With only weeks left in this pregnancy, birth has been on my mind.
Like, A LOT.
My body has been growing and changing so much to accommodate this little life, and I’m finding new interesting aches and sensations every day. As I plan for birthing this sweet babe, moving my body has been so incredibly important. Not just to address the new aches and pains, but to optimize my body for birth.
They say giving birth is a marathon, right? And you wouldn’t show up to your first marathon without training and preparing for it, and I think it’s important that the same be done in preparation for birth!
Here are 7 exercises that I’ve been incorporating into my everyday life:
Hug Your Baby
Ahhh I’m starting off with my favorite movement – one that makes me feel more connected to babe, and allows me the time and space to breathe and have our hearts beat together.
This exercise strengthens the transverse abdominis (TVA), which wraps around the midsection of your body. When activated correctly, it cinches, lengthens, and importantly during childbirth, it compresses. During the pushing phase of labor, this helps the uterus in the final contractions to get your baby out. It’s also the first move you’ll want to get back to practicing postnatal to get your abs back online.
How to do it:
1. You can do this seated, lying down with knees bent, standing, or even sitting on an exercise ball. Make sure you’re comfortable in a neutral position.
2. Place hands on each side of your rib cage so you can feel your ribs expand outward with each inhalation and feel your fingers draw in and towards each other with each exhale.
3. Inhale through your nose, allowing your belly to fill with air, your ribs expand outward and your stomach muscles to completely relax.
4. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out the mouth making an S sound as you focus on pulling in from the four corners of your abdominal region – hip bones, and both sides of rib cages. Keep your spine long. Essentially, visualize your transverse abdominis (TVA) hugging your baby.
Squats are one of the most accessible and functional exercises, even as your due date approaches. They’re an excellent way to strengthen your legs and butt – and if you’re planning a natural childbirth, you’ll need a strong lower body to hold some recommended birthing positions. And, deep squats help relax and lengthen the pelvic floor muscles and stretch the perineum.
Squatting is a powerful way to give birth – your birth canal is in alignment, it opens the pelvic outlet an extra ¼ – ½ inch to allow more room for baby to emerge, and you have the help of gravity to help move baby down the birth canal.
How to do them:
1. Stand with both feet evenly on the ground, slightly wider than hip distance apart, toes pointing slightly outward. Inhale through the nose as you hinge at the hips, bend at the knee and sit your butt back into a squat. Imagine reaching your sitting bones back like you’re lowering into a chair.
2. Once you’re down in the squat, engage your buttocks, and gently press knees outward so your knees extend directly over your big toes.
3. As you push through your feet to come up, exhale a long, slow, even breath out the mouth as you imagine your TVA wrapping around your baby and hugging it into your spine. Push through your feet, engaging your pelvic floor, standing back up.
Pelvic floor stretches
The pelvic floor muscles help support the pelvic organs: the uterus, bladder, and bowels. If you tone them, you’ll ease many discomforts of late pregnancy such as hemorrhoids and urine leakage. And learning to properly engage and release the pelvic floor during pregnancy will help tremendously when it comes time to birth your baby.
How to do them:
1. 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.
2. Inhale through the nose as you slowly slide down the wall. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of the mouth continuing down the wall, allowing the pelvic floor to fully release until you reach your yoga block/pillows.
3. Once down, butterfly your knees open and gently apply pressure just above the knees for an additional stretch. Hold for 90 seconds. Close knees and repeat.
And, while we’re talking pelvic floor muscles …
As your baby puts on the pounds inside your uterus during pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles have to support more and more weight. Sometimes, they’re not fully up to the job. If you notice occasional urine leaking — when you cough, sneeze or try to go on a jog — that’s because your over-burdened pelvic floor muscles aren’t able to fully support your bladder and internal organs the way they usually do.
Research has suggested that women who do pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy may have a shorter active phase of labor than other women. And as if that’s not enough, Kegels have even been shown to boost your sexual health and pleasure and help you reach orgasm more easily ;).
