“I’m in training,” I would joke to anyone who asked me about my pregnancy. But I was also serious. I knew I was preparing for an experience like no other, and having a natural birth was important to me. I thought of my preparation like any other major physical challenge one might try. You don’t just sign up for a half marathon without training in advance, and so I prepared my mind and body for birthing.
First and foremost, nutrition! I can’t emphasize that enough. Not so much about not gaining weight, but just eating really well. People joke that you are eating for two, but they usually mean that in quantity of food, not quality of food.
Your body is rapidly changing and needs a wholesome, balanced diet to keep you energized while nourishing baby. I also believe that because I ate so well I avoided any stretch marks during my first pregnancy, despite believing I was doomed to have them because my mother did.
Secondly, exercise! General advice tends to be that you can continue whatever exercise routine you were already doing, but walking and swimming are great for beginners. Prenatal yoga is also wonderful for increasing stamina and relaxation practice. Most wouldn’t think that relaxation requires practice, but when you are used to multitasking and being constantly plugged in to electronics, finding time to sit quietly and relax your mind and body is not so easy. This is also a great time for partners to learn what touches, words, music, or other stimuli help to relax, and what distracts. Practicing relaxation with your partner ensures that when the time comes, they will know what to do or say without needing to be coached.
There are three other types of physical movements that I found essential during pregnancy, in labor and postpartum: kegels, pelvic rocking, and squatting. Kegels build a strong pelvic floor, and increase blood flow to help speed up recovery postpartum if there are any tears. They are also especially important during labor. Relaxing fully allows baby to descend the birth canal more easily. Don’t know what a kegel is? Next time you are in need of a tinkle, contract the muscle that stops the flow of urine. You just did a kegel! Simple, and can be done anytime, anywhere.
Squatting is also great for several reasons. It builds stamina and strength in your legs. It gently stretches the perineum, and is a great delivery position for allowing baby the widest space to emerge. Try to kegel while you squat. Even better, practice your breathing by inhaling for four counts, contracting a little harder with each count, and then exhaling and releasing gradually for four counts.
Pelvic rocks are best shown, so try searching for a video online. Basically, it involves being on hands and knees, and allowing your belly to pull your center down. For me, the most helpful explanation is to think of rounding your tailbone down. It brings your posture in alignment and keeps your core strong and balanced to counter the extra weight you are carrying in your belly. I still use this technique today whenever I notice my posture slouching.
Birthing is called “labor” for a reason. It implies hard work. Whatever birth experience you are aiming for, a healthy pregnancy carries benefits through to the postpartum stage and beyond. Good nutrition, exercise, and the women’s exercises described above are excellent tools to carry with you, not just in pregnancy but throughout your life. I wish you all a happy and healthy pregnancy.