Using a fitness ball can help a pregnant woman maintain balance and stability as her belly grows—and help keep abdominal muscles strong. Strong abdominals are important during the pushing phase of labor.
After the fourth month of pregnancy, many women often give up doing ab work on the floor because it can put pressure on the vena cava, a large vein which carries blood back to the heart. The weight of the uterus on this particular vein can cause a drop in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the brain (and placenta), resulting in dizziness or nausea.
"You can work the abs longer into the pregnancy using the fitness ball," says Madeleine Lewis, a 37-year-old fitness instructor in Hawthorne, California, "because you're not lying on your back, but balancing on the ball." Another advantage to this and any prenatal exercise: "I believe the recovery phase is shorter if you're fit during pregnancy," she says.
You can use the above video for an effective exercise ball workout for pregnancy. Alternately, you can use this program developed by Lewis.
Begin this program on its own or as a complement to your regular strengthening and cardiovascular routines. The first two exercises will orient you to using the ball as well as warm you up. Make sure you're comfortable with them before moving on to abdominal work and the last four. For each of the seven exercises, do 1 set of 12 to 16 reps—the entire workout should take about 15 to 20 minutes. You may do all seven every day but not necessarily all at once. Pick a few at a time as your schedule allows. At the end of your workout, take an extra 5 or 10 minutes to relax in a comfortable position.
These first two exercises will help you become comfortable with using the ball as a piece of fitness equipment, as well as help you learn coordination, proper posture and balance as your belly grows.
Sit upright on top of the ball, arms relaxed by your sides and feet flat on the floor a comfortable distance from the ball and about hip-width apart. Notice that your back, abdominal and leg muscles all work together to keep you balanced. Reach arms up overhead. Squeeze shoulder blades down and together as you lower your arms to starting position. Stay centered without moving your torso as you raise and lower your arms.
2. Arm and Leg Lift
Sit erect on top of the ball with your hands on your thighs, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart and a comfortable distance from the ball. Maintaining your balance, straighten your left leg and lift it up to hip level. At the same time, lift your arms out to the sides up to shoulder height. Return to starting position and perform with your right leg; do reps alternating legs. (Note: If extending your leg is difficult, keep your knee bent and just lift your foot off the floor.)
The following two exercises will help you concentrate on contracting your abs and strengthening your back—both of which prepare you for labor. To stabilize your body while working on your abs, anchor your toes against a wall or sofa.
3. Ab Crunch
Sit upright on the ball, then walk your feet forward, keeping your feet in front of your knees. Continue taking small steps until your lower back rests against the ball, feet are flat on the floor and knees bent. Your hips should be lower than your shoulders, and your body should be at an incline. Place your hands behind your head, fingertips touching but not clasped. Exhale, contract abs in toward spine and lift head, arms and shoulders up and forward. Release and return to incline position. Do reps, then walk your feet back in so you can sit up. Use your leg, back and buttock muscles to stabilize each position. (Note if you have diastasis recti: Cross arms over your belly and hold it tightly, as a kind of splint, while you do your crunches. You can also wrap your belly with a towel for support.)
4. Bridge Get back into the incline position then walk your feet out even farther so that only your head, neck and shoulders are resting on the ball. Place your hands on the floor for support. Start with your hips as high as your shoulders; keep buttocks tight. Release buttocks and let your hips lower slowly down to the floor. Lift hips up to starting position and repeat. Torso and leg strength
These last three exercises are designed to maintain torso and leg strength as well as increase body awareness. They will help you perform everyday activities like lifting grocery bags and small children.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with toes slightly turned out. Hold the ball in both hands in front of your belly. Contract abs and point tailbone toward the floor. Keeping your body weight on your heels, bend your knees and lower the ball to the ground in front of you. Make sure you're bending at your hips and knees, not from your waist. Leave the ball on the ground, and straighten your legs to standing position, tightening buttocks at the top. Repeat the squat to pick up the ball, and return to standing position, holding ball at belly height. Repeat.
6. Plié and Lift
Stand with your feet in a plié position (about two feet apart, knees bent, toes and knees turned out). Hold the ball in both hands with arms extended toward the floor. Keeping your torso lifted, straighten your knees, and, at the same time, lift the ball up overhead. Bend your knees, lower your arms to the starting position, and repeat.
7. Wall Squat and Back Massage
Place the ball between your lower back and the wall. Lean back against the ball, and walk your feet out so they're in front of your belly, hip-width apart. Place your hands on your thighs. Slowly bend your knees into a squat position, keeping your knees aligned with your ankles and squatting no lower than your hips. Pressing gently against the ball, feel it roll up your back. Straighten knees and hips back to a standing position. Repeat.