Prenatal Physical Therapy 101: What to Expect and When to Start!

Experiencing the growth of new life within you is incredibly special. But the journey comes with its share of challenges. As discomforts begin to disrupt your daily life—like back pain or swelling—it’s time to consider prenatal physical therapy. 

Prenatal physical therapy is a special course of treatment designed for conception to pregnancy phase. It offers relief and support from discomfort and prepares the body for childbirth. While you can start prenatal physical therapy anytime after conception, starting at the beginning of the second trimester is recommended.

Expert physical therapists at Total Performance are dedicated to providing customized prenatal physical therapy plans. These plans meet the unique needs of each pregnancy stage. 

Ready to explore the details of prenatal physical therapy? Our expert physical therapists are here to guide you! Scroll down the details below to find all the answers to your queries! 

Understanding Prenatal Physical Therapy

Expectant mothers experience changes during their pregnancy period of nine months. These changes include weight gain, hormonal shifts, changes in posture, and body mechanisms as the baby grows. 

Pregnancy is divided into three different phases – 

  • First Trimester—It is from conception to 12 weeks. This phase may cause aches and pains, weight gain, and larger and tender breasts. 
  • Second Trimester—Last from 13 to 27 weeks. Mothers experience thicker hair and stronger fingernails. During this time, pain and aches increase due to the baby’s development. 
  • Third Trimester – It is between 28 to 40 weeks. Expectant mothers experience weight gain, back pain, and irregular or mild contractions, also known as Braxton Hicks Contractions

These changes during pregnancy can lead to pelvic girdle pain and abdominal muscle separation, and prenatal physical therapy is an ideal solution to alleviate these issues. 

Different from regular physical therapy, it is a specialized form of care for pregnant women. The therapy helps relieve pregnancy discomforts. Prenatal physical therapy sessions promote maternal health and prepare the mother’s body for childbirth and postpartum recovery. 

Benefits of Prenatal Physical Therapy

Prenatal physical therapy offers multiple benefits to expectant mothers. The sessions help them navigate the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy with ease and comfort:

  • Improving Posture And Reducing Back Pain: 

As the baby grows, the extra weight shifts the body’s natural balance, leading to poor posture and back discomfort. Prenatal physical therapists provide exercises and techniques to improve posture, strengthen core muscles, and alleviate back pain.

  • Enhancing Circulation And Reducing Swelling: 

During pregnancy, the body retains more fluid, and the growing uterus can pressure blood vessels, causing swelling in the legs and feet. Regular exercise and specific techniques, such as leg exercises and compression stockings, can improve circulation and reduce swelling.

  • Strengthening Pelvic Floor Muscles For Childbirth: 

Strong pelvic floor muscles are crucial during labor and delivery. They support the baby’s descent, facilitate a smoother birthing process, and aid in postpartum recovery. Prenatal physical therapists focus on strengthening these muscles through targeted exercises.

  • Managing Symptoms Of Pregnancy-Related Conditions: 

Prenatal physical therapists are trained to address various pregnancy-related issues, such as sciatica (nerve pain in the lower back and leg), pelvic girdle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome (hand and wrist numbness), and more. They provide tailored exercises, manual therapy, and other interventions to alleviate these discomforts.

What to Expect During Prenatal Physical Therapy Sessions?

During prenatal physical therapy sessions, you can expect a personalized experience tailored to your needs and concerns. The first session will begin with a discussion about your health history, any concerns you may have, and your goals for therapy.

Initial Evaluation: The therapist will perform a comprehensive musculoskeletal assessment, which may include: 

  • Posture, alignment, and gait assessment. 
  • Spine, hip, and abdominal wall assessment.
  • Evaluation of surrounding muscle groups.
  • Internal pelvic floor muscle assessment to assess tone, tension, and strength.

Session Duration and Frequency: Your therapist will recommend the appropriate duration and frequency of sessions based on your individual needs. Sessions may last 30 minutes to an hour and occur once or twice a week or more frequently if necessary.

Safety Measures: Your therapist will ensure all exercises and therapies are safe for you and your baby. They will guide you on proper form, intensity levels, and when to modify or stop activities. Communicating any discomfort and listening to your body to avoid overexertion is important.