How to do them:
1. Try to stop the flow of urine when you are sitting on the toilet without tightening your abdominal, buttock, or thigh muscles. When you’re able to successfully start and stop urinating, or you feel the vaginal muscle contract, you are using your pelvic floor muscle, the muscle you should be contracting during Kegel exercises.
2. To do slow Kegels, engage the pelvic floor muscle – it was described to me as imagine slurping a thick smoothie through a straw with your vagina muscles as you draw the pelvic floor up) – then hold for three to 10 seconds. Relax and repeat up to 10 times.
3. To do fast Kegels, quickly contract and relax your pelvic floor muscle 25 to 50 times. Relax for 5 seconds and repeat the set up to four times.
4. I also like women to practice the analogy of an elevator – as you engage the pelvic floor imagine you’re moving up the elevator slowly: first floor, second floor, third floor (pausing briefly at each floor), then slowly release – 3rd floor, 2nd, 1st, releasing all the way down into the basement so you learn how to fully release the pelvic floor which is important for birth.
This is an exercise that strengthens and stretches muscles in your back, thighs, and pelvis, and improves your posture. It also keeps your pelvic joints flexible, improves blood flow to your lower body, and eases delivery.
How to do it:
1. Sit on the floor with your back straight in the “butterfly position” (the bottoms of your feet together and your knees dropped outwards comfortably).
2. As you press both knees gently toward the floor using your elbows, you should feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Don’t bounce your knees up and down rapidly. If you find it difficult at first to keep your back straight, use a wall to support your back.
3. Hold the position for 10 or 15 seconds and repeat the stretch five or 10 times.
Pelvic Tilts with Cat Cow
Pelvic tilts strengthen abdominal muscles, help relieve backache during pregnancy and labor, can help get baby in optimal positioning for birth, and ease delivery. This exercise can also improve the flexibility of your back, and ward off back pain.
How to do them:
1. Get comfortably on your hands and knees, keeping the back of your head in line with your spine, with your wrists directly below your shoulders.
2. Inhale, pulling your stomach in, arching the middle of the spine towards the ceiling, with your chin tucked into your chest (cat). Hold this position for several seconds.
3. Exhale, relaxing your stomach and letting gravity pull it towards the ground, while looking up to the sky (cow). Hold this position for several seconds.
4. Repeat this exercise three to five times. Gradually work your way up to 10 repetitions.
This movement combines core strength, lower body endurance, spinal mobility, pelvic floor stretching, and gives you the opportunity to practice your breath work.
How to do it:
1. Stand with legs apart and externally rotated, with an exercise ball just in front of you.
2. Inhale through your nose, nod your chin, and begin to roll down. As you do, place your hands on the ball and start to push ball out in front.
3. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of your mouth as you continue to push the ball, folding at the hips, bending your knees, and reaching sit bones out behind until your arms are straight and your body is almost parallel to the mat. Inhale through your nose and hold the position.
4. Exhale a long, slow, even breath out of your mouth as you engage your TVA and hug your baby while lifting and engaging your pelvic floor. Then round your lower back into a C-curve while pushing through your feet to stand back up, articulating the spine the same way you did on the way down.
What movements did you practice leading up to birth?
If you guys are lookin’ to level up your at-home movement practice, you HAVE to check out my favorite pre and postnatal online fitness studio – Studio Bloom. Their online classes and evidence-based methods empower every stage of motherhood – from preconception and prenatal, all the way through postpartum and beyond.
Hey, and while we’re talkin’ birth prep, check out these blog posts about the importance of a birth team:
Why You Need a Birth Team, Part 1: How Women Helping Women Impacts Birth OutcomesWhy You Need a Birth Team, Part 2: Hospital, Home, or Birth Center?Why You Need a Birth Team, Part 3: Choosing Your Doula and Midwife
And, if you’re anything like me, and you’re prepping mentally for everything that comes after birth, don’t forget to check out What to Expect from Your Postpartum Body!
Wanna chat movement, nutrition, or postpartum? Find a time that works for you, and let’s connect!