Pregnancy and birth is the most beautiful, natural process, yet the fear surrounding it can be overwhelming for the expectant mum.
Being mentally and physically prepared for labour and birth can decrease anxiety and help mums maintain a positive mindset. Pregnant women often find little or no time for exercising.
Given our busy schedules and ‘on the go’ lifestyle, mums who have other children can incorporate exercise as a fun bonding activity time for the family, whilst at the same time reaping the benefits of increased blood flow to herself and baby.
One of the most fascinating wonders of woman, are that their bodies are able to adapt to accommodate the pregnancy and birth. There are multiple advantages of exercising during pregnancy, such as the improvement of overall health, the release of ‘happy hormones’, assisting with the positioning and dropping of the baby, minimise the chances of gestational diabetes, and assisting in weight control during and after the pregnancy.
Your care provider will advise if you should refrain from any activity. This may apply if there are medical concerns such as preterm labour, a low placenta, an IVF pregnancy, a multiple pregnancy, spotting or bleeding during pregnancy, or any health issues needing bed rest.
When to start with exercise?
Exercise can start quite early in the pregnancy. This may assist with increasing blood flow to the extremities, and in turn reduce many of the early pregnancy discomforts. A long walk and deep inhalation of fresh air can decrease fatigue and serve as a mood enhancer.
Many women who have a regular training schedule can continue training throughout if their pregnancies are progressing well. During the last trimester, exercise routines may need to change to accommodate their growing babies. I have witnessed pregnant kickboxers work out even on the labouring day, and runners going for a run at 40 weeks of their pregnancy. The key note to remember is to listen to your body and take it at your own pace.
What exercises can be done?
My ultimate favourite is recommending squatting from the end of 34 weeks. This not only assists in reducing discomfort in the last trimester, but assists in softening the ligaments needed for the descent of the baby into the pelvis.
Squats strengthen the pelvic muscles and thighs which help phenomenally during the second stage of pushing during a normal vaginal birth. Squatting is a fantastic exercise to build stamina for labour and birth. Deep squats help the baby engage into the pelvis and should be done only if the baby is in a ‘head down’ position. I generally recommend that mums spend five minutes at a time doing squats, start off slowly and increase the amount of squats weekly.
Kegel exercises, in combination with the use of a stability ball, assist in toning the perineum. This not only assists during the birth of the baby, but the advantages can be seen long after. Internal examinations are dreaded by many, but strengthening the perineum can decrease discomfort of internal examinations. After birth, the perineum is more likely to heal faster in the event of a cut or tear. Strengthening these muscles assists with bladder control when laughing, coughing and sneezing.
Exercise does not always have to be vigorous. Gentle movements such as stretching, yoga, swimming and aqua aerobics are good ways of maintaining overall fitness during the pregnancy. Expectant mums find these enjoyable whilst on maternity leave and anxiously awaiting the “new arrival.”
What about exercises during labour?
Keeping active during the labour, especially by swaying and rocking the hips, helps the release of endorphins which serves as a natural pain relief method. Movement during labour allows movement of the pelvis and the descent of your precious cargo. Position changes and movement can often make labour faster and pushing easier.
What better way to enjoy labour, but by rocking your hips to the sounds of your favourite tunes?
Labour and birth is marathon to meet your baby so why not train for ‘The Amazing Race’?