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Simple breathing exercises to prepare your body for labor + delivery

We all prepare differently for baby's arrival and truly there's no right or wrong way to get ready for the big day. Often times, this preparation takes the form of reading and attending childbirth prep classes, registering for baby items and setting up the nursery. These are all important ways to prepare mentally and emotionally, but I want you to consider preparing your body as well and the physical work that comes with labor.

Rest assured, this preparation applies whether you're preparing for a planned cesarean or striving for a vaginal delivery. Optimal fitness will aid in tolerance of and recovery from all forms of delivery. If you're exercising already, that's wonderful! If you're not, it's not too late to get started!

To begin, try these simple breathing exercises that will help you achieve strength and balance in mind and body.

1. Passive diaphragmatic breathing

A great way to reduce stress and anxiety, this practice can be incorporated into daily living throughout all stages of pregnancy and into postpartum. Diaphragmatic breathing will provide numerous benefits when utilized during labor and delivery as well, including muscle relaxation and creating an overall sense of calm as it works to reduce feelings of "fight or flight."

To practice, begin in a comfortable seated position, upright, but not stiff in your posture. Relax through your jaw and tongue while lifting through your spine. Practice lengthening your neck and releasing your shoulders.

With one hand on your belly and one to your chest, notice the movement of your abdomen with each inhale and exhale. Actively breathe into the belly while inhaling (allowing belly to expand). On the exhale, gently hug your belly back toward your spine while visualizing a wrapping motion of your deep abdominal muscles as they hug side to side.

You may repeat the sequence 10 to 20 times daily, focusing on relaxing the muscles of your rib cage and spine while gently activating the deep abdominal muscles to facilitate expansive breathing. For more on this breathing practice, see here. You can give the practice a try alongside this video.

2. Active diaphragmatic breathing

Sit-ups? Crunches? Leg-lifts? Planks? Can you do what you've been doing for core exercises now that baby is on board?! Well, that all depends, but there are some things I'd like you to avoid!

Core strength is very important in pregnancy as it helps to reduce muscle imbalances throughout the body, reduces common aches and pains and the risk of abdominal separation. With that said, proper core strengthening considers the needs of the pregnant body and means leaving behind those traditional "ab workouts" (such a crunches and sit-ups).

If you're beyond the first trimester, this is a great time to transition to more beneficial, safer core exercises such as Quadruped also called, Opposite Arm and Leg Extension or Bird-Dog.

You can practice safe core training through the use of diaphragmatic breathing simply by making the breath a bit stronger, called Active Diaphragmatic Breathing. To give this a try, add an audible sound such as "Shhh" or "Ssss" through pursed lips on your exhale while gently hugging your belly and baby back toward your spine and up toward your diaphragm.

You can follow alongside this video to practice.

3. Core + pelvic floor connection

"Are you doing your kegels?!" Good news! You will never hear me ask a student this question and I'm not really asking you either!

Why? Well, because many of us are walking around with pelvic floors that are already too tight. As you can imagine, attempting to strengthen an already tight pelvic floor with hundreds of kegels each day does not help in preparation for labor and delivery.

Now this does not mean we should ignore the pelvic floor. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If you have a history of or are currently experiencing pelvic floor pain or dysfunction ie: urinary incontinence, I would definitely recommend seeing a Women's Health Physical Therapist in pregnancy. These specialists can help you to prepare for labor and delivery through education and manual therapy.

While I won't advise in performing hundreds of kegels, I will encourage you to connect to your pelvic floor through the use of your breath and movement. When you practice your diaphragmatic breathing, notice if you can feel the pelvic floor relax and contract with the breath. Pay attention and aim to incorporate a lift of the pelvic floor while you're exhaling. On the inhale, aim to fully relax and release the pelvic floor.

As with much of life and within our own bodies, we are striving to find balance. In the case of the core and pelvic floor, it's finding the balance of strength and relaxation, the ability to contract and release. Tuning into these sensations of relaxation and contraction in unison with your breath can be powerful preparation for the effort of labor and delivery as you and baby work together to bring your little one earthside.

You may be planning for a scheduled cesarean, trying for a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC), hoping for a vaginal delivery... independent of this, pregnancy places stress on the pelvic floor from the downward pressure of an increasing belly. Having the ability to relax and contract your core and pelvic floor will aid in postpartum recovery based on your unique delivery experience.

Practice these foundational exercises daily to gain a greater connection to your evolving body in pregnancy and to set you up well for returning to fitness.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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