Here are a few yoga-inspired exercises that I used to help me stay comfortable as best I could during my late-pregnancy, and to invite my body to open up for birth.
As always, while doing these exercises (or any really!), don’t forget to breathe, and if ever you feel as though your breath becomes constricted, short, or blocked all together, ease out of the pose, and find a version that suits you better at that moment, (which sometimes means not doing it at all!), or modify the pose with some of the suggestions given here.
The key is to feel the breath throughout your body at all times (which helps in calming the nervous system, and focusing the mind).
And of course, breathing will be our best friend throughout labor and the birthing of the baby. 🙂
If at any moment you feel dizzy or just don’t enjoy being in the pose, don’t do it! Come out of the pose and don’t ever push yourself, just not worth it!
We’re there to take care of ourselves and in so doing to take care of the beautiful life that is growing in our body.
Have faith that your body knows what to do. Believe in yourself, so entirely and so completely!
#1: HAND ON BELLY BREATH EXERCISE
1. Breathe “into” the hands.
Sitting or lying down comfortably, bring one hand on the belly, and one hand on the heart.
Notice yourself bringing your breath and attention to these parts of the body, there where your hands are.
2. Move one hand or both hands to another part of the body.
Once again, slowly breathe into your hands, thus « breathing into » a different part of the body.
*By training our mind to bring its awareness to different parts of the body, we develop what can be a powerful tool during labor to help « dissipate » the sensations of pain that may arise.
*Belly breathing can prove very helpful in coping with the pain and the waves of contractions, you can practice this exercise with both hands on the belly.
*Breath remains fluid and natural.
#2: THE “YOU MUST BE LIKE THE BEAST” ..!
When I took my prenatal class, the wonderful lady teaching it didn’t speak English as her first language, but was teaching to Anglophones.
As she was talking to us about labor and how it is a journey into our animal and instinctual nature into which we must let ourselves go, she was getting more and more enthusiastic and ended up telling us all with complete conviction that during labor:
” You must be like the Beast!”
This exercise is inspired by her enthusiasm 🙂 and is meant to help us tune into our natural, spontaneous, even animal self. (the Beast!)
It’s a way to connect to our bodies and to the way it intuitively feels like moving, yet another useful tool in keeping pregnancy “comfortable” and in helping with labor.
1. Find table position (on all fours), placing the hands shoulder-width apart and the knees aligned with the hips.
Spread out the fingers and palms and feel them pressing into the ground.
(Note: At any time, if this position becomes uncomfortable on the wrists you can press onto the base of the fingers, palms lifted off the ground, or you can also work on closed fists.)
2. Start by doing a few cat/cows
Inhale cow, exhale cat.
3. Then move the spine laterally
Bring the hips and the tip of the head to the right, then to the left (creating “half-moon” shapes with your spine).
Then take a moment to close the eyes. Notice how this brings your awareness into the body.
4. From there, start to let yourself move with a bit less “technique”
Integrate cat/cow and lateral movements until you start to feel that you aren’t really doing specific positions anymore, but that you’re simply letting your body move in space how it wishes to.
Keep noticing the presence of the hands, knees and lower legs on the ground. See how it feels to let the elbows bend and the hips move front and back. You can also move your head softly if you like.
Keep the breath flowing, and see if you can observe how breath and movement are connected.
Then try amplifying the movements by making them “bigger”, and then try making them more gentle, subtle and “smaller”, letting the body go with what it feels like doing. Make it your own thing, kind of like a dance.
If your body ends up doing this kind of a “Beast-like dance” during labor, it may be a way to cope with your contractions.
In any case, it feels great!
Kegels exercise the perineum. The perineum is made up of the musculature and tissues surrounding and including the space between the anus and the vagina up to the urethra.
Keeping this part of the body toned is essential in global well-being, to support the abdominal organs, and to give a sense of lightness, and even life to the body, kind of like an uplifted feeling.
During pregnancy, Kegel exercises, along with Perineum Massage, help to prepare the pelvic floor for birth, as well as aid in postnatal recovery.
