It’s one thing to do prenatal exercises to help you through nine months of pregnancy; it’s another to exercise for the day you’ll deliver.
“Prenatal exercise helps you while you carry the baby and strengthens the muscles that will be stressed during delivery,” says Bonnie Rote, R.N., director of women’s exercise programs at Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, New Jersey. “Labor preparation exercises get your mind and muscles ready to actually give birth.”
Rote designed the following program to target the parts of the body that work hardest during labor. It uses some familiar moves, but offers them in unique combinations that mimic the actual birth experience. For example, during the pushing phase of labor, you’ll need to contract your abdominal muscles while resisting your instinct to contract the pelvic floor muscles. The regular Kegel exercise tightens your pelvic floor muscles—essential for your postpartum tone—but Rote’s Kegel also teaches you to relax them. She then combines the relaxation aspect of the Kegel with an abdominal curl.
Another technique Rote uses is neuromuscular dissociation. In workshops she teaches, Rote asks women to practice this by clenching a fist while relaxing all their other muscles. “The point,” says Rote, “is that in labor you have to make the rest of your body relax while your uterus is working.” There’s good reason for this: Extreme muscle tension actually reduces your body’s tolerance for pain.
You can begin Rote’s exercise program in your fifth month, doing the exercises three or four times a week. Along with your body work, she recommends giving your mind a workout as well. Just as athletes practice visualization, focus and breathing techniques to prepare for competition, so should you to get ready for your labor event. Each physical exercise is accompanied by a specific focusing tip—which you may be able to use when you’re about to give birth. Some women, she says, “are better rolling with the actual feelings of labor, while others need to concentrate on external focuses to keep their minds off what’s happening inside their bodies.”
Annette Lang, director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in New York City, asks clients to do each labor preparation exercise twice—once focusing on the working muscles, once on an object outside themselves. This helps them determine which focus provides the greatest sense of calm and confidence. Try it yourself as you do these exercises. Once you get in focus, you may find yourself feeling more ready than ever to labor and deliver.