We often focus on staying fit in pregnancy, thinking about staying strong and mobile in our bodies in preparation for birth. But did you know there are some specific things you can do to prepare your body for birth and make delivery easier?
Continue reading to learn from a physiotherapist, prenatal yoga teacher and pregnancy wellness specialist, Rosie who will walk you through her top tips on exercises during the 9th month to help prepare for an easier labour and delivery.
Benefits Of Exercising For Easy Labour
We have plenty of research over the past couple of decades that supports women who stay active leading up until the end of pregnancy tend to lean towards shorter and easier deliveries.
For me, this was incentive enough to remain active up until delivery, even if things do start to slow down towards the end of pregnancy. We also know that mothers who have stayed active in pregnancy tend to recover faster from the rigours of birth and delivery, and are less prone to pre and postnatal depression.
Ideal Baby Position For 9th Month Of Pregnancy
Your 36th week marks the start of the 9th month of pregnancy, and the count down to your baby’s birth begins.
Ideally, in the weeks leading into birth, your baby turns to a “head down position” in preparation for delivery.
Breech birth is something that we have become increasingly afraid of, though most midwives and skilled birth attendants are less worried about a breech birth (in an uncomplicated pregnancy without any contraindications) than we would perhaps be, given the hype.
If your baby is in a Frank breech position (with butt down and feet straight up), I have even heard from experienced midwives that this is a little kinder on the delivering mother. But, these are all things to discuss with your healthcare provider.
To assist getting your baby in the ideal “head down” position, try to:
- Stay relatively active
- Do some of the exercises listed below
- Avoid lying on your back or in the reclined position (think lounging back on the couch)
- Spend some time a few times a day on all 4’s (crawling is a great, if not a mildly comic birth preparation position)
These are all great exercises alternatives for birth preparation instead of doing exercises to induce labour. Again, we highly recommend you discuss this with your health care provider before embarking on this path!
Must-Do Exercises Towards The End Of Pregnancy
Here I have included some of my favourite exercises to do in the 9th month to help with a normal delivery:
Squats are one of the best exercises you can do throughout your pregnancy – not only to prepare you for labour and birth but also to prepare you for the rigours of motherhood!
I thank squats every time both of my boys want to be lifted up from the floor at the same time (which is no mean feat, they collectively weigh around 30kg, plus I’m carrying an extra 10+ kg, being late stage of my third pregnancy!)
“Kegels” Or pelvic floor strengthening exercises, are a key part of all pregnancy and birth preparation. We want to maintain a strong, coordinated pelvic floor throughout pregnancy to reduce the risk of developing Urinary incontinence, birth complications, and to make our recovery into motherhood much easier.
It’s important to coordinate the pelvic floor action with the breath.
On an inhale, RELAX your pelvic floor. On an exhale, lift your pelvic floor (the area between your coccyx at the back, and the pubic bone at the front) as if you were trying to stop the passage of wind. Then, draw the muscles up a little further like an elevator rising. Then, release on the inhale breath and repeat.
Once you feel you have mastered the basic lift without breath holding, then you can work on bringing them into everyday functional movements, for maximum benefit.
Everyday functional movements include going from sitting to standing and squatting, any time you lift, push, pull, cough or sneeze. This will help you stand in good stead for your motherhood journey ahead!
Pelvic Floor Relaxation
Whilst it’s important to have a strong pelvic floor for good pelvic health and childbirth, it’s also really important to be able to relax your pelvic floor as this increases flexibility and creates space in the passage of your baby out into the world.
After an exhale and lift of the pelvic floor (as above), release and let go during the inhale breath. On the 3rd or 4th subsequent breaths, try to relax your pelvic floor further by releasing and relaxing more with each breath.
Watch this instructional video here to learn about pelvic floor strengthening and relaxation:
Malasana Squat (aka “Yoga Squat”)
This hip mobility exercise – Malasana squat or “Yoga Squat” – is a great way to encourage length and relaxation of the pelvic floor and positioning your baby.
