Labour and birth can be likened to running a marathon. You wouldn’t just rock up on the day and hope you make it to the finish line. You wouldn’t prepare yourself mentally, but completely skip the physical prep.
Regular exercise in pregnancy is known to promote easier labour and birth. No one could deny they want it to be as easy as possible right? But truth be told, sometimes the idea of exercise when you’re sore and tired and growing life is just, blah.
So we’ve put together eight exercises you can use through pregnancy that are actually enjoyable AND doable.
To understand why this stuff works, and motivate you to do it, you need to understand that your pelvis and baby work in harmony through pregnancy and birth.
Think of a hot air balloon. The basket is your pelvis. The balloon is your uterus, and the strings are the ligaments that stabilise your uterus to the pelvis.
If the basket (pelvis) is unbalanced, the strings (ligaments) become uneven, taught and sore on one side, loose on the other. This, in turn, pulls the balloon (uterus) out of alignment… meaning baby too will sit in a suboptimal position.
These exercises balance the pelvis, promote optimal positioning of babe, improve endurance, promote a more in-tune knowledge of how your baby and body work together and improve your emotional wellbeing… all of which equals an easier birth.
So when is the best time to start? The short answer is as soon as you become pregnant. But don’t worry. If you’re 8 months deep you haven’t missed the boat! You can still benefit from doing these regularly.
1. Build Leg And Pelvic Strength With Squats & Lunges
We’re not talking twerking, burpees, wall holds, or anything else of such torturous nature. I’m talking deep, hip and pelvic opening squats and lunges. If you’re not a flexy yogi goddess, that’s ok!
Sit in a deep squat a couple of times a day. Notice how open your pelvis feels. How your pelvic shape changes if you tuck your sacrum or shift it backwards. Lunge a leg forward. Notice how the pelvis opens more on one side when you move the leg so the knee is at a right angle, and then do the other.
Our baby needs to navigate the many curves of the pelvis in labour – the inlet, the outlet, the sacrum and all things in between. Squatting and lunging daily and in labour will help this happen.
We use these exercises in pregnancy to build strength and endurance, and in labour to promote opening and more space for baby to come through.
It is ideal to learn belly mapping, ie what position your baby is in, so that you and your midwife can determine what the best squat or lunge position is for you and your baby. It’s not a one size fits all approach.
2. Walk Out The Aches And Pains
Regular walking in pregnancy can increase your chance of a vaginal birth in so many ways. It supports healthy weight gain for Mama and healthy weight of baby. Walking also improves circulation, and cardiac/respiratory strength, helps shift swelling, and reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. It releases tensions and aches, as well as being free and easily accessible.
Walking really is the all-rounder for promoting a healthy pregnancy and birth. Got a dog? Why not start training them to walk alongside the pram before baby arrives.
3. Become Acquainted With The Exercise Ball
One of the best ways to get the most out of an exercise ball is to have it just sitting in your living room at all times. Seeing it will be a prompt to stop slouching back into the sofa and adopt a more favourable position.
There’s lots of ways you can get creative with an exercise ball. My favourite was sitting back on my haunches, knees either side of the ball and just slumping my arms over the top of it. This is such a good back stretch.
You could use a similar position but in a more ‘all fours’ style, with the booty higher and the arms/chin resting on the ball.
Lastly, the bounce. Sooo many women have seen the movies where pregnant women bounce up and down on an exercise ball to get baby out. It won’t work!
Think of a cup with a golf ball in it. Bounce the cup and and down, and the ball will just bounce out. However… if you swivel the cup around, the ball will spin around and remain in it. This is how you can encourage your baby to engage into your pelvis in late pregnancy! Hip circles on the ball with a bit of bounce are good – bouncing straight up and down is bad.
4. Stand On Your Head
Most women have never heard of a ‘forward leaning inversion’ before. It’s pretty easy to find videos of it on Youtube. Basically, you have your knees on the edge of the sofa or bed, and lean forward onto your elbows so that your bum is up and your head is down. It’s best to watch a video before you give it a go. It can give you a head rush if you do it too quick and abruptly.
The benefits of FLI’s in pregnancy include balancing the pelvis, promoting optimal positioning of babe, and untwisting ligaments of the lower uterus.
Forward leaning inversions are great in pregnancy, but can be used in labour too! With the support of an awesome Midwife of course. If baby is entering the pelvis with their head a bit wonky in labour, a FLI through several contractions/surges can assist in lengthening the ligaments, reducing tightness, and aid baby’s head into a more favourable position. It can be uncomfortable during contractions, but think of it as short term pain for long term gain.
