Childbirth was not designed to be difficult. Watch any live birthing animal undisturbed and it is clear how much instinct kicks in and relaxed the animal is. This is in stark contrast to the portrayal of the human animal in labor… tense, in pain and often screaming obscenities! So, what’s the difference?
Modern humans have made a lot of technological advances (chairs, amirite?) that go against the natural tendencies of the human body. Sitting in chairs, or on toilets has replaced our need to squat during these times for instance. This isn’t of course, to say that these are bad things, merely that we don’t work many of the muscles that aid in the childbirth process.
The following exercises will help make labor and childbirth easier. The sooner you start the better the results (bonus points for starting these before pregnancy!)
1. Kegels – Truthfully all women will benefit from kegels. These easy exercises strengthen the muscles that comprise the pelvic floor – the support for your bladder, bowels, and uterus. Proper toning of this muscle group can aid with urinary incontinence and hemorrhoids. During childbirth, it allows you to have better control of the vaginal muscles, and may help with the crowning of baby. Very weakened muscles can be accidentally cut during an episiotemy making healing more difficult. Luckily, kegels are easy to do and can even be done discreetly. To find the kegel, stop the flow of urine while using the bathroom (don’t do this often, as stopping the flow of urine can cause problems). This is the muscle you want to work. Simply flex and relax the muscle. It can be a simple flex release, you can hold it for a few seconds, or you can do ‘stairs’ gradually flexing the muscle and gradually releasing. Start with 25 per day, and gradually increase the amount. Birth Boot Camp has a great article on kegals if you would like more information.
2. Squats – Before chairs and toilets became commonplace, squatting was how humans would do their business. Squatting has benefits to everyone, but is especially useful during pregnancy. It can realign the body and aid in constipation, reduce pressure on the pelvic floor, and help stretch the perineum (which may reduce tearing in first time mothers). During labor, it can reduce the length of the birth canal by up to 10%. Start slowly. If you haven’t been regularly squatting, you may find you have a lot of tightness in your calves; this is normal. Your eventual goal is to get your bottom as close to floor as possible without raising your heels. Try using squats for things you’d normally bend over for (picking items up off the ground etc). Birth Boot Camp has a great pictorial demonstration of the squat.
3. Meditation – Being able to release tension and relax is one of the best pain management techniques for labor. Tightening muscles can intensify pain and make contractions more difficult. Allowing the body to relax into contractions and releasing stress can actually make labor go quicker. Practice daily learning to relax. Tighten muscles in your body one at a time starting with your feet and ending with your head (grind teeth, furrow your brow) and release to learn what tension feels like. If you have a partner have them learn what tension in your body feels like so they can identify it in labor. If a thought comes about, let it float away, or consider writing down birthing affirmations. Start practicing meditation early – practice makes perfect. You want this to be a skill you don’t have to think about.
4. Walking (Or some form of Aerobic Exercise) – Labor is like a marathon… You need to start out conserving energy so you have enough to make it to the finish line. And just when you can’t think you can do anymore – you do! Walking is a great way to improve stamina for labor and it is relatively low impact, making it a good exercise for many women. Plus, walking has been shown to increase the speed of labor by helping to move the baby farther down into the birth canal and reduce the need for an epidural.
Labor is definitely hard work, no doubt about it, but by starting these exercises now, you will greatly improve your labor outcome.
What are you doing to prepare yourself for birth?