I am just about 6 months pregnant now, with 3 months to go until the big event – the natural labor and delivery of my baby boy. I initially wondered, am I capable of giving birth naturally? I was honestly scared to death. And the way I deal with anything I am fearful or anxious over is to prepare, prepare, prepare.
I have been reading tons of books, watching documentaries, and researching online on how to be the most ready I can be, although I’m sure no one is ever *really* ready. I think of natural childbirth as the ultimate marathon, and I am now training mentally and physically for it, just like I would a real marathon. Here is my plan and how I’m preparing my body and my mind for the challenges of labor. Even if you are not opting for a natural delivery, this training plan will help ANYONE who is giving birth to have a better, easier delivery.
Exercise in general is great for any pregnant woman, and increasing physical fitness will make the endurance of labor easier. But there are certain exercises and types of exercise that will actually help your body deal better with contractions and pushing. (For a comprehensive guide to having a fit pregnancy, be sure and grab a copy of my ebook!)
- Squats – Squats work mainly 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, opens your pelvis as wide as it can get, and reduces the incidence of tearing. Squats also have a bonus of stretching your perineum each time you do them (reducing risk of tears).
- Interval Training – Practicing 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.
- Yoga – During labor, we turn off thinking and tune completely into our bodies. A great way to practice this is through prenatal yoga. Practicing poses, stretching, and the exercises of yoga teaches us to turn off thought, feel what our bodies are telling us, and be aware of what is happening internally. Here are more reasons why I love yoga during pregnancy.
- Cardiovascular training – any exercise that increases your cardiovascular capabilities and endurance will aid in labor and delivery. If you’ve ever needed endurance, it’s during labor, right?
- Kegels – strengthen the pelvic floor muscle (PC muscle), as you will need this muscle to be strong during delivery to avoid tearing and damage to the vagina. To find your pelvic floor muscles, simply stop your urination mid-stream. Once you identify the muscles, you can practice squeezing them.
My Labor Training Plan for Exercise:
- HIIT training, between 15-30 minutes, 3-4x a week (only attempt HIIT during pregnancy if you also performed it or were highly active before pregnancy as well) You can view my weekly HIIT workouts for pregnancy here.
- Squatting exercises are included in every HIIT routine
- I practice prenatal yoga 2-3x a week
- I “power” walk 5-6 days a week for about 30-40 minutes, usually right after my HIIT workout
- I perform 30 Kegels at the beginning of my daily meditation.
I stretch a LOT these days: before and after every workout, throughout the day, during yoga practice, and at night before bed. Stretching takes all sorts of pressure off my joints, relieves my tired muscles, and gets my blood circulating. But aside from the many pregnancy benefits, flexibility will also help with labor and especially delivery, and may prevent cramping and sore legs during pushing. Here are some stretching exercises that will benefit your body during delivery:
- Squat Pose – a squat stretch will help with the flexibility of the muscles that need to stretch out during delivery to get into child-birthing position. It also takes the stretching of the perineum a step further, preventing tears. To do a squat stretch, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, keeping your heels flat, and lean down until your bottom almost touches the floor. Use your elbows to stretch your knees apart even further. If you have trouble with balance, you can do this with your back against a wall.
- Tailor sit – simply sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet pulled in towards you. Keep your knees as close to the floor as you can and sit with your back straight. This accomplishes a stretch similar to that of a squat, stretching the same areas.
- Butterfly – Another way to stretch the same muscles and also make some room for your baby in your pelvis. Sit on the floor again with the bottoms of both feet touching, clutch your toes with your hands, and lean forward, back straight. This should give your back and hips some relief too.
My Labor Training Plan for Stretching:
- every night before bed, while we are winding down and watching tv, I do a complete stretching routine that incorporates all of these stretches, as well as some to relieve pregnancy aches and pains (cat/cow, hip circles, happy baby).
