When it comes to pregnancy, what are you dreading the most?
Apart from the annoying pregnancy symptoms, it’s probably the pain of labor.
Many women have anxiety thinking about how long and exhausting delivery will be. Although there’s no surefire way to have a pain-free labor (even with medication), there are still some things you can do that can make it better.
Research shows that women who exercise have shorter deliveries. In this post, we’re sharing 7 exercises you can try to make giving birth easier.
Exercise for Labor Preparation: Does it Work?
Some people wonder if exercising during pregnancy is safe. As long as your doctor hasn’t told you otherwise, exercising at your regular pace is typically okay and beneficial.
Some people with high-risk pregnancies may be advised against exercise. And if you don’t get much physical activity, you should slowly build yourself up rather than overdoing it.
Taking those precautions into mind, most pregnant women should exercise. In fact, a 2015 report urged every pregnant woman to get physical activity from planned or programmed exercise.
Read: The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Not only is exercise generally suggested during pregnancy, but there could be many benefits when it comes to labor. Exercise for labor preparation is backed by several studies.
Could Reduce Pain
One of an expectant mother’s main worries about labor is the pain. Although there’s not many ways to avoid it, exercising could make the pain less severe and easier to tolerate.
A small study of 71 women in Brazil asked about half to participate in water aerobics. Those that did asked for pain medication 58% fewer times than women who didn’t.
Could Make Labor Shorter
Another fear that many pregnant women have is having a very long labor. Luckily, exercise can also lower your chances of this happening.
In one study, researchers discovered something different about women who had done aerobics or ran in the second half of their pregnancy. Sixty-five percent of them were in active labor (the pushing stage) for less than four hours. This statement was only true for 31% of the women who didn’t exercise regularly. Those who got physical activity also had babies with less frequent acute fetal stress.
Research shows that women who get physical activity during pregnancy have a better chance at a healthier pregnancy. This includes a decreased chance of:
- Preeclampsia (which can lead to preterm birth)
- Gestational diabetes
- Congenital abnormalities
- Weight gain
Physical activity has also been linked to better pregnancy outcomes, including a decreased risk of miscarriage and preterm labor.
Improved Placenta Function
Why does exercise contribute to these labor benefits? Firstly, physical exercise improves your overall health, which can increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Another reason could be that physical activity improves the function of your placenta.
The placenta does the important job of delivering nutrients and oxygen to your baby. When a mother is obese, placenta function can be impaired, which affects how much nutrients and oxygen the baby gets.
Obese mothers often give birth to larger babies—which has been associated with obesity and metabolic diseases later in life. One study showed that exercising can help combat this effect. Not only can it make your placenta function better, but it may also improve your metabolism.
May Relieve Pregnancy Pain and Psychological Symptoms
Apart from the benefits exercise has on labor, it can help you in the months leading up to it.
A 2019 review concluded that physical activity could be effective at reducing pregnancy-related pain and psychological symptoms. Since anxiety and depression can pop up during pregnancy, many expecting mothers look for ways to cope without medication. Exercise is known to release endorphins—the body’s “feel-good” chemicals. This can have a positive effect on mental well-being.
Read: Stressed Out? 10 Proven Ways to Lower Cortisol for a Healthier Fetus
Read: How to Prevent Postpartum Depression Before Delivery: 8 Ways
7 Exercises for Labor Preparation
You should always check with your doctor before changing your exercise routine. Typically exercise is safe during pregnancy if you work at an intensity that is appropriate for you. As a general rule, you can challenge yourself, but not so much that you can’t carry a conversation.
Exercising in general can increase your chances of an easy delivery. Specific movements may also help strengthen the muscles you use during labor, making you tire out later rather than sooner.
Squatting opens up the pelvic area, which allows more room for the baby. Since it can be tiring, practicing the movement during labor can help. You can hold the squat for a few breaths. To squat, stand straight with your feet hip-width apart and lower down using your knees. Pretend you’re sitting on an invisible chair. If this is too difficult for you, you can place a chair in front of you for support. You can choose to do faster squats for a cardio-type workout, or go slower to suit your intensity level.
#2 Deep Squats
Another version of the squat that can help is the deep squat. This can be easier to do if you need less movement and more stretching.
Similar to what we described above, stand with your legs hip-width apart. Squat down to the floor as low as you can go. Clasp your hands together and hold the position. Repeat.
#3 Pelvic Tilt Raise
Pelvic tilts can help make your abdominal muscles stronger, which can make the strain of labor less intense. It can also reduce backaches during pregnancy. Simply lie down with your back on the floor, placing your hands beside your hips. Then raise your butt as high as possible and lower back down.
#4 Butterfly Stretch
The butterfly stretch can help build the muscles in your pelvis, back and thighs. Improving the flexibility of your pelvic joints can make it easier to stretch during labor, meaning less pain and exertion.
To do the stretch, sit on the floor with the bottoms of your feet together and your knees dropped to the side. Gently press your knees toward the floor, stretching your inner thighs. Hold the position for about 10 seconds and repeat the stretch. Avoid bouncing your knees up and down and instead slowly work on your flexibility. If you’re having backaches and it’s painful on your back, you can rest it against a wall.
#5 Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is probably the easiest and most relaxing exercise on this list.
Although it’s often used in yoga, it can be a good stretch to lengthen the pelvic floor, reducing discomfort during labor.
If you’ve never done child’s pose before, kneel down, sitting on your heels. Lean forward, lengthening your arms and planting them into the floor in front of you. Breathe deeply while in this position and hold it. As your belly grows, you may notice you need to widen your knees to accommodate it.
#6 Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises improve the pelvic floor muscles. Strengthening them can help you gain better control of the area.
Kegel exercises can be difficult to describe because you can’t see the muscle as with other exercises. To get an idea of the area you’re targeting, envision the muscle you use when you stop peeing. You can sit on the toilet and try to stop the flow of urine as an example. That contraction is the movement you’re looking for when you’re practicing Kegels.
To do the exercise, contract the pelvic floor muscle anywhere from about 3 to 10 seconds. Repeat to strengthen the muscle. There’s also Kegel balls and products women use to help this process.
To get an idea of the best positions to use when practicing Kegels, watch the video below.
#7 Aerobic Exercise
Many of the studies done around pregnancy exercise and improved labor center around aerobic exercise. That can take place in many different forms. To get some ideas, read 11 Easy and Super Fun Pregnancy Exercise Ideas That You’ll Actually Do.
Can Exercise Induce Labor?
Some people try exercises to induce labor, which may not work. If you’re nearing the end of your journey, you may try specific movements to get your body in position for delivery. Before trying this though, you should always contact your doctor and know there’s no guarantees.
However, if you’re exercising just to stay healthy, it’s unlikely to cause labor. As we discussed above, exercise is safe during most normal pregnancies. It does not increase the risk of preterm birth. In fact, it reduces the risk of early labor.
Summary: Exercise for Labor Preparation
Exercise is beneficial for most women during pregnancy. Not only can it improve your health, but it can also improve outcomes and lessen your chance of preterm labor or miscarriage. To top it off, exercise can also make labor easier. Research shows that delivery can be shorter and less painful for women who maintain physical activity while they’re expecting. To take advantage of this benefit, use the exercises on this list and do them regularly. As always, you should consult with your doctor before adding to your exercise regime.
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