First comes pregnancy. Then comes the research. You can prepare for labor by reading books, listening to birth stories from other moms, and working with your doctor or midwife to come up with your own birth plan.
But wait; there’s more you can do! By incorporating exercise into your routine during pregnancy you can build stamina and strengthen key muscles. And that will serve you well once those contractions start up. Here are four preparing-for-labor exercises to try with your doctor’s approval.
1. Labor exercise: Kegels
Why they help: While Kegels can be beneficial for all women, they’re especially important during pregnancy. These exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles—the muscles that support your uterus, bowel, and bladder. They’ll be busy during labor, especially when it comes time to push.
How to: To identify where the pelvic floor muscles are located, pretend you have to urinate and then cut it short. That movement tightens the pelvic floor muscles. To do a Kegel, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold for 10 seconds before releasing. Make sure that your stomach muscles are relaxed and that you’re breathing normally. Try to do 10 to 15 reps, two to three times a day.
2. Labor exercise: Squats
Why they help: Squatting can widen your pelvic opening, giving your baby a smoother exit during labor. By practicing squats now, you’ll find it easier on the big day. Bonus: Squats can also help with lower back pain while you’re pregnant, so they're a win-win labor exercise.
How to: Stand up straight with your back against a wall and legs shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees and slide down the wall, going as low as you comfortably can. Hold for five seconds, then slide back up. Repeat, working up to 10 reps. You can place a fitness ball between your back and the wall to make sliding a little easier.
3. Labor exercise: Pelvic tilts
Why they help: Pelvic tilts strengthen your abdominal and pelvic muscles and minimize back pain once you’re in labor.
How to: You can do pelvic tilts on the floor or while standing, whichever is most comfortable for you.
- For the floor version: Get on your hands and knees, keeping your head level with your back. Pull your stomach in, pushing up with your back like you’re making a camel hump. Then, push your pelvis forward, tucking in your behind. Hold it for a few seconds and then relax, without letting your stomach muscles sag. Repeat three to five times, building up to 10 reps.
- For the standing version: Place your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Then, with your hands on your hips, push your pelvis forward, tucking in your behind. Hold, relax, and repeat three to five times, building up to 10 reps.
4. Labor exercise: Prenatal yoga
Why it helps: Researchers have found that pregnant women who did yoga during their pregnancy reported feeling more comfortable during labor. Even after your baby is born, yoga is full of exercises that can help ease tension.
How to: If you’re unsure how to get started, find a studio near you. If you’re taking a regular yoga class instead of prenatal, let your instructor know you’re pregnant so you can participate with pregnancy modifications.
Those are four preparing-for-labor exercises to help you get ready for the big day. Give ‘em a whirl and see how you feel. Curious about other ways you can prep for birth? We’ve compiled some additional tips to help you be as prepared as possible.