Ways to Prepare your body for birth
When it comes to babies, there is so much emphasis on preparation - financial and professional decisions, decorating and preparing the home, readying your family for the new arrival, it is all happening and it is all to create a warm and welcoming world for this new little life. One of the most responsible and loving things you can do for you new baby, is prepare your body for birth. Women’s bodies are not only capable of nurturing life for 9 months, but also of sustaining the huge effort of bringing that life into the world.
There are several things that you can do to prepare your body for the blood, sweat and, yes, tears that natural childbirth invariably brings. Just because it is difficult at times, and with all the invariable aches and pains it is easy to forget but important to remember, this is what we are designed to do.
Yes, there are a few challenges, and yes, those challenges can sometimes give rise to complications or difficulties at Birth. But this accounts for a small percentage of women, and we would like to focus our attention on most births which, whilst not without their hitches, progress naturally.
Having a fit and healthy body is probably the simplest way you can prepare for Birth. Keeping active ensures you will have the fitness and endurance to cope with Labour. they don’t call it Labour for nothing!
You do not need to start marathon training, but low impact exercises such as swimming, walking, yoga, Pilates, lunging and stretching are all great ways to strengthen your body.
* Talk to your GP before starting any pregnancy exercise program.
Stretching everyday is one of the easiest forms of pregnancy exercise. It is relaxing, strengthening, and can be done anywhere, anytime. 20 minutes of stretching in the morning is a wonderful way to start your day and will kick start your energy and positive thinking. Whether it is on the living room floor, out under the trees or in the park down the road, it will not just strengthen your body but ready you for the day ahead.
Easing Backache, Relieving Leg Cramps etc. Walking briskly for 45mins is a great all-round exercise to do while pregnant. Start with stretching, then 10minutes walking and work your way up to a 45min goal.
Swimming is an excellent low-to-no impact way to work out, particularly if back or pelvic pain is restricting other exercise. Alternate your strokes with walking and paddling, or take on a fun water aerobics class, making sure you inform your instructor that you are pregnant.
Breaking a sweat is fine, but if you are a gym junkie or heavily into fitness, talk to your GP about what you should be avoiding and how to adapt your fitness regime to pregnancy. It is important to avoid any rigorous exercise, high impact or jarring workouts and any excessively heated environments such as saunas, spas etc.
Exercise at any time, not just during pregnancy, is not supposed to be torture and especially in the lead up to Birth, should be a positive thing for you and will help you not just physically but emotionally too, knowing what you are doing is benefiting yourself and your baby.
Even specific ways of Sitting, commonly called “Tailor Sitting” – cross legged on the floor will eliminate pressure on the pelvis and promotes circulation in the legs. Sitting like this, with your back nice and straight and taking steady slow breaths, takes the pressure off your uterus and stretches your legs - a great way to prepare your inner thighs for the second stage of labour. This is an easy exercise to do while folding washing, watching tv or reading.
Tailor Sitting helps your body prepare for Birth in two ways. First, as explained above, helps build and maintain flexibility in the legs, allowing for more ease on your “push position”. Secondly, it builds the flexibility in your Pelvis, the bones in which your baby will be pushed through during labour. These bones are designed to move and flex, and any stretching of these bones may help accommodate your baby in your birthing position.
Kegel Exercises – during pregnancy there is increased pressure on the pelvic floor. This is made up of the layers of muscle stretching from the front of the pubic bone to the base of the spine. Your pelvic floor supports your bladder, uterus, vagina and bowel, and is especially important for bladder control. These muscles also play an important role in Labour and post-birth.
The simplest way to strengthen these muscles is with Kegel Exercises, which can be done wherever you are, since nobody knows you are doing them except you! There are a few ways you can carry out these exercises
- Sit on a chair with your feet and shoulders evenly spaced and your feet flat on the ground. Relax your chest, stomach and leg muscles and breathe normally.
