Exercise For An Easier Birth
There is a long-standing belief that pregnant women are extremely fragile, that something can and will go wrong with the pregnancy at the smallest exertion. Pamper yourself, people say. It’s for your baby. We go along with it, because, who doesn’t like to be coddled? But secretly we know the truth.
We’re f***ing Superwomen.
Pregnancy is an absolutely normal process—women have literally been doing it forever. And – assuming there are no complications or underlying conditions – there’s no reason to act like you’re made of china. That said, labour and delivery are extremely hard on the body. The Big Push requires muscles you never knew you had. So best to get acquainted with them from the start!
We’ve covered general rules for exercise during pregnancy before on this site—Neville Wadia writes about it better and more expertly, and we don’t want to repeat him. Instead, we’ve focused only on exercises that specifically help make those long hours of labour a little easier. We recommend these six:
Walking is a simple, highly effective exercise at any point in life, but especially when you’re pregnant. It strengthens your frame and improves your balance—two things that will be tested for nine months and during the delivery.
For nine months, pregnant women have a tendency to lean backwards to counterbalance their growing baby bump. But exercise during pregnancy by leaning forward for a change will strengthen different muscles, keep others from fatiguing, and help get your baby in the best position for birth. So find a wall, a pillar, or a friend, and lean in (sorry).
The closer you get to delivery, an advanced version of this can be extremely helpful. The forward leaning inversion opens up the uterus, creating more room for the baby to maneuver into the right position. Find an elevated place to kneel – the edge of a bed, sofa or stairs – and face outwards. Then carefully lower your upper body until your forearms are resting on the floor and you are bum-up and head-down. Hold for a few seconds – feel free to waggle your bum in the air (like you just don’t care) if you get bored – then slowly walk your hands back up until you’re kneeling again. Repeat two to three times. (And watch this video for an example.)
Kegel exercise during pregnancy works out your pelvic floor muscles so they are strong and flexible as the baby passes through. The best part about them? You can do them anywhere, at any time, and no one will be the wiser. The bad? We can’t really tell you how to do them. You know how it feels when you stop urinating mid-stream? Those are the muscles, and that’s motion. Flex these babies as much as you like (once you’ve finished your pee).
- Pelvic Tilt
Strengthen your core – i.e. the muscles that you’ll use for The Big Push – with pelvic tilts. They’re super simple and can be done from Day 1. Lay on your back on a flat surface, with your arms at your side, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the floor, keeping your elevated body in a straight line from your knees to your torso. Your weight will rest on your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds, and lower your body gently back to the floor. Repeat two to three times. (Watch this video for an example.)
Squatting has a bunch of benefits, both before and during labour. During pregnancy, squats strengthen your bum, pelvic and leg muscles, keeping you balanced and preparing for the strain of delivery. During labour, the biggest benefit of squats is your position—you remain upright, allowing gravity to nudge labour along naturally. You can easily do squats without any accoutrement, but many women like using an exercise ball. Simply stand, with your back to a flat wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Place an exercise ball between you and the wall, behind your shoulders, and lower yourself to a squatting position. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then stand back up. Repeat five times. (Watch this video for an example.)
Stretching or prenatal yoga can also be effective in strengthening your frame and helping the baby into the best position for delivery. The cat/cow pose is especially effective, and has the added bonus of helping relieve back pain. Position yourself on your hands and knees, with your weight evenly distributed. Slowly and gently alternate between humping your back (head down) and flexing downward (head up). (Watch this video for an example.)