During the session, you may also learn about:

  • Preventive care measures to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
  • Exercises to relieve aches and pains commonly experienced during pregnancy.
  • How to perform intentional movements, such as pelvic floor exercises.
  • Massage or ultrasound techniques for specific body areas.
  • Mobilization of certain joints to alleviate discomfort.
  • Stretching exercises include side and forward stretches, “cat” stretches, and pelvic circles.
  • Different ways to move that won’t aggravate any existing issues. 

The therapist will monitor your progress throughout your sessions, adjust as needed, and provide resources to help you maintain an active and healthy pregnancy.

Follow-up sessions will build upon the previous ones, and your therapist may progress your exercise routine. This progression aims to improve your pelvic floor control and ability to relax and open the pelvis as your pregnancy advances.

Key Prenatal Physical Therapy Exercise

Some key exercises that expert physical therapists at Total Performance recommend are:

Core Strengthening Exercises: 

These exercises strengthen the abdominal and back muscles, supporting good posture and health during pregnancy. Examples include pelvic tilts, abdominal bracing, and modified planks. Performed correctly, these exercises can alleviate back pain and improve stability.

  • Pelvic Tilts: Gently tilt your pelvis back and forth to engage and strengthen your abdominal muscles, helping to support your back.
  • Modified Planks: Get into a plank position on your knees instead of your toes, targeting your core muscles without straining your back.

Pelvic Floor Exercises:

Also known as Kegel exercises, these techniques target the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles play an essential role in supporting the pelvic organs and easing the childbirth process. Proper pelvic floor exercises can help prevent incontinence and aid in postpartum recovery.

  • Kegel Exercises: Repeatedly squeeze and release the muscles you use to stop urinating, strengthening your pelvic floor for childbirth and preventing leaks.
  • Squats: Do controlled squats to engage and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

Stretching and Flexibility: 

Gentle stretches and flexibility exercises can help relieve muscle tension and increase mobility, which becomes increasingly important as the pregnancy progresses. Examples include- 

  • Hamstring Stretches: Gently lean forward to stretch the muscles at the back of your thighs, relieving tension in your lower back and legs.
  • Cat-Cow Stretch: Arch your back, then round it, alternating between these movements to increase mobility and flexibility in your spine.

Balance and Stability Exercises: 

As the body’s center of gravity shifts during pregnancy, exercises like standing on one leg, weight shifts, and balance ball activities can help improve balance and prevent falls, tailored to different pregnancy stages.

  • Standing on One Leg: Balance on one leg to improve stability and prevent falls as your body’s balance shifts during pregnancy.
  • Weight Shifts: Shift your weight from side to side or front to back while standing to enhance your balance and stability.

Aquatic Therapy: 

Under the guidance of expert physical therapists at Total Performance, water-based exercises in the heated pool offer a low-impact workout with reduced strain on joints and the spine. Examples include- 

  • Water Walking: Walk in chest-deep water for a low-impact cardio workout that relieves pressure on your joints and back.
  • Aquatic Resistance Exercises: Use the resistance of the water to strengthen your muscles without putting strain on your body.

NOTE  – While these exercises may seem like easy DIY options, it’s crucial to perform them under the guidance of an expert prenatal physical therapist. They have the knowledge and expertise to ensure proper form and posture, eliminating potential risks. Always seek professional prenatal physical therapy sessions for the best and safest results.

When to Start Prenatal Physical Therapy?

Prenatal physical therapy can be beneficial at various stages of pregnancy, depending on individual needs and circumstances. Here are the details on when to consider starting prenatal physical therapy:

Recommended Timing Based On Pregnancy Stages And Individual Needs:

  • First trimester: If you’re experiencing morning sickness, fatigue, or have a history of miscarriages or high-risk pregnancy, physical therapy can help manage these concerns.
  • Second trimester: As your baby grows, you may experience back pain, pelvic girdle pain, or other discomforts. This is an ideal time to start prenatal physical therapy to address these issues.
  • Third trimester: Physical therapy can help prepare your body for childbirth by strengthening your pelvic floor muscles and teaching proper breathing techniques.

Signs that indicate the need for physical therapy during pregnancy:

  • Persistent back pain or pelvic girdle pain
  • Swelling in the legs or feet
  • Difficulty with balance or mobility
  • Incontinence or pelvic floor weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Existing medical conditions that may affect pregnancy

It’s always advisable to consult with your obstetrician or midwife about your specific needs and concerns. Total Performance, a reputable prenatal physical therapy center, is where experienced therapists can assess your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan.