Here are 6 Kegel exercises for the health and maintenance of the perineum that you can do all throughout your pregnancy and within a few days after birth.
#4: SQUAT WITH KEGEL
I’m in one right now! Just kidding.
Squats are powerful. I find that by bringing us near to the earth, they have a grounding, rooting effect, helping us to connect to our primal nature. Part of many cultures, this position is used for working, relaxing, cooking and even going to the loo ! (and it’s also used by toddlers world-wide:)!)
A wonderful hip opener, it also helps to maintain the health of the pelvic floor.
By adding Kegel work to our squat, we’re helping to tone the perineum, all the while opening the hips and creating space in the pelvis, making this a wonderful birth preparation tool, as well as a way to maintain overall functionality of the body, especially for pregnant mamas.
* Don’t do this full squat if you have placenta previa or if your cervix is fragile or if it’s uncomfortable. Instead, try working sitting on the yoga ball with legs straddled (feet flat on the floor, as in the yoga ball hip circles)
* During late-pregnancy it can be a good idea to place some support under your bum, with a pillow, bolster or block so as not to put too much pressure on the pelvic floor
* Always make sure the knees are aligned with the toes, avoid letting them roll inwards
* See if you can keep a smooth and steady breath all along
* Heels should be supported, so if they don’t touch the ground in your squat, place a rolled blanket underneath them.
#5: DOWNWARD DOG
So simple, so wonderful a pose and so fantastic to do all the way through pregnancy! I found especially so in late-pregnancy, both times.
Generally, in prenatal yoga, while we do want to maintain good alignment and thus protect joints and ligaments, we also want to find a way to tune into what the body needs, and sometimes that can mean modifying the poses.
So in Downward Dog it’s the same thing.
See how it feels to move the hips, or bend the knees and ankles a few times. Then try keeping the pose without movement.
Make it yours.
As well as getting the blood and energy to circulate, Downward Dog is a natural pick me up!
During late-pregnancy this pose can help to create space around the uterus and thus more space for baby and mama’s organs, hopefully bringing more comfort to mama.
Keep the breath flowing, staying anywhere between 3 and 5 breaths.
*Downward Dog is contraindicated if you’ve had a procedure to turn baby around from a breech to head down position, if you have very high or very low blood pressure or if you’re suffering from reflux
*If you’re not comfortable with your hands positioned directly on the ground, try placing them on a table, counter top, or chair instead, a stable surface that’s a bit higher and that can still give you the experience of opening in the back body and of creating space in and around the belly.
If you’re wondering about fetal repositioning, Spinning Babies have loads of incredible information on the subject, amazing guys!
#6: PARSVAKONASANA (Extended Side Angle Pose) WITH ELBOW ON FRONT THIGH
I have a tendency to say Hallelujah when I get into this pose. I just love Parsvakonasana. I think that this is my personal Warrior Pose as I always feel strong and vibrant in it.
A wonderful side body stretch, it also allows for deep breathing into the lungs and ribs.
This pose can help us to become attuned with the positioning of the sacrum, a tool we can use throughout our yoga practice as well as pregnancy (keeping the mobility of the sacrum can prove useful and even vital in facilitating delivery).
*Tip: Try doing a couple of very gentle and very subtle pelvic tilts in your Parsvakonasana, helping yourself by placing the back of your hand on the sacrum (triangular-shaped bone at the base of the spine).
Then softly aim at aligning the sacrum « vertically »with the rest of the body, not tucked in, and not sticking out.
Because it creates space in the pelvis, any work on mobilizing the sacrum can prove beneficial for pregnancy comfort and for easing labor.
*Keep the back leg strong and back foot rooted
*The front knee doesn’t bend too far over the heel, and if this is the case, move the front foot forward a little. This will protect your knee! Avoid letting it roll inwards
*If you are uncomfortable working with your elbow on the front thigh (this could be the case if you are in late, late-pregnancy 🙂 !) try placing the hand on the thigh instead
*Breathe into the entire body, all the way to the tips of the fingers and toes, tasting the stretch, such a welcome one in our pregnant bodies!
