3 Ways to Prepare for Labor Throughout Your Pregnancy: A Pelvic Floor PT’s Guide

As I’m writing this blog I am 38 weeks pregnant. The anticipation in the weeks leading up to meeting my baby has been growing and at times can be a little overwhelming!

I am the kind of person who likes to be able to plan and prepare so not being able to know what day or exactly how labor and delivery will go isn’t always easy for me to accept. Thankfully, there are some things that I’ve been doing in the days, weeks, and months leading up to delivery to help my body prepare for the birth of my baby and have given me a sense of control and confidence as I near my due date! I’m here to share some of those with you so you too can feel as prepared as possible for the birth of your baby!

But first a disclaimer – **It’s always best to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine, especially if you are having any complications of pregnancy**

Exercise Throughout Pregnancy

There are many benefits to working out regularly to maintain a healthy pregnancy, but did you know it can also have a positive impact on your labor and delivery? Some studies have found that staying active throughout pregnancy can actually shorten labor times. A higher fitness level is also helpful as you will need that endurance and strength during the labor and delivery process. During the first and second trimester, you should be able to continue with any exercise that you were doing prior to becoming pregnant including running, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, etc. If you are feeling fatigued, having back or pelvic pain, nausea/vomiting, or any other pregnancy-related symptoms, it is always best to listen to your body and modify the exercise as needed. A women’s health physical therapist can be a great resource during this time to help you address any pain during your pregnancy so you can stay as active as possible.

During the last trimester of pregnancy you will more than likely need to start modifying exercise and opt for more low-impact activities. If you have been lifting weights you will likely need to decrease the amount of weight you are using. Running and jumping might need to be put on pause until after baby gets here as the increased pressure of your growing baby on your pelvis can make these activities difficult. Watch for symptoms such as pelvic heaviness, leaking urine, back/hip/pelvic pain, and abdominal doming/coning while doing a specific exercise. These are all signs that we likely need to retire or modify an exercise for the remainder of the pregnancy. With that being said, every patient that I have seen during pregnancy is unique and is going into their pregnancy at different levels of fitness. This means that what might work for one person, doesn’t for the next. If you aren’t sure how to navigate exercise safely during pregnancy, it is best to work with your doctor and a women’s health physical therapist!

Breathing Exercises

These are a must to help get you ready for the big day! Breathwork helps to keep your rib cage moving optimally, improves core and pelvic floor function, decreases muscle tension throughout the body (and most importantly the pelvic floor during labor!), and promotes overall calming and relaxation in the body (again, who doesn’t want this during labor?!).

First, let’s make sure that you have the correct breathing techniques down. Take a breath in through your nose and allow that breath to fill side to side along your lower rib cage, forward into your belly, and back towards your spine. This is called 360-degree breathing and helps us to get the most out of our breathing practice. Now let’s practice! Slowly inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 4 times. Notice how your body feels a little lighter and relaxed? In total it takes about a minute to get through four rounds of this technique which is about as long as a contraction lasts (pretty handy right?) and the good news is that you can practice this in the weeks and months leading up to delivery!

Pelvic Mobility Exercises

During labor and delivery, the pelvis needs to open in different ways to allow the baby to descend into the birth canal. Pelvic mobility exercises are a great way to make sure our pelvis is moving well to support that process.

The Cat-Camel exercise is one of my favorites to do every day and it can be varied in many different ways to promote mobility in all directions.

Variation 1 – Standard Cat-Camel:

Start on your hands and knees, making sure hands are directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

Exhale as you round your back upwards towards the ceiling, think about tucking your tailbone down towards the floor, and let your head drop down towards the ground. Then inhale, let your belly drop to the floor, extend your tailbone towards the back wall, and look forward. Continue alternating between these movements in pace with your inhales and exhales for 1 minute.

Cat Camel step one
Knees Wide Feet Togeather

Variation 2 – Knees Wide and Feet Together Cat-Camel:

Start on your hands and knees, making sure hands are directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

Start on hands and knees, but this time bring your feet together and knees out wide. Repeat the same movements as in variation 1. This move opens up the top of the pelvis more, helping the baby to drop down in the weeks leading up to labor

Knees Wide Feet Togeather

Variation 3 – Asymmetric Cat-Camel:

Start on your hands and knees, making sure hands are directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

Start on hands and knees and place a folded-up blanket or yoga block under one knee. Repeat the same movements as in variation 1, making sure to complete one round on each side. This move opens up the mid pelvis. If you are having pubic symphysis pain this could provoke some pain, so discontinue if you are unable to do pain-free.

Asymmetrical Cat Camel

Variation 4 – Feet Wide Cat-Camel:

Start on your hands and knees, making sure hands are directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

Start on hands and knees, knees under your hips and feet pointed outward so they are wider than your knees. Repeat the same movement as in variation 1. This move opens up the lower pelvis (pelvic outlet) which is the last part of the pelvis that the baby needs to pass through as they are being born.

Feet Wide Cat Camel

If you are having trouble finding exercises that are comfortable for you due to pelvic pain, or if you would just like more information on other types of mobility exercises to do during pregnancy seek help from a pelvic floor physical therapist. Our job is to find out the needs that are specific to your body so we can come up with a customized exercise program that fits you!

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