These simple fitness moves can bring powerful benefits to your mind and body from now right through all the stages of labor.
One way to prepare for labor is by educating yourself—reading books, listening to other moms’ birth stories, and working with your doctor or midwife to come up with your own birth plan. But there’s more you can do: Incorporating exercise into your routine throughout your pregnancy can help you build stamina and strengthen muscles, which will serve you well once those contractions start coming on. Here are a few moves to try, with your doctor’s OK.
While Kegels can be beneficial for all women, they’re especially important during pregnancy. These exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles—those muscles that support your uterus, bowel, and bladder — which are called into play during labor, especially when it comes time to push. And you can try them anywhere, anytime.
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. Do 10 to 15 repetitions, three times a day.
Squatting during labor can widen your pelvic opening—giving your baby a smoother exit route—so start practicing now to squat more easily on the big day. Bonus: Squats can also help ease lower back pain while you’re still pregnant.
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 repetitions. Tip: To make sliding a little easier, try placing a fitness ball between your back and the wall.
Pelvic tilts strengthen your abdominal muscles and minimize back pain once you’re in labor.
You can do pelvic tilts on the floor or while standing. For the floor version, get on your hands and knees, keeping your head level with your back. Pull in your stomach, pushing up with your back, like you’re making a camel hump. To do pelvic tilts while standing, place your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and slightly bend your knees. Then, with your hands on your hips, push your pelvis forward, tucking in your behind. Use whichever position is most comfortable for you. Hold it for a few seconds and then relax, without letting your stomach muscles sag. Repeat three to five times, building to 10 repetitions.
In one study, researchers found that pregnant women who did yoga reported feeling more comfortable during labor. Both during pregnancy and labor, and even after your baby is born, yoga can help ease tension. If you’re unsure how to get started, try our prenatal yoga video or seek out a studio near you. If you’re taking a regular yoga class instead of prenatal, let your instructor know that you’re pregnant so she can offer pregnancy modifications.