- Close your eyes and imagine you wish to stop yourself passing urine. The muscles you use to do this make up your pelvic floor.
- Now squeeze these muscles tightly and feel your Pelvic floor lift upwards. Hold this contraction for as long as you are comfortable, and then release.
- Repeat this lift and hold until you feel your muscles tire.
Remember these exercises can be carried out anywhere, anytime, and can be done sitting, standing or lying down. A good way to remember them is to associate them with an activity … every time you make tea, or after going to the bathroom, in the shower etc. Not only will these exercises help your body strengthen and ready for birth, but it will help keep these muscles strong after birth.
It is common for women to experience some degree of incontinence after giving birth – naturally, the muscles are weakened and you may have a few awkward leakage moments when you sneeze, laugh, cough etc.
Applying your Kegel “squeeze” may avoid these little leakage moments, so there is no harm in building those muscles now! (The pelvic floor muscles also play an important role in sexual pleasure, so even more reason to work them out!)
Towards the end of your pregnancy it will be natural to be thinking almost exclusively about the impending birth. For 9 months you have been preparing your body, mind, home and life for your new arrival, but there are a few physical preparations we have not yet covered which may help you and your body during Labour.
This is the more intimate of the birthing preparations but could possibly reduce the pain of labour. The perineum is the muscles and skin between the vagina and anus which stretches to allow your baby to come through during childbirth. In some cases, you will show signs of being about to tear due to the pressure against the opening to your vagina and surrounding skin, so a small incision known as a “episiotomy” may be needed to avoid tearing. If you require an Episiotomy and have anxiety, just remember, it is obviously needed to ensure the best physical outcome for you and baby…that may reassure you if you are worried.
To prepare your intimate areas for Labour, some believe that massage is one of the best ways to stretch and ready the skin and muscles which will be working overtime to allow your baby safe passage to the world. Of course, doing this does not guarantee a tear-free birth. But it may help!
A study published 1998 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology led by Dr Michel Labrecque found that 24.3 percent of first-time mums who practiced perineal massage gave birth with an intact perineum, compared to only 15.1 per cent of the mums who didn’t do the massage. It is important to note, this statistic only applied to mothers who had not previously given birth.
It is recommended that if you wish to practice this technique, you should start at around the 34-week mark of your pregnancy. Below we outline how:
- Before you start, make sure your fingernails (or your partners if doing it together) are neatly trimmed. You may find using a mirror propped between your legs can help you navigate your way around. Use a water-based lubricant or oils such as olive, coconut or almond oils. (Always check which oils will be best for you, as some essential oils are dangerous to use whilst pregnant).
- Sit in a comfortable position, some women find sitting on the bed with your back supported by pillows and your legs apart is best.
- To get used to the feeling, use your thumbs and fingers or have your partner gently massage oil around your perineum area.
- Next, insert your thumbs into your vagina as deeply as possible. From the inside, apply pressure to your perineum, down towards your rectum and along the sides. Keep doing it until you feel a slight tingle or burning feeling.
- When you feel the skin tingling, pause and breathe deeply, continuing to hold the pressure with your thumbs. As the tingling subsides, you can stretch the area a little more, continuing to breathe deeply. Repeat once more.
- As time passes over the remaining weeks of your pregnancy, it should take a longer time and you will need to apply more pressure to feel the tingling sensation. Then, instead of your thumbs, you may be able to now use one finger, then two, then three…
Don’t forget to pamper yourself not just for the purpose of preparation, but for the purpose of feeling lovely. Every pregnancy has its ups and downs and sometimes you just want to feel wonderful. A full body pregnancy massage, foot rub, manicure or facial can leave you feeling beautiful and refreshed.
Roberts, L. (2017, January 24). Why self care is an important part of parenting, and how to make time for it. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/in-defense-of-a-parents-day-off/2017/01/23/270ffafc-d8f2-11e6-b8b2-cb5164beba6b_story.html