Exercises for normal delivery

“It’ll be just like passing a watermelon through a hole the size of a golf ball.”

These were the exact words I was told by a loving, well-meaning family member when I announced my pregnancy, and my new found anxiety about the birthing experience. Of course, that sentence did absolutely nothing to reassure me. 

It’s a thought that worries most pregnant women. ‘How will I get this baby out of me?’ We convince ourselves that our anatomies cannot handle such an event. And our family and friends don’t do much to alleviate our fears. 

We tend to forget that our bodies are well equipped to harbour new life, lovingly nurture it for 9 months and then gently coax a newly-formed person to exit and join the world. Nothing happens to you during normal childbirth that you can’t handle. 

The rise of the C-section

To have a safe, easy and relatively quick vaginal delivery, you need strong muscles in your pelvic floor and lower body. The previous generations of mothers were physically active all the time. Which is why we hear stories of just how easy and fast normal deliveries from them. Our modern, sedentary lifestyle hasn’t done us any favours. We don’t move as much as our female ancestors did. We walk less, sit for long hours at our desks, rely on maids for household chores, and appear to be allergic to exercise. And it certainly doesn’t help when we increasingly rely on outside food that is low on nutrition, rather than wholesome, home-made food. All this and more, has thwarted our bodies’ natural ability to withstand labour and undergo vaginal delivery.

Then there’s evolution. Did you know we have a slimmer and narrower bone structure than our female ancestors? And that the development of the erect spine has made childbirth tougher? All these factors and more, are why we are on our way to becoming the c-section capital of the world. It doesn’t help that many obstetricians seem to push in favour of c-sections and present it as a better alternative to natural delivery. But it’s not. C-sections are usually necessary in case of a medical emergency. Or if there is a risk to the foetus or the mother. Remember, this is major surgery. It may be routinely performed these days, but it has its own risks.  

Despite every point listed above, our bodies are still very capable of vaginal deliveries. With the right exercises and lifestyle changes, you can be well on your way to a natural delivery with minimal medical intervention. 

Pregnancy is natural, treat it the same way

Exercise and physical activity help you prepare your body for natural childbirth. Unfortunately, many families in India discourage pregnant women from moving, exercising or even performing their regular day-to-day activities. In the olden days, higher mortality during pregnancy and childbirth may have been a reason for such restrictions, but with modern medical amenities, better nutrition and a greater awareness of prenatal care, we’ve run out of excuses for our immobility. Remember, our bodies have also been designed for movement. The more you walk, exercise and stretch your muscles, the better. If you don’t stay mobile, your body can get stiff. Physical activity and exercise can enable flexibility and agility and eliminate many aches and pains that may arise. And it can also help you recover after your delivery quicker. 

How to ensure you have a normal delivery

Whether you are trying to get pregnant, or have already started baking a little one in your oven, here are a few tips that will improve your chances for a healthy vaginal childbirth. Just remember, it’s never too late to start. 

  • Don’t eat for two. You only extra calories in your last two trimesters. Eat everything, but in moderation and stick to a healthy balanced diet.
  • Don’t stay sedentary, unless your doctor requires you to. Move as much as you can to keep the muscles active.
  • Live a normal life. Go grocery shopping, walk when possible, do housework and everything you did before the pregnancy. The less you move, the stiffer your body gets.
  • Perform specific exercises that help strengthen the muscles involved in vaginal delivery, as listed below

Exercises to help prepare for labour and normal delivery

If you have never exercised before, or you were irregular with your workouts, that’s alright. You can start now. While a prenatal yoga class can help you achieve your goal, if you can’t find the time to attend one, here are some exercises for normal delivery you can do at home. 

How do prenatal exercises help:

  • Strengthens the muscles involved in carrying and delivering the baby
  • Opens up the pelvic floor, strengthens the pelvic muscles, enabling you to push on D-day
  • Improves blood circulation in your lower body
  • Keeps muscle pain and soreness that comes with pregnancy at bay
  • Builds confidence and eliminates stress
  • Helps with post-childbirth recovery 

1. Sitting squats

  • Stand at hip-width apart
  • Gently bend down to sit in a squat position, the way you would when squatting in an Indian-style toilet 
  • Keep your legs open wide, press your palms together in a ‘Namaste’, while using your elbows to push your knees apart
  • Hold for 5-10 breaths and release
  • Repeat 5 times 
  • When to start: After 34 weeks

Note: If you are not confident of balancing with hand in Namaste position, use a wall or chair for supporting your hands

2. Duck walks

  • Stand at hip-width apart
  • Gently lower yourself into the sitting squat position
  • Walk while in the above position (take the support of your hands if needed)
  • If you get tired, do a few steps till you build up enough stamina to walk across the room
  • When to start: After 36 weeks

3. Kegel exercises

  • Sit crossed-legged on the yoga mat, with your back straight 
  • Gently contract your pelvic muscles and hold for 5-10 counts. If you are unsure, clench the muscles as if you are restricting the flow of urine.
  • 20-50  times 
  • When to start: from 16 weeks

Note: One can perform the Kegel exrecises even when standing

4. Cat & cow pose

  • Stand at hip-width apart
  • Slowly lower yourself and get on all fours on your yoga mat, with knees and palms touching the ground
  • Gently curve your spine and raise your shoulders, so your back is arched away from the ceiling. Your pose should resemble an ‘angry cat’.
  • Slowly return to the starting position
  • Curve your spine the other way, while hunching your back to make a ‘cow-like’ pose
  • Repeat 5-10 times
  • When to start: 16 weeks (but earlier than that is okay too)

5. Butterfly pose

  • Sit cross-legged on the yoga mat 
  • Gently move your legs till the soles of your feet touch each other
  • Slowly lower your knees till they touch the floor (or as close to the floor as you can manage)
  • You can hold on to your toes for support
  • You can hold the stretch or flutter your knees for 5-10 breaths
  • Repeat 5 times 
  • When to start: from 14-16 weeks

6. Walking:

  • Walk for 30-40 minutes at a comfortable pace
  • If you feel shortness of breath, slow the pace or stop at once
  • When to start: right from 1-2 weeks

Tips for exercising during pregnancy:

  • Always perform slow, controlled movements
  • Gently lift and lower yourself off the floor
  • Stop at any signs of discomfort
  • Don’t overexert yourself
  • Always get your doctor’s approval before you start any exercise

Conclusion

If you regularly perform these exercises, you’ll find labour and childbirth to be less exhausting and painful. And whether you deliver via C-section or have a vaginal delivery, a regular exercise routine will help you snap back into action quicker post-delivery. The important thing is to stay active without overstraining yourself. And enjoy the experience of becoming a mother.