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The Benefits of Aquanatal Classes

Aquanatal classes are exercises carried out in water which are specifically devised for pregnant women. Classes are usually conducted by a physiotherapist, and offer pregnant women an opportunity to exercise safely and to maximum effect from weeks 20 - 40 of pregnancy.

In water a pregnant woman has the freedom to move in any direction, and the sensation of being light and agile is very enjoyable!

The physical benefits of exercise helps pregnant women cope with the extra strain placed on their bodies. Keeping fit during pregnancy is extremely important both physically and mentally; and water is the ideal medium for exercise, particularly in the later stages of a pregnancy.

Some studies have indicated that fit women may have shorter labours. Staying fit during pregnancy should also help regain normal shape within a shorter time following the birth.

One of the complications of pregnancy is low back pain, often due to the extra weight of the uterus and the baby on ligaments, particularly those around the sacroiliac joints (pelvic girdle). The pregnant woman's centre of gravity moves forward and this causes alterations in lumbar spine posture, which can lead to back pain.

A hormone called relaxin which is secreted from early in pregnancy can cause ligaments which are normally not elastic to stretch, leaving all joints in the body vulnerable to overstretching. The effects on the bodies ligaments can last about six months after the baby is born. To prevent injury all exercise when pregnant should be within a comfortable range of movement and should not attempt to stretch to extremes.

A muscle group that can be traumatised by normal childbirth is that of the pelvic floor. Incontinence is a not uncommon result of such trauma. It has been found that the most effective time to teach pelvic floor exercises for and awareness is antenatally. These exercises can be taught effectively in the water during aqua natal classes.

Why aquanatal exercise is ideal during pregnancy:

Buoyancy: this relieves stress on weight bearing joints and permits movement to take place with reduced gravitational forces. Most aquanatal exercises take place in chest-deep water so a pregnant woman will only experience 25-30% of her body weight, therefore providing a very comfortable medium to exercise in.

Hydrostatic pressure: this is a force which applies to all surfaces of the body that are immersed in water. This beneficial effect could be said to be an inward squashing force felt on the body, which can significantly reduce swelling on the lower limbs and also help relieve joint pain.

Water temperature: most public pools are kept at a temperature of 28-29 C which is below optimal for pregnant women. The ideal is 31-32 C as this puts the minimum of strain on the pregnant woman.

Specific muscle work: various forces such as the buoyancy, turbulence, resistance and hydrostatic pressure all act together to make the work of maintaining an upright posture a challenge to the pregnant woman's core stability systems.

Turbulence and resistance: both of these properties can be used to make exercise in water either easier or harder.

Benefits of aquanatal exercise:

  • helps prepare for labour
  • improves core stability
  • promotes pelvic floor awareness
  • maintenance of mobility and muscle tone
  • assists post natal recovery
  • improves postural awareness
  • reduces back pain
  • improves co-ordination and balance
  • promotes healthy weight gain
  • increases body awareness
  • aids bonding with the foetus
  • improves sleep quality
  • reduces fluid retention
  • increases circulation
  • improves breath awareness and control
  • improves bowel function
  • enhanced well-being
  • provides social support with other pregnant women
  • maintenance of cardio-vascular fitness

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