I just hit eight months in my pregnancy, so I’ve got about two months left to get ready for the birth of our daughter. Eek! It’s exciting, but it’s scary too. This is our first child, so everything is an unknown. I’ll admit that I get anxious about what labor will feel like and how I’ll be able to handle it. I’m glad my husband and I took a Bradley Method course to help us prepare.
Besides being educated, it helps to be physically ready for what’s likely the most taxing event a woman goes through in life. And that’s why I’m so glad I’ve been going to J&M Strength and Conditioning. The skills I’ve learned in the gym are going to make a natural birth much more possible and, hopefully, bearable. For example, did you know that laboring in a squat position facilitates the baby’s arrival and makes mom’s job easier, not to mention that it reduces the risk of a tear (when done correctly)? Squatting tilts the uterus and pelvis forward, getting baby in the right position; it works with gravity and shortens the birth canal, shortening the pushing phase of labor; and it widens the pelvic opening (reducing the risk of a tear or the need for an episiotomy).
As per my Bradley Method instructor’s suggestion, I’ve been practicing the squat position every day (OK, almost every day). The back squats I’ve been doing in the gym have made this easier. Plus, they’re improving the strength and flexibility of my thighs, hips and butt, all of which can tire easily during labor if they haven’t been strengthened. Squats are even beneficial for the back and core, meaning less or no back pain during pregnancy and labor. So far, I’ve had only a couple of episodes of an achy lower back at night, and my posture has remained strong. Like Kegels, the squat can help firm up the pelvic floor, which can also makes baby’s arrival smoother and faster. If the pelvic floor muscles are too loose, they create a valley (instead of a smooth slide) that can hinder baby’s movement through the birth canal.
As we learn at J&M, it’s important to get in some accessory work that can improve the three major lifts. So, while you’re thinking of squatting to prepare for labor, don’t forget the accessory movements. Here are some ideas:
Lying on your side, bend your hips and knees at 90-degree angles (use a resistance band just above your knees). Ribs down! Lift your top knee upward, opening your knees like a clam, while keeping your feet together. You should feel it in your glutes. Switch sides and repeat.
With a resistance band around your legs, just above your knees, hinge at the hips and bend your knees slightly (like you’re going down for a deadlift). Your spine should be in neutral with your chin tucked slightly. Ribs down! Keep your feet wide and take small steps from side to side until you feel the burn in your glutes. You can do these forward and backward too.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand (not too heavy) and step up onto a raised surface. Keep the shin and knee of the leg you’re rising up on vertical and in line with each other. Ribs down! Slowly go up and come back down, maintaining neutral alignment and squeezing your butt at the top. Repeat on the opposite leg.
One-legged glute bridges
Sit on the ground in front of a bench and spread your arms out across the bench. Place your feet in front of you and push your hips up with one leg so that your knee forms a 90-degree angle. Don’t overextend your back, and keep those ribs down. Keep your spine neutral the whole time. Do this on both legs.
Grab a kettlebell (again, not too heavy) and get in a half-kneeling position, with one foot out in front of you and one knee on the ground (both knees in 90-degree angles). With your ribs down, your spine neutral and your glutes and core engaged, move the kettlebell from one hip to the opposite shoulder in a chopping motion, then switch sides.
Throw a couple of these in after your squat sets for three to four sets of 10 reps each and you’re good to go! (Clams and band shuffles are similar so pick just one.)
Get in some ball slams, battle ropes or light prowler pushes for added leg work and cardio. And don’t forget that you can even do bodyweight or light goblet squats every day without overdoing it.
Besides helping you prepare for the birthing experience, the squat and its accessory work can help you bounce back faster after birth. Who wouldn’t want that? Of course, a well-rounded fitness plan and healthy diet will be your best allies in pregnancy, birth and postpartum life.
If you haven’t been squatting regularly as part of a sound fitness program before you got pregnant but you want to utilize the squat during birth, talk to you midwife or OB/GYN. Also, search for a knowledgeable trainer who has worked with pregnant women in the past (http://www.functionalmovement.com/experts).
NOTE: Our trainer, Jim Laird, reviewed the exercises in this post for accuracy.