At Total Performance, the prenatal physical therapists are trained to address the unique challenges of pregnancy. They work closely with your healthcare providers to ensure a comprehensive approach to your care, prioritizing your baby’s comfort, safety, and well-being.

Remember, every pregnancy is unique, and starting prenatal physical therapy at the right time can help you navigate this transformative journey with confidence, minimize discomfort, and prepare your body for the remarkable childbirth experience.

Preparing for Your First Prenatal Physical Therapy Session

Your first prenatal physical therapy session is essential in your pregnancy journey. To ensure a productive and comfortable experience, preparing in advance is helpful. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

What To Bring And Wear:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows easy movement and access to your abdomen and back.
  • Bring a list of any medications or supplements you’re currently taking.
  • Carry your medical records, including any relevant test results or ultrasound images.
  • Wear supportive, non-slip shoes, or bring a pair of socks.

Questions To Ask Your Physical Therapist:

  • What exercises or therapies do you recommend for my specific concerns?
  • How often should I attend physical therapy sessions during my pregnancy?
  • Are there any exercises or activities I should avoid?
  • What tips can you provide for managing discomforts at home?
  • How can I prepare for childbirth and postpartum recovery through physical therapy?

Setting Realistic Goals And Expectations:

  • Discuss your goals and concerns with your physical therapist, whether it’s managing back pain, improving mobility, or preparing for labor.
  • Understand that every pregnancy is unique, and your therapist will tailor the treatment plan to your individual needs.
  • Be patient and consistent with your exercises and therapies, as progress may take time.
  • Communicate openly with your therapist about any discomfort or concerns you experience during the sessions.

Remember that prenatal physical therapy is ongoing, and your needs may evolve as your pregnancy progresses.

By being prepared and communicating openly with your physical therapist, you can maximize the benefits of your prenatal physical therapy sessions.

Integrating Prenatal Physical Therapy into Your Pregnancy Care Plan

Prenatal physical therapy is most effective when combined with the overall pregnancy care plan. Here’s how to incorporate it easily into your existing schedule – 

Working With Other Healthcare Professionals:

  • Keep your obstetrician or midwife informed about your prenatal physical therapy sessions and progress.
  • Collaborate with your physical therapist to ensure that your treatment plan aligns with your overall pregnancy care.
  • If you have any existing medical conditions, ensure that your physical therapist communicates with your other healthcare providers for a coordinated approach.

Incorporating Exercises At Home:

  • Your physical therapist will provide exercises and techniques to practice at home between sessions.
  • Consistency is key – make time for these exercises as part of your daily routine.
  • Follow your therapist’s instructions carefully to ensure proper form and avoid potential risks.
  • Keep track of your exercises and any concerns to discuss during your next session.

Adjustments As Pregnancy Progresses:

  • Your physical therapy needs may evolve as your body changes throughout your pregnancy.
  • Be open to adjustments in your exercise routine or treatment plan as your therapist recommends.
  • Communicate any new discomforts or concerns promptly to allow your therapist to modify your care accordingly.

Common Myths Regarding Prenatal Physical Therapy

While prenatal physical therapy offers numerous benefits, several myths and misconceptions can create hesitation or confusion. Here are some common concerns and misconceptions addressed:

  • Myth – Exercise during pregnancy is unsafe and should be avoided. 
  • Reality: As guided by a prenatal physical therapist, appropriate exercises are safe and beneficial for both the mother and baby.
  • Myth: Prenatal physical therapy is only for women with complications or high-risk pregnancies. 
  • Reality: All pregnant women can benefit from prenatal physical therapy, even if they have a low-risk pregnancy.


Prenatal physical therapy offers a way to a safer and more comfortable pregnancy journey. It addresses common discomforts like back pain or swelling and prepares your body for childbirth. Starting prenatal physical therapy can make a significant difference in the overall journey. 

The physical therapists at Total Performance understand the importance of prenatal physical therapy. We support expectant mothers with customized physical therapy plans designed for each stage of pregnancy. 

Are you ready to start your physical therapy journey for a better pregnancy experience? Connect with the expert physical therapists at Total Performance. Schedule your first prenatal physical therapy session after a detailed initial consultation.

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