The thought of giving birth can be daunting as hell. You may wonder if you have the physical and emotional strength to actually do it. (You do.)
If you’re worried, have a talk with your doctor or physical therapist. They can advise you on safe ways to keep exercising while pregnant, with a focus on building strength for the physical feat of giving birth. A midwife, doula or birth class instructor can also word you up on useful mental techniques to help you prepare for labor – exercises to do while pregnant to alleviate anxiety and adopt the right mindset.
While your care providers will offer advice suited to your body and pregnancy, we’ve gathered some general info on physical and mental exercises you can do to prepare for labor and birth. (Plus some cheeky insights into exercise to help induce labor, for when you’re really ready to get this show on the road.)
Best physical exercises for childbirth
For pregnant women, this is one of the best ways to strengthen your pelvic floor. It’s great to do in preparation for a vaginal or c-section birth – either way, your pelvic area will have taken a beating during pregnancy.
How to do it: Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (as if you’re holding in a wee), hold for three to five seconds, then relax them. Repeat 10 times. Try to do this three times a day throughout pregnancy.
Physical therapists from UT Southwestern highly recommend pelvic floor exercises for childbirth prep. Deep squats can help relax and lengthen your pelvic floor muscles, while stretching the perineum.
How to do it: Stand with your legs apart wider than your hips, then squat down as far as you can go. Do a few of these each day.
Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center
This can be a useful exercise to prepare for labor as it teaches you to push without holding your breath (which isn’t ideal for labor). You can do perineal bulges in the last three weeks of your pregnancy, but AVOID if you’ve experienced premature rupture of the membranes, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, or pelvic organ prolapse.
How to do it: Perineal bulges should be done in the positions that you plan on giving birth in. Sit upright (or in your chosen position) and press the area between your vagina and rectum towards the floor. You can use a mirror to ensure the perineal area is ‘bulging’.
The perineal body.
Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center
Best mental exercises for childbirth
Breathing exercises for labor
Breathing exercises are often taught in birth classes like Lamaze and Calm Birth. They’re a great way to draw your attention away from the pain and stay relaxed during labor. Evidence shows they’re most useful when done together with other methods like affirmations or meditation.
Here are some breathing exercises to do while pregnant to practice for labor:
- Horses’ breath – Release breaths slowly through relaxed lips (like a horse neighing, or like you’re trying to play the trumpet). Give it a shot when struck by an episode of lightning crotch or other type of pregnancy pain.
- Belly breathing – Place a hand on your belly and feel it rise as you take a deep breath in. Breathe out through pursed lips (like you’re whistling) and use the hand on your belly to push all the air out.
- Pant-pant-blow breathing – This technique can be useful during contractions. Take a big breath in at the start of a contraction, then breathe out with two short pants followed by a longer blow. You might sound like the little train that could, but go with it.
Nadine Richardson, Australian doula and founder of the She Births course, has built affirmation practices into her course because she believes they’re so powerful. She suggests using them to bridge the gap between the mental and physical sides of birth.
“Birth is so physical,” she says, “so do your affirmations while you’re walking up hills or doing physical activity.”
How to do it: Find your affirmation of choice (Nadine’s example is, “I’m strong and supported. I’m calm and relaxed.”) then practice saying it while exerting yourself.
While it’s essential to consider all outcomes of birth, Nadine encourages women to expect the best, using the power of positive thinking.
She says, “If you want to have a beautiful birth, look through all possible scenarios and then circle back to your birth plan. Entertain only the positive. Yes, prepare for all of it, but expect the best.”
She also believes women should actively listen to positive birth stories in the lead-up.
How to do it: To start with, read these 10 positive birth stories!
Best exercises to help induce labor
When you get to the pointy end of your pregnancy, you may try anything to get labor underway (let’s get this sh*t DONE!). While there’s no evidence that there are exercises to induce labor fast, studies have shown that some techniques may help you progress more quickly once labor has begun. These include:
- Hip rolls on a birthing ball – Tried using an exercise ball to induce labor? (Just bounce that baby right out?) You may experience more success when contractions have started. Sit on the ball and move your hips in a circular motion.
- Birthing style squat – Squat right down so your butt is almost on the floor and your legs are spread wide. This will help open your hips and relax your pelvic floor.
- Quadruped rocks – Get on your hands and knees. Try rocking back and forth gently, to help open up your hips and pelvis for birth.
- Happy baby – Lie on your back, supported by pillows if you like. Spread your legs wide and hold onto your feet or calves. Gently rocking side to side can feel amazing, and breathing deeply will help your body relax.
As intense as it is, labor and childbirth is one of the most amazing and empowering experiences of your life. It’s not something to be scared of. Working through this mental barrier can work wonders in preparing you for it. Remember, your body was built for this! Trust it and help it prepare where possible. As always, get advice from your medical care team before launching into new types of exercise during pregnancy.