Training for birth – the ultimate marathon
I’m Training for a Marathon
Typically pregnant women are asked the age old question ‘when are you due?’ but maybe we should be asking ‘when is your event?’ Maybe that would help shift the mindset to one of training for birth rather than awaiting the birth.
Birth is often compared to a marathon and rightly so! The physical mental and emotional strength and endurance required for labour and delivery is immense yet current prenatal education fails to stress the importance of training for the big day which means many women are not prepared for the demands of the big day. This can impact the birth and also the recovery leaving many new moms struggling to cope with the realities of the postpartum body. With the right preparation and training, labour and delivery can be optimized and recovery can be quicker and easier. The key to the prenatal training plan is specificity – you should train your body for the event you are preparing for.
If you want to run a marathon, your training should include running and strength and stretch activities for the muscles involved in running. If you want to be a better basketball player, you should practice a lot of drills, build strength and endurance in the muscles that are used for agility and dribbling, and then play a lot of basketball. If your goal is to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, then you should regularly climb increasingly bigger mountains while cross training your body for optimal performance.
Birth is no different – well, it is a bit different since you can’t really practice giving birth, but you can prepare your body for the big day. If you want to birth well, then you should learn how the body moves to facilitate birth, and then train your body for endurance, strength and flexibility in those movements.
Optimizing your upcoming birth means learning and then practicing the various birth positions. I recommend walking, squatting and pelvic rocking on a birth ball in preparation for early labor. These can all be practiced safely during pregnancy and yes make up your training workouts.
To help you train for your “birth marathon” I’ve also put together a list of suggested workout techniques, noted below, that will improve your physical health, appearance, and how your body responds to birth and how your body will handle the recovery process. The emphasis is on the glute muscles (your booty) because they are key to pelvic health. Strong, shapely butt muscles will help keep the sacrum in ideal position meaning more space and mobility for baby during pregnancy and birth. A great booty will also keep the pelvic floor muscles in check and better able to contract and relax when needed. These moves should be done daily in pregnancy and are then done gradually as part of your recovery as well.
One of the best glute exercises out there is the bridge and this can be done during pregnancy with a wedge under the upper back and as early as the second week postpartum. As your strength increases you can also add some resistance with a sandbag (or your baby once they can sit up on their own) on your pelvis. Once you have regained your pelvic stability you can also up the challenge by performing the movement with one leg off the ground and extended. Exhale and engage the pelvic floor (ideally using a cue such as the “jellyfish” to add a voluntary contraction) and then press the hips up towards the ceiling. Inhale and release the pelvic floor contraction as you lower your pelvis back down.
Squatting is also a great glute builder and a great position for use in labour so practice daily in your pregnancy and build up strength and endurance in your glutes and legs. It is also an exercise you can (and should) return to within a few weeks postpartum when you pick up your baby or anything off the floor. The range of motion can be modified depending on how you feel but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked, your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back) and your knees and toes pointing forward. I also like doing these with a stability ball against a wall and placed in the curve of the low back. Inhale as you lower down then exhale to engage your pelvic floor (using your best core cue) and press back up.
This exercise not only builds great glutes but it also helps with pelvic stability during and after pregnancy. I recommend adding this exercise into your postpartum routine at around five or six weeks postpartum. Standing on one leg with your hands on the wall or on the back of a chair for support, exhale to engage the pelvic floor and press the heel of the lifted leg back while keeping the leg straight. Inhale as you return the leg to the start. You can also add a stretchy exercise band around the ankles for added resistance.
With the end goal of completing a birth marathon, honour your body with the right training and recovery plan. Your body and baby deserve it.
Kim Vopni – The Fitness Doula – Author of Prepare To Push™ – What Your Pelvic Floor and Abdomen Want You To Know About Pregnancy And Birth, Owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc, and Co-Founder of Bellies Inc. Kim is a mom of 2 boys and is a Certified fitness professional who also trained as a doula. She combines the support aspect of a doula with the principles of fitness to help her pregnant clients ‘Prepare To Push’ while postpartum she helps her clients optimize healing and regain their core confidence for motherhood. She has taken specialized training in 2 pelvic floor fitness programs – the Pfilates Method and the Hypopressive Method. In 2009 she created a women’s health event called Kegels and Cocktails (that is now running across Canada and into the USA) designed to empower and educate women on the importance of pelvic health. You can find her on-line at www.pelviennewellness.com and www.belliesinc.com on facebook @PelvienneWellness and @BelliesInc and on twitter @FitnessDoula and @BelliesInc Kim is also a contributing writer for the Globe and Mail’s online Health section.