For every woman, even every baby, labor will be unique to them, and for most of us it’s hardly ever a quick sprint. I like to say childbirth is more like running a marathon – you will need focus, muscle endurance, physical stamina and a whole bunch of mind-body connection and control. If you ask anyone who has ever run a marathon what got them through – the answer will be training. Whether you’re the lucky few, or the vast majority, strengthening and stretching the right muscles as you approach your due date will not only prepare you for the challenges of childbirth, but set you up for a speedy postnatal recovery. Unlike a regular marathon that you may or may not finish, at then end of this one, you will get your beautiful baby, so lets get to the training!
During your pregnancy this is one of the most important exercises to practice to help support your spine, pelvis and the growing baby. The muscle this exercise strengthens is called the Transverse Abdominis or TVA - 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, “hug your baby” engages the TVA, helping the uterus in the final contractions to get your baby out and into your arms! It is also the first move you need to practice when you are postnatal to get your abs back in shape!
Set up – Get seated comfortably in neutral – on a physioball, yoga block or bolster, household chair – just make sure you are evenly on your sitting bones.
INHALE – through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and your stomach muscles to completely relax.
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you imagine your TVA wrapping around your baby and hugging it into your spine.
TIP – I like to place one hand on top of my belly just below my sternum and the other hand just below my belly button. Focus on pulling your belly away from your bottom hand, but keeping your top hand where it is so you are not rounding the spine as you do the exercise.
Squats are my favorite exercise to give women all the way through their pregnancy. There are so many variations and challenges you can do, and as your due date approaches, squats continue to be an accessible and functional exercise. Importantly they are an excellent way to strengthen the muscles of the legs and butt and if you plan on going for a natural childbirth, you will need a strong lower body to hold certain recommended birthing positions. The movies have unfortunately made us think women still labor on their back with their legs in stirrups when in fact the squatting position is an awesome way to give birth. The birth canal is in better alignment and there is the added bonus of gravity to help get that bebe out!
Set up – Standing with both feet evenly on the ground – hip distance apart.
INHALE – through your nose as you hinge at the hips, bend and the knee and ankle and sit down into a squat. Imagine reaching your sitting bones back behind you like you are lowering onto a chair.
EXHALE – a long, slow, even breath out your mouth as you first imagine your TVA wrapping around your baby and hugging it into your spine, before you push through your feet, lifting your pelvic floor and standing back up.
TIP – The squat is an excellent place to test your mind-body control and muscle endurance. Hold the squat and breathe 5-10 breaths. Focus on your inhale and exhale and ignore the burning of the muscles. Your uterus contracting during labor to get the baby out is like any other muscle contraction – you need to practice breathing through it.
- PELVIC FLOOR STRETCHING
The Pelvic Floor muscles are really an incredible system made up of three different layers and are required to do some much more than just a kegel squeeze during pregnancy. Over the course of the three trimesters, with the correct instruction, you will have learnt to not only squeeze, but also pull together and lift the pelvic floor muscles to support the baby as it grows. Now in your third trimesters and for childbirth it’s crucial that you begin to really stretch these muscles too to enable 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, 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.
TIP - I recommend adding pelvic floor stretching to your daily routine in the weeks before your due date! You really want to have an awareness of what is feels like to really stretch and release these muscles you’ve been working so hard to strengthen.
- REVERSE BREATHING
When exercising during your pregnancy the breath pattern has been to use your exhale to stabilize and activate the muscles of the body. When you have been targeting the Pelvic Floor muscles you would have been inhaling and feeling them release – exhaling you would be squeezing and lifting them. In labor you will need the power of your exhale to instead fully release the pelvic floor muscles and get your baby out. This is called Reverse Breathing and as you will need to practice this technique for childbirth. It is definitely a curve ball for you preggies, but again, with a little training, you will hit this one out of the park!
INHALE – through your nose and feel your pelvic floor lift. As you inhale the diaphragm, at the same time, will push down.
EXHALE – and make a SSSSSSSSSS sound out your mouth and imagine fully releasing and letting go of the pelvic floor muscles completely. The SSSSSSS sound allows you to also use your TVA to help the uterus in it’s final contractions as the baby comes out.
TIP – Try a few sets of squats with the Reverse Breathing technique. Exahle and release the pelvic floor as you squat down. Inhale and lift the pelvic floor as you stand up.
- STANDING SWAN
If you don’t have a physioball, and if you have the space for it – get one! It is such an awesome prop for any pregnant women and can be a wonderful tool for labor. When you are postnatal it’s a great place to do your core recovery exercises, and even a nice place to soothe a newborn baby. 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. Its 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 though your feet to slowly stand back up – articulating the spine the same way you did on the way down.
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.
Learn all about the BodyLove Pilates method that has you covered from conception – to birth and beyond! https://www.bodylove-pilates.com/pages/our-prenatal-method