The first week of my Bradley Method class we went over several exercises to ease pregnancy discomforts and/or strengthen the body for a more efficient labor and less painful recovery. As someone who loves to have a tangible plan to get ready for an event, I loved that there were specific exercises to get me in shape for “birth day,” just like race day! I made myself a birth training plan spreadsheet with the exercises listed out on the top and the dates listed on the side. Every day I try to do several, if not all of the exercises. Having the sheet on the fridge definitely keeps me accountable.
Just like you wouldn’t show up to an Ironman triathlon unprepared and without practice, you don’t want to show up to your child’s birth day without a strong body and mind. Below I’ll share what I consider the five most important ways you can prepare for labor and delivery.
1. Squats – Repeats.
Squats are touted as the best exercise to prepare for childbirth. Not only do they strengthen your legs, glutes and low back which you’ll want strong for the many hours of labor, but squatting actually will help stretch your perineum so that you are less likely to tear during childbirth.
To Do: I definitely recommend getting in on a squat challenge to keep yourself motivated. It’s so much easier to follow a plan than to just try to get in a certain number of squats every single day. In June I followed the Squat Challenge from 30DayFitnessChallenges.com which built from 50 squats up to 250 squats a day over 30 days, with 1 rest day after every 3 days. In July, I challenge myself to add 100 squats a day, starting at 150 squats and ending at 450!
For tips on technique during squats, you can find guidance here. Note: I don’t use any weights when squatting and it’s still a great workout!
2. Deep Squats -Hold.
Deep squatting is an extremely efficient pushing position in natural childbirth (it can’t be used with an epidural due to the fact that you can’t move into the position). Squatting shortens the birth canal so baby doesn’t have to go as far to reach his or her final destination. Additionally, squatting is arguably the most efficient birthing position as it utilizes the force of gravity to move the baby out. During 2nd stage labor, a woman will push for 45-90 seconds at a time. Therefore, it’s ideal to be able to hold the position comfortably for at least 60 seconds but ideally 2 full minutes. Assisted squatting is easier than unassisted, and most hospitals have squat bars that you can use to brace yourself. Your husband or a doula can help support you as well. Either way, spending a minute or more a day in a deep squat will help prepare your hips.
To Do: Come into a comfortable squat with knees wider than your hips. Feet should be completely pressed to the floor and you should try to sit up as straight as possible. To assist with balance, bring your palms together and press your elbows against your inner knees. In the beginning you may need to use a yoga block to sit on and/or only hold for 10-20 seconds. As you develop more flexibility you should be able to hold for longer and longer periods.
The exercise that can be done anywhere and is completely discreet! Kegal exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles which support your urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum. A weak pelvic floor is common postpartum and can lead to fun symptoms like bladder leakage or worse. A strong pelvic floor can help with childbirth in that they can keep hemerroids at bay (isn’t childbirth lovely?) and speed healing after a tear during childbirth. Bonus points – a strong pelvic floor will make sex more enjoyable and you’re way less likely to pee your pants when you sneeze.
To Do: I try to get at least 50 kegals in a day and the Bradley Method recommends working your way up to 200. You actually don’t want to start off with too many a day as you can cause damage, just like if you were to go straight into 200 push-ups a day after not doing them for years. Start with a strong understanding of exactly which muscles you’re working (you shouldn’t be clenching your butt or any other exterior muscle while performing kegals).
Here’s a great workout by Fit Pregnancy which also explains how exactly to do Kegals.
Another great resource is Hab-It – here’s a link to 5 pregnancy pelvic floor exercises.
The most underrated yoga move! Stretching in this position is amazing for relieving back pain during pregnancy and I’ve found that arching my back feels incredibly soothing. Pelvic rocking, or Cat/Cow tones and conditions the muscles of the lower back and abdominal muscles, relieves pressured on the lower back and increases circulation. It has even been shown to improve digestion and when done properly can help the baby move forward, relieving pressure felt by mom. I love this one and get it in pretty much every day.
To Do: Simply get on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Start with a neutral spine and then as you take a long breath inward, move your spine upward like a cat and look down at your belly. As you breathe out, push your belly down and look upward.
Relaxation is the most pivotal of all of the exercises and will be the thing that helps you manage pain during labor the most. Being relaxed during labor will not only help you stay mentally focused on the task at hand but it will also speed up your labor so you get to see your baby’s face sooner! Stress and tension are your worst enemies during childbirth and your body will slow down the process if you’re feeling this way. A female deer has the ability to literally suck a baby deer who is halfway out of her laboring body back into her so that she can run away if she is frightened during labor. This is the same as humans – we need to be at total ease in order to deliver our innocent baby into the world (another reason why it’s important to be prepared and only have people in the room with you during your labor who you feel totally comfortable with). Relaxation is the most important pain management technique touted by the Bradley Method and it is not something you can just do spontaneously during labor. You must practice.
Unfortunately this one is the hardest for me to fit into my day. Ideally I’d be practicing relaxation for a minimum of 10 min a day but this tends to be the one that I miss most days. I’ve been consistently practicing relaxation about 2-3 days a week. I like to think that yoga is a form of relaxation as well and when I’m experiencing a pose that causes discomfort or pain, I try to focus on my breathing and think things like “breathe in confidence, breathe out doubt” in order to stay in a pose longer than I want. It’s important to get your husband/birth partner involved in relaxation as well – there are several techniques that involve your husband either reading from a relaxation script and/or massaging you while you focus on relaxation.
To Do: There are several relaxation techniques for labor and tons of YouTube videos that will help you with a guided relaxation/meditation. Here are some of my favorite resources:
- Guided Relaxation Script
- Positive Affirmations YouTube Video (you have to watch this, not close your eyes since it’s all visual).
- Meditation for Natural Easy Childbirth and Labor
- 10 Minute Guided Meditation for Birthing, Labor and Delivery
- Easy Labor Massage For Pain Relief During Childbirth (who doesn’t want to practice these!?)