No two births are the same and every Mum’s body is different. How you give birth will be unique to you and your baby!
Yes, the thought of labour and birth can feel very overwhelming. But that doesn’t have to stop you empowering yourself (and your body!) by preparing as much as you can for the strength and stamina required for labour.
A gentle, low impact form of exercise like Pilates is a good place to start. Classes with Lucy Smith Pilates use gentle movement to help Mums strengthen the body, encourage the baby into a good position, learn how to engage and relax the pelvic floor, control their breathing more effectively and learn positions for labour.
Here are my five favourite Pregnancy Pilates exercises for during pregnancy and labour. Make sure you have approval to exercise by your midwife or GP before you give them a try. If you are going to attend a Pilates class during pregnancy, make sure that your teacher is qualified to teach antenatal clients.
This exercise gently encourages both strengthening and release of the pelvic floor muscles, as the ability to release and relax the pelvic floor will play an important part in labour. It also encourages the correct engagement of the deep abdominals (core).
- Start position: Sit comfortably, ideally sitting in a chair.
- Breathe in to prepare. Exhale and gently draw in the back passage as if trying not to pass wind, the front passage as if trying to hold in a wee and then imagine zipping up the spine into the deep abdominals (a feeling of hugging your baby/bump).
- Hold this connection for three rounds of breath – you can build this up the more you practise – then SLOWLY release back the way you came. Repeat 5 times.
- WATCHPOINTS: Keep the rest of the body relaxed and free of tension – especially the buttock muscles. Don’t worry if you lose the connection, just relax and start again.
Sliding down the wall
The wall provides great feedback on your changing posture and strengthens the thighs, bottom and core (you’ll be doing lots of bending and lifting after birth).
- Start position: The back of the pelvis and ribcage are against the wall, with a gentle curve in your lower back. Keep feet about a thigh bone’s distance away from the wall and hip distance apart (about a fist distance) with knees slightly bent. Usually the back of the head will be just away from the wall to allow it to balance freely on the top of the spine.
- Take a deep breath into the back and sides of the ribcage. On your exhale slide the ribcage and pelvis down the wall a few inches, flexing the hips, knees and ankles. Use your deep abdominals (core) to support the spine and pelvis and maintain its position against the wall.
- Hold for a breath in, keep a connection in the deep abdominals (core) to help you keep length through the spine.
- Exhale and press the floor away evenly through both feet to return to the start position. Repeat 8-10 times.
- WATCH POINTS: Keep the knees in line with the toes and don’t allow the hips to drop below the knees. Take care not to lock the knees when you slide back up. Stay open and released in the upper body but think about a connection into your deep abdominals (hug your bump).
Exercises in four point kneeling are very beneficial towards the end of pregnancy and in labour as they can encourage the baby to turn. It can be tough on the wrists though, which is why it is worthwhile practising this from early pregnancy to build up wrist strength. Remember to sit back, take a break and stretch your wrists if you need to.
- Start position: Hands directly under shoulders and knees directly beneath hips. Zip up into the deep abdominals to support your growing bump and stop the lower back collapsing towards the floor. Ensure weight is distributed evenly between the hands, knees, shins and front of the feet.
- Breathe in to the back and sides of the rib cage and feel length through the spine. Breathe out and (imaging you have a dog’s tail) wag your tail to the left, taking the left hip towards your left shoulder. Try to keep your hips level with the floor.
- Breathe in then move your tail back to the start so both sides of the waist are equal length. Repeat five times on each side.
- WATCHPOINTS: Movement should be controlled but also feel free and relaxed. Avoid locking your elbows. Keep the upper body free from tension – the chest and front of the shoulders should feel open.
Another four point kneeling exercise that is great for labour and late pregnancy.
- Start position: As for Tail swish.
- Breathe in to the back and sides of the rib cage and feel length through the spine. Breathe out and (imaging you have a dog’s tail) tuck your tail under. Your pelvis will tilt, the pubic bone moves forward and your lower back will round slightly.
- Breathe in to send your tailbone back to the start position. Repeat 8-10 times.
- WATCHPOINTS: Feel length through the spine from the crown of the head to the tailbone. Take care not to collapse in the lower back as your return to the start position, just until the pelvis feels level. Also see above for Tail swish.
As well as strengthening and mobilising the body, squats open the pelvic outlet in preparation for birth and help to stretch the perineal area for flexibility during labour. Practising this exercise during pregnancy may give you the strength and endurance to squat during birth if you want to. From 35 weeks check with your midwife because if your baby is breech, they may advise that you avoid squats for a while. Caution with knee problems.
- Start position: Either stand sideways to a wall / sturdy chair or hold hands with a partner for extra stability. Imagine you have swallowed a long stick, stand tall and keep a gentle connection to your deep abdominals (hug your baby).
- Breathe in to prepare. Breathe out and keeping length through the spine hinge forward at the hips, bending the knees, hips and ankles. If you are not holding a partner’s hands, take both arms forward, keeping them below shoulder height.
- Breathe in to return to standing tall.
- WATCHPOINTS: Avoid taking the hips below the knees. Check that your feet, knees, hips are lined up as you hinge forward. Keep the heels in contact with the floor. The head stays in line with the spine so your gaze will come down the wall in front of you as you squat.
AUTHOR: LUCY SMITH
PILATES TEACHER, SURREY
Lucy Smith Pilates supports you to strengthen your body from within through regular Pilates classes, helping you to feel stronger, more mobile and more in control of how your body moves.