There has been a real shift in attitude in recent years of women wanting to stay fit and active throughout their pregnancy. Gone is the view that pregnant women are in some way ‘ill’ and need to rest, in fact in an uncomplicated pregnancy there are very few limitations to what they can do. With guidance on the few things to avoid, women are able to stay strong and fit both mentally and physically right throughout their pregnancy. This has so many benefits including keeping blood pressure regulated, reducing the risk of gestational diabetes, reducing the risk of constipation, lower back pain and other aches. The production of endorphins associated with exercise promotes a sense of well being and positive mental energy. Staying strong is also important for the birth itself, the recovery – and for taking care of the new baby. 

What are the best exercises to help with labour?

However prepared you are for labour itself – there are often elements that might go off plan so it’s important to keep a flexible approach. Being cognisant of the different stages and what might happen is so helpful and allows women to amend their birth plan where needed. There’s no doubt labour is an extremely physical undertaking, so utilising some key stretches and strengthening moves prior and during, can really help take pressure off the body and enable a comfortable and beneficial position for birth.

Deep Squat

You can use a yoga ball to help your balance with this move. Practise during your pregnancy to strengthen the legs and get the pelvis activated. The wide knees and low centre of gravity in the movement make it a great active birthing position. During birth you can hold onto something in this position, or prop yourself up against the wall.

Feet slightly wider than hips, toes and knees pointing outwards as you go into a deep squat. When practising, try and get comfortable down there and hold for a few seconds before resting and repeating.

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Cat Cow stretch

This movement really takes pressure off the lower back. In addition, the rounding of the back really helps the baby’s journey into the lower part of the pelvis so may be really helpful in late stage of pregnancy and the labour itself. All fours is a really strong and natural position for labour, so good to practise that you’re comfortable in this position if you feel it might be one to use for your birth.

Take all fours, make sure your arms are straight below your shoulders, knees beneath hips. Take a big exhale and round your back up, look down towards your chest and feel your shoulder blades open. Take a big inhale and move your back the other way, arching and opening your chest. This movement also feels great on the lower back when taken side to side – tail wag your hips to the right and look over your right shoulder, then repeat to the left.

Child’s Pose

We can modify a child’s pose to make it a really lovely stretch for all through pregnancy, plus it can feel really comfortable during labour.

To fit in the bump, take a kneeling position with toes together, knees really wide. Drape your body forward using a prop to support your chest, arms and head. The best to use is a yoga/exercise ball if you have, alternatively rest your arms and head on the sofa, side of bed or cushions. Breathe deeply into the centre of your back and try to feel a grounding sensation through the hips, stomach and upper back.

Chest opener

As the breasts grow bigger and heavier throughout pregnancy, they can put pressure on the upper back, resulting in it rounding forwards. To counteract this, a chest opening stretch will feel amazing. This could be taken leaning back on the yoga ball, or alternatively against the sofa.

Start sitting with knees bent and feet apart. Lift the hips to drape the upper body back over the ball, or the sofa. Move to find a comfortable position where a lovely chest stretch is felt. Relax the head, neck, shoulders and jaw and breath deeply in that position.

Article by Rosie Stockley, MAMAWELL.

Rosie Stockley founded MAMAWELL to coach women at all stages of their life, with a particular emphasis on pregnancy and postnatal fitness. Her workout programme ‘The MAMAWELL Method’ focusing on helping women stay strong and energised all through their pregnancy and after birth is available on www.mamawell.org.

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