Preparing is always better than not, right? In elementary school, we studied for tests, on the high school basketball team, we trained for our games and when deciding to learn a musical instrument, we took lessons and practised. And that huge goal of running a marathon? We didn't just go and run it. We trained and prepared our bodies and minds for the challenge.
So why is birth any different? As every woman who has birthed a baby will tell you, birth is like a marathon, so why are you not training your body for the big event?
In the fitness industry, there are several principles of training. One of them is the principle of specificity. Essentially, it means that 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 practise 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.
Birth is no different – well, it is a bit different since you can't really practise 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 practising the various birth positions. I recommend walking, squatting and pelvic rocking on a birth ball in preparation for early labour. These can all be practised safely during pregnancy.
When it comes time to push, I like the all-fours positions and side-lying positions best. Exercises such as hovering, the clam and side-lying bent-knee lift prepare you for these birth positions. They really build up the strength and endurance in your legs, core and glutes for the big day.
Flexibility and suppleness training should also be an essential part of your preparation. Stretching the glute muscles and hip flexor muscles should be done daily as well as hamstring and calf stretches. Releasing tension in the pelvic floor is essential and can be done with a small, soft ball such as a Miracle Ball or a Franklin Method Ball.
Placing the ball between the sitz bone and the anus and then allowing it to melt into your posterior pelvic floor muscles will create space and openness in your pelvis for your baby and help you learn to yield against discomfort.
Athletes often use imagery and visualization as they prepare for their event. The same goes for birth. Seeing in your mind the birth you want, visualizing space and a tension-free birth canal for your baby will allow your mind to connect with ways that will optimize the movement of your baby into and out of your pelvis. Visualizing all stages – early labour, transition, pushing and recovery – is a great way to prepare.
Recovery is an aspect of training that is often overlooked, but it needs your full attention. It took nine months of changes to grow your baby. It then took many hours to get your baby out.
Your body needs to rest and recover and heal and then progress gradually back to exercise. Many of the exercises you use to prepare will also be used to recover. The clam and bent-knee lift will be some of the first, followed by walking, hovering and then squatting. The key is to rest in the early days and gradually progress to upright positions and then upright moving activities. Take your time: Even though birth is a marathon, it is not a race.
Kim Vopni is known as The Fitness Doula and is an authority on helping women get through birth in one piece. Based in Vancouver, she is a certified pre/postnatal fitness consultant, co-founder of Bellies Inc. and owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc. offering innovative products for a better birth and recovery. You can follow her on Twitter at @FitnessDoula