Movement During Pregnancy
During my childbirth classes and prenatal visits I’m inevitably asked if there are specific exercises I recommend to get ready for labor. This is always a tricky question for me to answer because I don’t want to suggest that you can exercise or do labor “right.” Many people with many different levels of activity and strength give birth just fine every day. I do think that movement in different forms can be very beneficial for pregnancy and labor, though. I want to share some of the benefits of movement and some guidelines to think about when adding movement and activity to your day.
My first note is to please always listen to what your provider says and what your body says about what is healthy and safe for your individual pregnancy, body and birth. I am not a medical professional! In this same vein, do what feels good in your body. If something hurts, stop or modify it. If you were staying active in a particular way before becoming pregnant and it no longer feels good, that’s ok! Try something else! Or if you want to keep up the activity you were doing before, go right ahead if it feels good. Listen to your body.
So what are some of the benefits of movement during pregnancy? It keeps your body strong for birth and reminds you of your own strength. Movement can also have wonderful mood boosting effects. Endorphins are real! And let me be clear what I mean by movement. I’m not suggesting a rigorous exercise routine (unless that’s your thing!). I’m suggesting just that, movement. Walk, dance, stretch, swim, skip, bike, have sex! Just move. At your own pace, in your own time. There is not just one way to get your body into action.
The most important benefit of movement, in my opinion, is how it teaches you about your limits or your edge and how to safely push and stretch those limits. My favorite quote about this is from Active Birth by Janet Balaskas. She says ““You will gradually become familiar with the discomforts and even the pain of going beyond your usual limits…as labor and birth will demand going beyond your normal limits of pain endurance…The exercises will teach you to surrender to the forces within your body…and will also help to reduce the pain by enabling you to relax and accept the feelings rather than tensing up against them.” If you can feel the burn in your thighs in goddess pose and go a little deep or if you can walk or run just a little bit farther, you can stretch your limits and your endurance. It can also bring your awareness to how you cope with these challenges. How does your breathing change? What do you tell yourself to keep going? How does your body feel? Where are you holding tension?
Some exercises that I recommend in preparation for birth are squatting, goddess pose, bridge pose (for breech babies) and pelvic tilts.
Start with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider, toes turned out. Keep your tailbone tucked as you squat down. Hold for several breaths and do several times throughout the day.
If you have pelvic symphysis pain, I don’t recommend squatting. But you can try placing a yoga block or book between your thighs, squeezing your thighs, tucking your tailbone and sitting back slightly into chair pose.
If squatting feels too intense, you can put a yoga block or stack of books under your tailbone to support you.
Squatting helps open your hips and bring baby down into the pelvis in preparation for birth. Do not squat if you are 34 weeks and have a breech baby.
Start with your feet wider than your hips, toes out. Keeping your torso upright and tailbone tucked, bring your knees. Hold is pose for 2-3 minutes. See if you can hold on a little longer once your thighs start to burn. You can incorporate movement in your arms and by rocking from one foot to the other. Blowing through relaxed lips like a horse can really help!
This is a wonderful pose to finding your edge and stretching your limits. Notice how you cope with the discomfort and fatigue
Lie on your back (if this is comfortable), bend your knees and draw your feet right up behind your butt. Rest your arms next to you, palms down. Engage your core and slowly peel your spine up and off the mat, weight resting on your feet and shoulder blades. Hold for several breaths. As you exhale, slowly roll your spine back onto the earth.
This is a great pose to help bring breech babies out of the pelvis to give them room to turn head down. If you take a yoga class or watch yoga videos, replace squatting with bridge pose if your baby is breech.
As I tell my childbirth classes, I am a pelvic tilt evangelist. I love pelvic tilts.
Start on all fours, wrists below shoulders, knees below hips. Inhale to create a long, flat back and exhale, drawing your belly in and your spine up to the sky. Repeat this as many times as feels good.
This is a great position to relieve lower back pain and it helps baby get into a good position for birth.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to email me or comment below!