For this exercise, sit in a low supported squat with a bolster, block or low chair under your buttocks. We also recommend taking your elbows to inner knees to create an opening of the hips and pelvis. Take your pelvic floor relaxation to the next level and try practising this squat exercise with vowel sounds for birthing.
Pelvic Outlet Opening Exercise
Pelvic outlet opening – left side-lying, with the bottom knee bent to 90 degrees for stability, draw right knee towards armpit area, and create some small circles. You can also take your right fingers to the right big toe, and stretch the leg long up towards the sky if you have open hamstrings.
This is a great position for birth as it frees up the pelvic outlet or bottom of the pelvis which helps to bring your baby earthside.
We also recommend taking extra precautions when lying on your right side for extended periods of time or if you feel short of breath. Knowing when to stop is also very important for you and your bump’s health and safety. Being in these positions are perfectly fine for small periods of time.
Fitball Or Birthing Ball Exercises
Fitball or birthing ball exercises for birth prep usually involves supported squats against the wall, hip and pelvic mobility exercises, and core stability exercises (think sitting on the ball, lifting one leg, engaging the core – which is much harder than it sounds!).
Learning to tilt your pelvis forward and back is a good step in the right direction for opening up your pelvic floor and pelvic outlet. This directly affects the position of your pelvis and allows your baby to move out into the world much more easily.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit upright with your feet a little wider than hip width (provided you have no pelvic or pubic discomfort – otherwise keep feet closer together).
- Place your hands on your hip bones.
- Extend your spine upwards. Try imagining your hair being pulled from the top.
- Accentuate the arch of your lower back. Try imagining you had an imaginary tail that you are trying to wag it out behind you.
- Then do the opposite. Imagine yourself were trying to bring your tail between your legs or your tailbone forwards and underneath you on the ball.
- Try to isolate the movement to the lower spine and pelvis.
- Continue rocking back and forwards.
Other great birth preparation exercises you can do on a fitball are sitting hip circles and “figure 8” tracing these shapes with your hips as you sit upon the ball.
You can also practice using the ball for different birthing positions such as having your arms draped over the ball and kneeling on all 4’s is a personal favourite. Doing birthing ball exercises helps put your body, your baby and your pelvis in a good position to encourage easier birth.
Precautions For Exercise And When To Stop Exercising
There are times where you may need to stop or cease exercise, but in general, a common sense approach is the best approach for staying active in pregnancy.
A full list of contraindications (absolute no’s) and precautions can be found in our prenatal exercise guide, so download the free ebook for the comprehensive list.
The most important things are that you have clearance from your doctor or midwife and have had discussions about your exercise plans with your care provider.
Every woman’s circumstances are unique – your exercise plan should be tailored and personalised too.
If you fit the criteria that means you have the tick of approval to stay active, my common-sense approach to movement includes:
- Stay well rested, well fed, and well hydrated
- Avoid exercising in hot and humid conditions
- Stop if you feel dizzy
- Stop if you are excessively short of breath
- Stop if you are feeling pain in the pelvic or back region pain (especially in the 9th month of pregnancy)
- Stop exercising if you have any bleeding
- Stop if you are concerned you could be in labour
- Stop exercising if you have lost your mucus plug (thick white or brown discharge which is common for pregnant women from weeks to hours before labour)
- Always listen to your body
Staying active in your third trimester and leading into your birth has a host of benefits for you and your baby. You will realise a tonne of benefits during this pregnancy period and later down the track in your first weeks and months together as a family.
As always, chat with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns, make sure that you are cleared to exercise, and really listen to your body in this period. Go, Mama!
Download our prenatal exercise guide to learn how to exercise safely during pregnancy. This FREE ebook, approved by health professionals, will take you through the what, why and how-tos to exercising at every trimester of pregnancy.