Relaxing your entire body through contractions will allow your uterus to work, and can also lessen the pain we create ourselves by clinching up. While it may seem like relaxing would be a no-brainer, learning to actually relax your body while your uterus is contracting takes practice. Here are some relaxation techniques that will teach you how to do this:
- Meditation – meditation is the practice of turning off thoughts and “monkey chatter” of the brain and becoming aware of your body instead. This practice will help you learn to tune out thoughts like “I can’t do this” “oh no here comes another contraction” and instead just feel what is happening without fear or judgement, which can actually prevent or alleviate pain! It will also teach you to feel the parts of your body that are tense so that you can focus on relaxing them.
- Deep breathing – practice breathing with a loose belly, as you will want to breathe during contractions (lamaze-type breathing has been shown to actually cause mothers to hypervenilate, and decrease oxygen to the unborn baby). Fill your lungs up with air, using your lower abdomen, and let all stress and anxiety out with each exhale.
- Relaxation – while lying down, close your eyes and relax every muscle in your body. Start with the top of your head, then your forehead, then your ears…every single muscle from your head to your toe. This is exactly what you will do during labor.
My Labor Training Plan for Relaxation:
- After every workout and stretching session, I sit and meditate for 10 minutes. I spend this time practicing letting my thoughts go and feeling any stress or tension in my body, and releasing it.
- Every night when I lay down to go to bed, after my stretching session above, I relax, practice deep breathing, and focus on letting tension go from head to toe.
- In a few weeks, my husband will begin practicing these techniques (the Bradley method) with me, by coaching me through the relaxation process each night.
- Because I have irritable uterus syndrome (Braxton-Hicks contractions), I have the opportunity to practice these relaxation and breathing techniques through actual contractions. Every time I feel my uterus begin to tighten, I relax my body and begin to breathe deeply. This will start the habit for me and by 40 weeks it will be second nature. I hope 🙂
Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods is preparing your body for labor. Your body works at it’s best when it is being given the nutrients it needs: every delicate function that occurs every single day has every tool it needs to perform at highest performance. Studies have shown that women who eat a poor diet during pregnancy have more difficult and complicated labors . Not to mention that a nutritious diet has multiple benefits for comfort and energy during pregnancy and giving baby what he/she needs to form correctly. Here are the basics of a healthy pregnancy diet:
- Protein – the building block of life, it’s important to get at least 80g-100g of protein each day to help form your developing baby and give you a steady supply of energy.
- Complex Carbohydrates – whole grains, fruits, and vegetables provide lots of fiber to not only carry the nutrients through your body but to help keep your digestive system running smoothly. These foods also provide your body with the all-important vitamins and minerals needed for bone development, prevention of birth defects, prevention of anemia, provide energy, and even to ease morning sickness. Leafy greens are extra important during pregnancy so your baby gets enough folate.
- Healthy Fats (DHA and EPA) – make your baby smarter and help form their brain and eyes, reduce inflammation in your aching body, may prevent prenatal and post-partum depression, may help prevent pre-term labor and pre-eclampsia, increases breast milk production, and new studies even show that these fats may help lower allergies in infants.
My Labor Training Plan for Nutrition:
- First and foremost, I make sure I’m getting protein at each meal, adding up to 80-100g per day. I eat a variety of complete protein from both plant and animal sources. Eggs, lean organic chicken and grass-fed beef, greek yogurt, quinoa and edamame are my protein staples.
- I eat 5-6 servings of vegetables every day, which I try to vary in color and type. At least 3 of those servings are green leafy vegetables like kale, my staple being spinach as it has the highest level of folate.
- I eat 2-3 servings of fruit per day, choosing mostly fruits with rich color, like berries and cherries, for the antioxidants.
- I eat 2-3 servings of healthy fat every day, varying the types of fat as much as I can. My staples are extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados, flaxseed, and fatty fish like salmon. To make sure I’m getting enough DHA and EPA, I supplement with this cod liver oil.
- I drink a ton of water, at least 2-3L per day. This water bottle helps me keep track of my intake and helps me drink twice as much water with it’s fancy bite straw.
How are you preparing your body for labor and delivery?