting in strain upon the back and hips. And, finally, the increase in blood volume may contribute to stress upon the cardiovascular system, especially in women who are anemic during pregnancy.
For women with disabilities, pregnancy and exercise will require a tailored approach. For women who desire improved strength in the abdominal and lower back muscles should focus on the pelvic tilts, both assisted and those unassisted. Also for lower abdominal strengthening, women with disabilities can utilize leg lifts for optimal effects.
For strengthening the upper abdominal muscles, curl-ups are quite common but are usually needed with an assistant. Deep breathing exercises, also, are a great source of strength, especially for women who are quadriplegic.
For women who sit for prolonged periods of time, it is imperative to change body position regularly as the growing weight upon the torso, and in the uterus, can lead to increased risk of developing hemorrhoids and bed sores. To do this, especially when confined to a wheelchair, try rocking from side to side or transfer from bed to wheelchair on a more frequent basis.
As with any prenatal healthcare, consult your obstetrician before beginning an exercise program. As a woman experiencing pregnancy, coupled with a disability, remember exercise is a crucial part of a health outcome to the pregnancy and birth, just as diet is. Using modified exercise programs, health can be maintained and improved during the pregnancy period.