Monday, August 13, 2012

Exercise for a Better Birth

Happy Mama Monday, friends!

Today I'm continuing my series, Five Steps to a Better Birth. Last week, I discussed how prenatal nutrition facilitates a better birth. This week, I'd like to go more in depth on how exercise promotes a positive birth experience.

I encourage you to take a look at my post about Exercise in Pregnancy to learn about safe, low impact, effective ways to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy. Today we are going to hone in on some specific ways exercise helps you prepare for the labor and birth experience.

Often, I use the analogy of a marathon to stress the importance of exercise to my doula clients. In the same way you probably wouldn't attempt to run a marathon without training and preparation, neither should you approach the birth of your child without preparing and training your body for the labor it will endure.

For starters, pregnant women should incorporate a balanced amount of aerobics, calisthenics, relaxation techniques and pelvic toning into their exercise routines. These all work together to keep you healthy, strong, and energetic as well as prepare your body for labor, but there are a few specific elements that can go even further to ease the birth process.

1. Tailor Sitting encourages the uterus to move forward, increases circulation and helps to stretch inner thighs. You can sit "crisscross applesauce," as my kids call it, with ankles crossed, "butterfly" style by placing the bottoms of your feet together, or stack ankles and knees as you would in yoga. You can incorporate this position into your warm up or cool down, or use as part of your daily relaxation practice. Try trading that recliner or cushy couch (which don't promote good fetal positioning) for tailor sitting while watching your favorite TV shows!

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2. Squatting encourages proper alignment, which puts pressure on the uterus, preventing arching of the back (which interferes with 2nd stage pushing). It shortens the birth canal and increases the outlet of the pelvis more than 10%! While it's a common position for life, work and birth in cultures all over the world, American women don't often utilize the squatting position for normal daily activities. It's an excellent position to assume for comfort during labor as well as a very effective and favored position for pushing.

Practice squatting by holding firmly to a counter, bed, or dresser for stability, or allow your partner to support you. Then open legs wide enough that when you lower your bottom your knees don't extend out past your toes. Try to lower as far as you can while keeping your heels flat on the floor. You will notice a deep stretch and release of pressure in your lower back as well as some relief on sore hip joints. Try squatting instead of bending over at the waist when you need to retrieve items from a low cabinet or pick something up off of the floor, and use squats as a part of stretching and warm up before exercise!

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3. Pelvic Rocking may be the most important exercise for pregnancy and birth. It promotes so many crucial goals including toning and conditioning lower back and abdominal muscles, relieving pressure, increasing circulation, and can even improve digestion. In the weeks leading up to birth and during the labor process, pelvic rocking can help the baby move down and forward, and promote ideal fetal positioning, eliminating painful back labor.

Practice pelvic rocking by getting on the floor or your bed on your hands and knees. Begin with your back flat (not arched), then allow your belly to relax and fall forward. Your back will arch some, but don't over extend it. Take a couple of deep breaths, then move pelvis forward while your back creates a "C" shape or a "cat stretch." You will notice relief of pressure on your inner organs and lower back.

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4. Kegel Exercises tone your entire pelvic floor which can help prevent tearing during 2nd stage pushing. During pregnancy and after birth it's extremely important to keep these muscles strong. Weak pelvic floor muscles are what lead to leaky bladders and incontinence, as well as discomfort or lack of pleasure during intercourse. Exercise your pelvic floor muscles by tightening the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine and lift up all muscles in your vagina and bottom. Train yourself to do these several times a day by choosing and activity or time of day that is convenient, such as when you reach a stoplight while driving or every hour on the hour.

Beyond birth, these exercises will help you recover from labor and encourage mobility postpartum. Stay healthy and positive and do all you can now to achieve the birth you want!


Aine said...

Whelp, this confirms it!

I've been having some pelvic girdle issues this pregnancy. To make sure the two halves don't come out of alignment, I've been keeping my legs straight and together as much as possible, instead of sitting my favorite way: "criss cross applesauce." (thanks for tipping me off to the more mature sounding "w sitting" by the way!) I notice the last couple days that it felt like my pelvic floor muscles were weaker than usual, and I wondered if the lack of "w" sitting had anything to do with it. I was right!

I guess I'll have to compensate by doing the other exercises more!

Thanks for sharing this!

Aine said...

*sorry, I meant "Tailor sitting"


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