How To Prepare Your Body for Childbirth by Ali Handley
By the time you are in the later stages of your 3rd trimester your body has already experienced extensive changes but now you face the final hurdle in your transformation – childbirth. I like to think of labor like a marathon, and like any race you should train for it. Preparing your body for the challenges that lie ahead will ensure you have the physical stamina, muscles endurance and body awareness you need. The incredible reward at the finish line – your baby.
If you do plan on natural childbirth, having strong legs will be crucial to ensure you can hold some of the recommended birthing positions, allowing gravity to assist you get your baby out. Squatting can also help the baby get into the right head down position in the lead up.
Inhale – through your nose and sit back into the squat.
Exhale – out your mouth and first feel your belly button pull into your spine, keep this connection as you push through your feet and stand back up.
REPS – 3 sets of 8
Challenge – Hold a low squat between each set for 8 breaths or 30 secs. This is great practise for the mind control you will need for labor. Focus on keeping your breaths long & even. This skill can be used during a contraction.
TIP – Make sure you feet remain in parallel and are only slightly wider than hip distance apart. It can be damaging to the hip socket if the feet are too wide apart and be make sure that your knees track over your second toes so to avoid knee pain and damage.
Plies – practising the Reverse Breathing technique
Plies are a wonderful exercise that not only strengthens your lower body, providing support for your pelvis and growing baby, but also a great way to bring awareness and connection to your pelvic floor muscles. Reverse breathing is an important technique to learn as you approach the birth. This is the breath pattern you will use in the pushing phase of labor. It’s important to master this skill and be able to harness the power of your exhale to fully release the pelvic floor so the baby can come out.
SET-UP – Standing with legs wide apart and your feet externally rotated (think 2nd position in ballet) – knees tracking over the second toes.
Inhale – Through your nose & grow tall through your spine.
Exhale – a long slow even breath out your mouth and bend your knees, lowering straight down into a plié. Focus on a full release of your pelvic floor as you lower down
Inhale again – through your nose & lift the pelvic floor, hug your baby to your spine, push through your feet and stand back up to the start position.
REPS – 3 sets of 8
Challenge – Hold the plie in between each set and practise the reverse breathing technique whilst your pelvic floor is stretched out. 8 Breaths for each hold.
If you don’t have a physioball by now – go out and buy one! It is such an awesome prop for any pregnant women and can be a wonderful tool during labor. You will be able to use it for your postpartum recovery exercises, and it’s even a nice place to soothe a newborn baby, mimicking the weightlessness of the womb. The Standing Swan combines core strength, lower body endurance, spinal mobility, pelvic floor stretching and gives you the opportunity to practice the Reverse Breathing technique. It’s kinda the mac daddy of labor preparation exercises.
Set-up – Standing legs apart and externally rotated with the physioball just in front of your legs.
INHALE – through your nose, nod your chin and begin to roll-down. As your do, place your hands on the ball and start to push the ball out in front of you.
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you continue to push the ball, folding at the hips, bending the knees and reaching your sits bones out behind you until your arms are straight and body is almost parallel to the mat.
INHALE – through your nose and hold the position
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you hug your baby to your spine, lift your pelvic floor, rounding your low back into a c curve, pushing through your feet to slowly stand back up – articulating the spine the same way you did on the way down.
Challenge – Swan on the ball is also a wonderful place to find some thoracic extension. Once you are in the down position – keep your arms straight & pull the ball toward you on an exhale, lift your head and shoulders as you do. Rep – 8
TIP – When you are down in the swan position – practice your reverse breathing for 5 breaths. This will challenge your legs and also stretch your pelvic floor.
Pelvic Floor Stretching
As you approach childbirth it’s a good idea to become familiar with the activation and release of your pelvic floor. Having an identity with this incredible system of muscles will help you immensely during the crowning stage, and postpartum it will help you with a speedy postpartum recovery. In the final weeks of your pregnancy you need to begin to stretch your Pelvic Floor muscles so they can fully release, enabling the baby to come out. There are lots of ways to gently stretch out the pelvic floor – in a plié, child’s pose or just sitting with your feet together and knees apart (butterfly stretch), but this wall slide is a nice way to incorporate breath into it as well.
SET-UP– Place a yoga block or stack of pillows against the wall. Stand with your back to the wall with your feet out in front of you.
INHALE – through your nose as you begin to slowly slide down the wall.
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you continue down the wall allowing your pelvic floor to fully release.
Keep going down and keep feeling the pelvic floor stretch until you reach the yoga block/pillows. Once you are down, slowly butterfly the knees open and gently apply pressure just above the knees to get an additional stretch. Hold the stretch for 90 secs. Close the knees and then repeat again.
REPS – 3 x Daily
TIP – Never hold a stretch too long -= around 30-40 sec if enough. You can always repeat the stretch. The pregnancy hormone Relaxin has been working on your pelvis for nearly 40 weeks now, loosening the ligaments & relaxing muscles so you want to be careful that you don’t go too far in a stretch and damage the joints.
During your pregnancy, the foundation of all your prenatal workouts should be deep core breathing exercises – a strong core will help support your spine, pelvis and the growing baby. One of the main deep core muscles is the Transverse Abdominus – it wraps around the midsection of the body like a pair of spanx. When activated correctly it cinches, lengthens and importantly during childbirth, it compresses. During the pushing phase of labor, “TVA Counting” engages the TVA, helping the uterus in the final contractions to get your baby out and into your arms – the longer you can maintain the activation, the more assistance it is giving the uterus! It is also a great move to do when you are postnatal to get your abs back in shape!
SET-UP – Seated in neutral spine and pelvis on a physioball, yoga block or bolster, a household chair.
INHALE – through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and muscles relax.
EXHALE– a long, slow, even breath out your mouth and image pulling your belly button all the way to your spine, the TVA wrapping around your midsection – cinching and lengthening. Hold that connection and begin to count out loud. Make sure to take small sips of air as you count. The goal is to be able to maintain the connection whilst breathing.
REPS – Start out by counting to 10 and build to 25. 10 sets of 10 or 4 sets of 25
Challenge – do the exercise in the All-Fours position with gravity working against you.
TIP – Try making an SSSSSSSSS sound as you exhale. This is a great breathing pattern to use when you are in the pushing phase – much, much better than holding your breath & baring down.
Ali Handley is a New York based Pilates instructor, mother of two young children, and the founder of BodyLove Pilates. BodyLove is a dedicated online studio with a growing library of 250+ video workouts for pregnant and postnatal women to ensure they work out smarter, safer and more effectively during this important time in their lives. BodyLove-Pilates.com