Labor and delivery will happen the way it needs to happen. Whether you bring your baby in the world via a vaginal delivery or C-section, you’re about to do the most incredible thing. Remember, we were made to give birth and your body (and baby) already know exactly what to do! It’s an experience we have to completely surrender to. Women can go into labor without any prep whatsoever and still have a very successful birth. However, understanding what is happening, both physically and emotionally, will help you interpret the signals more effectively as well as allow you to adapt if your birth plan ends up looking a little different than you perhaps anticipated. With this knowledge, you’ll feel more empowered and confident going in to the most important workout of your life.
BREATHING AND YOUR PELVIC FLOOR:
Breathing is an integral part of birth and having some awareness of both correct breathing and how to relax your pelvic floor is a powerful tool to use during the process. Focusing on your breathing during active labor and as you push can:
- Help you manage pain;
- Help you remain calm and give you a sense of control;
- Help you relax your pelvic floor
Before learning to relax your pelvic floor, it’s important to feel and know the difference between a contraction and a release. Often, the women I work with have a hard time relaxing, or know what that sensation feels like. Begin by gently contracting the muscle to feel what tightening and lifting feels like. Imagine contracting your rectum and pulling it to your pubic bone. Try and do this without squeezing your glutes aggressively together or lifting your entire body to squeeze.
Next, take a slow, gentle breath through the nose. Relax your glutes, relax your jaw. Imagine your whole body as a canister that you are filling with air, you should be expanding in all directions: front, side and back. Belly and ribcage should move. At the same time, focus on the area between your sits bones relaxing and widening to allow the pelvic floor muscles to lengthen and let go. Exhale slowly through the mouth. It may take a few breaths to feel yourself ‘let go’ and its often easiest to begin this lying on your back. I will go into the full breathing mechanics, including demonstrations, in a different post.
Once you have mastered your breathing and the release and relax of the pelvic floor, it’s time to try this in different positions. Some may feel easier than others. For many women, laboring on your back can be very uncomfortable and ineffective. Essentially, the pelvis is in a tucked under position and because of this the pelvis is unable to move, nor is gravity helping baby move through the pelvis. Knowing and exploring ideas for laboring positions prior to birth may help you feel more prepared, as well as familiarize yourself with the sensations of relaxing in this positions.
These positions are:
- Side Lying:
- Hands and Knees
- Leaning Forward
Even if have an epidural, ask your midwife what positions they can help you get in to in order to help progress labor and provide you with more comfort. You do not have to spend the whole time on your back!
EXERCISES TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PRENATAL PROGRAM AT 35+ WEEKS:
At 35+ weeks I recommend dedicating time 3-5 times a week on relaxing the pelvic floor, hip mobility, getting comfortable in common pushing positions and including movements that release tension and generally feel good on your body. You can still do all of these alongside you strength training workouts.
- Deep Squat on a Yoga Block: Standing with your feet wider than hip with apart, placing a yoga block underneath you. Slowly lower yourself down into a deep squat, I have used a rack for extra support. This allowed me to keep a more upright, relaxed posture. You should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings, hips and really visualize opening the pelvis with this stretch. From here, practice deep breathing for 10 reps. **Also showing a deep squat without a yoga block for a more intense stretch.
2. Happy Baby (Shown in marching variation): If you are comfortable lying on your back, bring your knees out wide towards your armpits and slowly rock back and forth in this position. You can also make this more dynamic and less intense, by doing one leg at a time.
3. Quadruped Rockback with Internal Rotation: We often think of wide knees and external rotation for more space (squats). Squats open the top of the pelvis and can help with the babies engagement but as labor progresses more internal rotation (knees towards the midline) is required. Internal rotation helps the pelvic outlet open more and allows the baby to rotate through the pelvis. Difficulty in the babies rotation can result in labor slowing. Therefore we want exercises that incorporate both external AND internal rotation in our birth prep to build strength and full range of motion of our pelvis.
4. Side Lying Internal Rotation: If you are in bed pushing, or receive an epidural you can try a side lying position. Here I am strengthening in Internal rotation, as well as using a pilates ball to engage my abdominals on the exhale.
5. 90/90 Hip Extension or Shin box: a great way to train hip mobility. In this position it challenges flexion and external rotation for the front hip while the back hip is in the abduction and internal rotation. Adding the hip extension and then slowly lower back down to the ground, will also improve eccentric glute strength and activation.
6. Hip Cirles: As well as just feeling really good, the benefits of doing hip circles on a ball include: supporting ligaments and muscles in the pelvic area so the baby can settle optimally, helps open pelvis and strengthens your low back. You can also use the birthing ball during labor to help with painful contractions and coax baby into a better position.
7. Supported Childs Pose: As well as lengthening the pelvic floor muscles, it eases discomfort and just feels really good on a very pregnant body. Again, this can be a position you use during labor if you are yet to receive an epidural.
8. Supported Lateral Lunge: Opens the inner thighs, which helps lengthen your pelvic floor. You can also help build strength and endurance in this position. This may be difficult or uncomfortable to do if you are experiencing any SPD (pelvic pain).
Enjoy your final weeks or days of pregnancy. You’re letting go of the woman you have been and becoming the mother you were made to be. There’s nothing quite like it!
For more information on how to train through your pregnancy, prepare for birth and enter the postpartum period, my custom online training provides you with guidance and confidence as you navigate this period of womanhood.