When I first fell pregnant with my son, Tyler, I knew from the word go that I wanted to have a drug free, natural birth. However I also knew that having never actually been through labour before, I could well change my mind when the going got tough – especially about the drugs! I didn’t know what to expect and of course there was an element of fear. However I fiercely believe that not only are our bodies amazing but that a woman’s body has one purpose: to birth successfully. I also love a challenge and love to push my body (no pun intended!) so I was going to give it my very best shot.
Lots of women want to have a natural birth but not many actually prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally for the best chance of success in what will undoubtedly be one of their biggest challenges. We would never sign up for a marathon without diligently training our bodies for the big day, yet many women hope to achieve a natural birth – which normally lasts much longer – without doing more than signing up for an antenatal course. Even though I had a quick birth of 4 hours from start to finish, I have learnt so much more since then, and there are definitely things I would add to my ‘birthing successfully’ training regime the next time round!
Here are some of my ‘Preparing for Labour’ tips.
So what was part of my original ‘birthing successfully’ training program?
- I became very diligent about going to the gym or doing some form of exercise most days of the week. When I was pregnant I was more aware than ever how my habits, good or bad, affected not only me but my growing baby. I never just blew off a workout because I didn’t feel like it, because I knew at the back of my mind that attempting labour without being fit would be no fun! I also knew that my baby would benefit from having an active mom as an incubator. I did listen to my body and some days I could feel that a gym session was not what my body needed, but rather a nap on the couch. I pretty much continued up until a week before I delivered, although my workouts took on a slower pace towards the end.
- I did squats and then more squats. Squats work not only the glutes and the quads, but also the core. The more powerful your core and uterus-supporting muscles are, the more powerful your pushing can be. The squatting position is probably the most effective way to deliver a baby – it works with gravity instead of against it, opening your pelvis as wide as it can get, reducing the incidence of tearing.
- I included lots of Interval Training. Practicing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts or any interval training will help you learn how to push through and ride the discomforts of intense work, knowing that a break is just around the corner. Sounds similar to labour, right??
- I included some yoga but not enough. During labor we tune in to our bodies completely. A great way to practice this is through prenatal yoga as it teaches us to turn off thought, feel what our bodies are telling us, and be aware of what is happening internally.
- Cardiovascular training. Any exercise that increases your cardiovascular capabilities and endurance will aid in labour and delivery. If you’ve ever needed endurance, it’s during the marathon of labour!
- I did Kegel exercises (but could’ve done more!). Strengthening the pelvic floor muscle is important to avoid some of the embarrassing things that can happen – towards the end of your pregnancy or post birth – if you don’t. You will need this muscle to be strong during delivery to avoid tearing and damage to the vagina. As important as it is to strengthen these muscles it is also important to know how to relax them to aid in the birthing process.
- I synchronised my breathing with all movement I was doing. Learning to breathe properly is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and never is it more important than when you are pregnant. Although I have been in the fitness industry for over 10 years and am also Pilates trained, it is only really since completing my Prenatal Corrective Exercise Specialist certification that I have learnt how to do proper diaphragmatic breathing and how to teach it to others. Proper diaphragmatic breathing is huge and I can’t wait to see how it impacts my next pregnancy as I have seen it do amazing things for my pregnant clients.
What would I add to my ‘birthing successfully’ training program?
- I would spend more time focusing on the ‘Belly Pump’ mechanism which is using the diaphragm and the core more effectively and using it to drive your movements. I will take this topic further in another article as there is so much to be said about it.
- I would add relaxation and mental imagery rest periods between my HIIT work intervals. This will train and focus my mind and body to relax and restore when the work interval is over and to get ready and prepared for the next bout of work. I didn’t spend nearly enough time focusing on relaxation and preparing myself for that side of labour. I think the more we train ourselves beforehand and the more our bodies and minds are used to this pattern the easier it will be to go there under intense conditions.
- Breathe, breathe and breathe BUT diaphragmatically. This is the one most important thing to do, as in our busy stressful lives we have lost our natural ability to breathe as God intended. Breathing with the diaphragm literally switches on the parasympathetic nervous system which puts our bodies into relaxation and restore mode.
Sometimes even with the best training and preparation a woman may still need a caesarean. This plan isn’t a guarantee to a successful natural birth but you will definitely be better prepared and more likely to succeed than someone who hasn’t moved for 9 months. However you deliver your baby, safety is the only thing that really matters, but if you keep strong and healthy during your pregnancy you will be very grateful afterwards as the return to your pre-pregnant self will be so much easier and you will be in a better position physically and emotionally to deal with the demands of caring for a newborn.
by Shelley Lewin | HomeFit Trainer