Although getting pregnant can be one of the most exciting events in your life, when it comes to labor and delivery, it can all feel pretty daunting—especially if you've never done it before. On top of having a new baby, there are the risks, the pain, and the recovery time to worry about.
But there are things you can do to get ready. Along with educating yourself about the process, exercise can be a great way to prepare your body for labor, boosting your pelvic floor muscle tone and strength, while increasing flexibility. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), exercising while pregnant can even increase the likelihood of having a vaginal birth.
Adding simple exercises into your daily routine now can help train your body for delivery—here are five ideas to get you moving.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a practice of conscious belly breathing that builds core strength and helps to reduce anxiety.
For passive diaphragmatic breathing, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Focus on the movement of your abdomen as you breathe in and out, and actively breathe "into" the belly while inhaling, allowing your stomach to expand. During this expansive breathing exercise, relax the muscles of your ribcage and spine.
For active diaphragmatic breathing, you're going to be working on core strength. By making the breath stronger than in the passive breathing and adding in a sound through pursed lips during your exhale ("Shhh" or "Ssss"), you'll be strengthening your core.
The further along in your pregnancy you get, the more important it is to keep your core and pelvic floor strong to help with labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. One of the best ways to do this is through strengthening exercises such as opposite arm and leg extensions, more often referred to as bird dogs.
To perform bird dogs, start on your hands and knees. Then, slowly extend one of your legs while stretching out your arm opposite. When you're fully extended, hold the position for several seconds, engaging your core. Alternate the extensions between your opposite arm and legs.
Squats are a great low-impact exercise that you can build your skill in over time—by starting squats when you're in your first trimester, you can help to expand your pelvic outlet during labor, which allows more room for your baby to leave the womb.
To do squats, stand in front of a couch or chair, or use a wall if you feel comfortable and balanced. Keep your knees shoulder-width apart and try to squat down until your knees reach a 90-degree angle before slowly righting yourself again. Repeat 10 to 15 times per set.
If you want to add in an exercise ball, stand up straight with a ball between you and the wall and then continue the exercise as normal.
It's in the name, isn't it? Child's pose—along with many other yoga poses—is an extremely beneficial addition to your pre-labor stretches as it helps to lengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which supports the bowel, bladder, and uterus.
To perform child's pose, kneel down and spread your knees wide, while bending over to rest your head on the floor. In your later trimesters, place a yoga block under your forehead to allow more room for your belly. Walk your arms out in front of you, bringing your chest close to the ground. You can keep your palms up or touch them flat on the floor—whichever relaxes you more. Gently stretch your lower back and focus on breathing.
Walking may not seem that monumental, but walking every day for 30 minutes when you're pregnant can have a big impact. In fact, studies have shown that walking can shorten labor time and reduce complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
If you're working and your office has enough space, you can try walking outside during your lunch break (fold the stairs into your routine if you think you can!). Otherwise, taking a walk before bed can help with both mindfulness and rest.
Although you can still run while pregnant, most trainers and physicians suggest keeping your heart rate lower. If you want to challenge yourself more, you can also try an elliptical or swimming, which share in a lot of the same benefits as walking (but are more accessible).
Staying safe while exercising
If you're new to exercise but want to start now during pregnancy, don't feel discouraged if you feel tired or aren't quite flexible enough to do the moves exactly as written. It might seem scary to get started now, but rest assured: ACOG cites walking, stationary cycling, aerobic exercises, dancing, stretching, water aerobics, and resistance exercises during pregnancy as both safe and beneficial through extensive studies.
However, if you feel dizziness or pain in places such as your abdomen, chest, or head, don't push yourself to keep going. Contact your doctor to discuss exercise and its benefits. They'll also be able to tell you exercises to avoid, such as exercises that call for heightened balance or spending too much time on your back.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period: ACOG committee opinion summary, number 804. April 2020.
UT Southwestern Medical Center. 5 exercises and techniques to train for childbirth. August 23, 2016.