Exercises to help you during pregnancy and labour
Published on September 1, 2014
No one — not your doctor, midwife, or even your mother — can reliably predict how your labour will progress. Fortunately, there are a few exercises you can do to help prepare your body for what’s to come on that very special day…
Kegels for you
Kegel exercises are small internal contractions of the pelvic floor muscles that support your urethra, bladder, uterus, and rectum. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles improves circulation to your rectal and vaginal area, helping to keep haemorrhoids at bay and speeding healing after an episiotomy or tear, if you have one during childbirth.
There’s even some evidence suggesting that strong pelvic floor muscles may shorten the pushing stage of labour. You can do Kegels anywhere — sitting at your computer, watching TV, even standing in line at the supermarket. Here’s how:
Tighten the muscles around your vagina as if trying to interrupt the flow of urine when going to the bathroom.
Hold for a count of four, then release. Repeat 10 times. Try to work up to three or four sets about three times a day.
Pelvic tilt or angry cat
This variation of the pelvic tilt, done on all fours, strengthens the abdominal muscles and eases back pain during pregnancy and labour. Get down on your hands and knees, arms shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart, keeping your arms straight but not locking the elbows. As you breathe in, tighten your abdominal muscles and tuck your buttocks under and round your back. Relax your back into a neutral position as you breathe out. Repeat at your own pace, following the rhythm of your breath.
It may not be the most elegant position, but squatting is a time-honoured way of preparing for and giving birth. This exercise strengthens your thighs and helps open your pelvis. Stand facing the back of a chair with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, toes pointed outward. Hold the back of the chair for support. Contract your abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Then lower your tailbone towards the floor as though you were sitting down on a chair. Find your balance — most of your weight should be toward your heels. Take a deep breath in and then exhale, pushing into your legs to rise to a standing position.
Tailor or Cobbler pose
This position can help open your pelvis and loosen your hip joints in preparation for birth. It can also improve your posture and ease tension in your lower back. Sit up straight against a wall with the soles of your feet touching each other (sit on a folded towel if that’s more comfortable for you). Gently press your knees down and away from each other, but don’t force them. Stay in this position for as long as you’re comfortable.
In pregnancy, the combined exercise and relaxation that yoga brings is a welcomed addition to your exercise routines. You may take pregnancy specific classes or modify certain poses in pregnancy, as led by your instructor. There are also DVDs available with pregnancy-specific yoga poses available. Use yoga to stretch and focus in pregnancy.
Pilates is a very popular form of exercise. Women who have been doing Pilates prior to pregnancy can continue to do it even during pregnancy. Pilates can be modified for anyone and is also great postpartum. Since the core muscles are prime in Pilates and very used in pregnancy, be sure to find an instructor who is qualified to work with pregnant women.
Swimming can relieve you of many aches and pains in pregnancy. Water is a known comfort as it eases strain on muscles that are stretched and challenged in pregnancy. It also helps you deal with the added weight your body is carrying.
- Check with your health care provider if you experience any of the following exercise warning signs during pregnancy:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Unusual pain
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Racing heartbeat or chest pain
- Fluid leaking from your vagina
- Uterine contractions
- Muscle cramps
- Stop if you feel tired, too hot, cramped, light headed or dizzy
- Remember to start slowly and work at your own level for each exercise