Increase your confidence and comfort level during childbirth by doing these labor-prep exercises daily.
Childbirth is a natural act, but it may not seem that way. “Some of what you need to do during labor and delivery—such as relaxing your pelvic floor while tightening your abdominal muscles—is not easy; it is not instinctual,” says Bonnie Rote, R.N., a prenatal-exercise instructor with 18 years of experience. “But if you train to do these actions, they become easier.” Rote recommends doing the following labor-prep exercises daily throughout pregnancy.
1. Belly breathing Sit on the floor with your legs crossed and your lower back against a pillow. Place your hands on your belly. Inhale, expanding your belly into your hands, then exhale, pulling your navel in toward your spine. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Start with 5 reps during your first trimester, working up to 25 reps by your third. Strengthens abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles. 2. Labor squats Hold the back of a chair, feet hip-width apart. Bend knees and lower to a squat. Hold for 10–15 seconds and relax your pelvic-floor muscles; return to starting position and repeat 2–3 times. After the final rep, either stand up or drop onto your hands and knees, then stand up. Each week, increase the hold until you can maintain the squat for 3 minutes. Increases flexibility and strength of hips, knees and buttock muscles.
3. Tilt and release Sit on the floor in a semi-reclined position with a pillow behind your back and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your knees shoulder-width apart and place your hands behind your thighs. Inhale and tilt your pelvis forward, relaxing your pelvic-floor muscles as much as possible while maintaining the tilt. Hold this position, then exhale and contract your abs, curling your upper back into a “C”. Hold for 5 counts, continuing to slowly exhale. Return to starting position, take 2 deep breaths, then repeat 2–3 times. Progress to 4–6 reps by your third trimester. Helps relax the pelvic floor, maximizing effectiveness during the pushing phase of labor.
4. Lift and release Get down on your hands and knees, head aligned with your spine. Round your back slightly as you exhale and contract your abdominal muscles to pull your belly in toward your spine. Inhale, then sit back, resting your buttocks on your heels as you exhale. Stretch your arms in front of you, keeping your palms on the floor and your fingers spread. If you need more room for your belly, separate your knees slightly and place a folded blanket under your forearms. Inhale, return to starting position and repeat for 8–10 reps, holding the final pose for 4–5 breaths (1 inhale and exhale equals one breath). Rest for 1 minute, then do another set of 8–10 reps. Strengthens abdominal muscles and relieves low-back pain.