1. Abdominal breathing with inward contraction The benefit This exercise helps improve the endurance of your abs, which will be a boon while you’re pushing with them during delivery.
The move Sit on the floor with your ankles crossed, back straight (separate your ankles if that’s more comfortable). You can also lean against a wall for back support. Place your hands on your abdomen, fingers toward each other about two inches on either side of your navel. First inhale and press your abdomen outward, expanding your abs against your hands [A]. Then exhale, pulling your abs in toward your spine until you have expired all the air [B]. Hold a tight contraction for 4 or 5 seconds. Now relax your shoulders and neck and breathe normally as you release your abs. During the exercise, breathe slowly and gently; don’t hyperventilate. Work your way up to 15 reps.
The focus While you press your abdomen out, think about giving your baby extra room to stretch. As you pull in, envision your abdominal muscles encircling your baby and giving her a hug.
2. Beyond traditional Kegels
The benefit This exercise will help you gain control over the pelvic floor muscles so you will know what it feels like both when they’re contracted and when they’re relaxed.
The move (Not shown) Sit on the floor as you did in exercise 1. Contract the pelvic floor, slowly pulling in the vaginal muscles (you may also imagine you’re stopping the flow of urine). Make three stops as you increase the contraction, holding the muscles for 5 seconds at each stop. Release the muscles slowly, then gently push out until you feel a slight bulge in your perineum (the area between the vagina and anus). Now it’s relaxed. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Do 5 to 8 repetitions.
The focus Imagine pulling your muscles up into your body as if they’re an elevator car, and notice as they pass through each “floor.” Then, have them descend as carefully as an elevator would, until they push through to the “basement.”
3. Three in one
The benefit By putting together three moves that are usually done separately—Kegel, pelvic tilt and abdominal contraction—you’ll get as close as possible to the experience of pushing. (Don’t worry, you won’t accidentally push your baby out!)
The move Sit upright with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, hip-width apart and feet flat. Place hands on backs of thighs [A]. Now tilt back onto tailbone, rounding spine, shoulders and back. As you tilt back, your pelvic floor muscles will instinctively tighten. Inhale and let your belly expand [B]. Exhale and contract your abdominals toward spine, as in exercise 1. As you hold your abs tight, relax the pelvic floor [C]. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Build up to 8 to 10 repetitions.