5. Have A Water Baby
Swimming is a great exercise for pregnancy for so many reasons. It is gentle on the body and joints. It’s a forward leaning position. It’s quite a decent workout without the overheating, sweat and aches and pains. And it makes you feel weightless… I’ll never forget walking up the ramp out of the pool at 38 weeks pregnant and feeling the weight of my enormous belly coming back. Only then did I realise just how much swimming helped my poor achy body.
All you need is 30 minutes. Bonus… slowly walking through the shallow end counts!
Swimming can ease sciatic pain as it helps take the weight of baby off the pelvis and sacrum. For Mamas experiencing swelling of the feet and legs, swimming can ease this too. Some women say the cool water even eases their morning sickness.
But best of all, it improves your muscle tone and endurance, meaning easier labour and birth.
6. Balance Your Pelvis With Yoga
Hands down, yoga was THE best thing I did in pregnancy for physical wellbeing in pregnancy, and endurance in labour. I was already doing a bit of yoga routinely pre peeing on a stick, so I continued with that class and my instructor was great at giving me guidance in adapting the poses and movements to pregnancy. If you are new to yoga, it’s recommended to find a pregnancy specific class.
The benefits of yoga in pregnancy that you can find on the internet are reduced aches and pains, a stronger pelvic floor, more balanced pelvis/uterus/ligaments meaning optimal positioning of babe, increased flexibility and strength, and improved emotional wellbeing.
As a yogi, Mum and Midwife, I’d add so much more to that. Yoga improves circulation, preventing blood clots and shifting swelling. It improves cardiac/respiratory functioning (big players in carrying a baby). It teaches you how to connect to your breath and use breath to support the physical body (essential in birth!), and it teaches you understanding of your chakras, or body energies. Super helpful in understanding contractions and how our bodies move baby through the pelvis and into our arms. Not to mention ‘downward facing dog’ is basically a forward-leaning inversion.
If worse comes to worst and you feel you are physically done three-quarters of the way into a class, they’ve got child’s pose for that!
Last but not least, savasana. Oh, sweet savasana. The bit at the end where you get to lay on the floor doing nothing. This is AWESOME prep for labour and birth because it challenges you to work on quietening the mind.
7. Avoid Reclining
Reclining and slouching back is a sure bet for a posterior baby. That’s when baby’s back is lying along your spine, and it’s a pretty crappy position for both pregnancy and labour.
When you’re in the car, move your seat up a little, maintaining safety and comfort of course. Seatbelt always under the bump, not across it.
If you have a deep sofa at home, prop yourself up with some cushions or pillows so you don’t lay back so much. Better still, sit right forward, knees wide apart and let your baby bump sit between your legs. Hands or elbows rested softly on the legs.
This is important to do from early pregnancy, even when you don’t have much of a bump, because you will need time to become accustomed to sitting in a position you wouldn’t automatically adopt.
One way I got my forward leaning time in was by swapping out the mop for a cloth and cleaning the floor tiles on my hands and knees. It’s amazing how much grime you can spot when you’re at eye level with it! Perfect for the nesting Mama.
8. Sleep On Your Side The Right Way
I left the best for last. Sleep. We all know not to sleep on our back in pregnancy. But do you know how to lay on your side in a way that promotes optimal positioning of baby?
The ‘leg hang’ is literally that. Laying on your side right at the edge of the bed, hips and shoulders stacked on each other (body not twisted) let your top leg hang off the bed, without resting the foot on anything. Your legs should look like an upside down ‘L’.
You shouldn’t do this exercise all night. This is for when you first get into bed and you’re quieting the mind. If you feel baby’s back is more on one side (left or right) lay on that side. Yep, this means you may need to give up your favourite side of the bed… temporarily.
Once you have finished this exercise, you should move to your left side and prop pillows between your thighs, knees and ankles to support and balance the hips, and drift off to sleep knowing you’ve adopted a safer position for bub. Don’t worry, I’m sure every woman in the world has woken up having rolled onto her back in her sleep.
Some extra strategies I encourage my clients to use to balance the pelvis and prepare physically are finding a decent pregnancy chiropractor and having a look at ‘belly mapping’ and the Spinning Babies website.
So when is the best time to start these exercises? The short answer is as soon as you become pregnant. But don’t worry. If you’re 8 months deep you haven’t missed the boat! You can still benefit from doing these regularly.
Like anything, you get out what you put in. You’ll benefit most if you do at least two of these exercises daily… and no, I don’t mean the sleep one. In pregnancy, it’s always best to do a little bit consistently instead of a lot sporadically. Again… marathon training.
You’ll be surprised at just how capable your body (and mind) can be if you give it the time and love it needs to thrive.