#7: SITTING ON THE YOGA BALL, HIP CIRCLES
In late-pregnancy, this is one of the exercises that I found to be so helpful and useful! You’ll need a yoga ball, fit for your height (more air if you’re tall, less if you’re small!).
1. Sit on the ball
Hands on the thighs with your shoulders nice and relaxed, let the pelvis release and find some comfort there.
*Feet are firmly rooted on the ground, and that your knees are about 90 degrees bent.
2. Slowly and gently start to move the pelvis in a circular motion
Side-front-other side-and back, drawing a circle in space with your hips and lower back.
Letting yourself go, gently begin to amplify the movement,
and then play with more subtle, smaller circles.
Again, see how your breath remains steady, full and connected to the circular motion. Then try doing some circles in the other direction.
This gets movement going in the hips and in the pelvic floor, a wonderful way to feel healthy all throughout pregnancy and to help your body prepare for labor and delivery.
*Keeping the body consciously moving during contractions can help a great deal in coping with the pain.
#8: PELVIC TILTS
– a true winner for helping with lower back problems that arise throughout pregnancy.
I focused on these way more during my second pregnancy and had a great lower back up until the end. (I did have a small episode of lower back problems around 6 months, that seemed to be resolved through pelvic tilts and keeping moving (ie walking and biking)).
These can be done in many positions: sitting, lying down, standing and even while walking.
1. Start with your back against the wall
In a “sitting position” against the wall, the ankles and knees are aligned (don’t let the knees go past forward over the ankles, and if this does occur, simply walk the feet front a bit more).
*The knees are aligned with the hips and feet, don’t let them roll in or out – if needed, try using a block in between the thighs to help maintain proper alignment throughout the exercise.
Already, just being here against the wall (and breathing fully!), is a great exercise to tone the quads and the bum!
2. Move your sacrum
To do pelvic tilts, start to move your sacrum (the triangular-shaped bone at the bottom of the spine), as well as your lower back and bum towards the front, essentially scooping and tucking them in,
then, move the sacrum and lower back toward the back as though to stick out the bum a little, keeping the upper back relaxed and pressed against the wall. Back and forth, back and forth.
Do 15 to 40 repetitions, breathing all the while.
*You should not only feel your thighs find some heat, but also the lower back and the lower abdomen. It’s also a bit of a massage for the lower back (mmm!). And a wonderful leg toner!
*Can be used all throughout pregnancy to ease back pain.
#9: SIDE-LYING LEG FAN
I discovered this one during my second pregnancy. It became one of my go-to exercises, especially in late, late-pregnancy 🙂 to help me get some movement going in my legs, hips and lower back.
1. Lie on your left side
Lay your head on your left arm or a pillow if you like. Place the right hand on the floor in front of you to stabilize the torso, keeping your back in line with the head. The left knee is slightly bent.
2. Like a fan
Let the right knee bend towards the sky then lift the foot, with a gentle, gentle kick. Then let the leg return gracefully ( !! ) towards the ground.
It’s fun to do!
Repeat on the other side if you’re still comfortable lying on your right side.
*While pregnant, the muscles of the body are a bit more “relaxed” because of the pregnancy hormone relaxin that prepares and starts to open the pelvis for birth. This can give the sense that we’re actually more flexible than we really are – so generally speaking we can aim at working, say, at 75% of our range of motion, which can help to avoid overstretching the muscles, tendons or ligaments.
Yes that’s right! Get up and start shaking it! (well you know, with care 🙂 !)
In my « overdue » phase this time around I was having quite a few “omg this is taking forever” thoughts and I was also feeling a bit « stuck » in my big body as I couldn’t go out for as many walks with the cold winter we were having.
I heard an old-time funk musician on the radio talking about his Motown days, and an urge came upon me, to dance!
Really just get up and shake my bootie.
That evening, with my partner and toddler son watching (with a bit of fear in their eyes), I found a fantastic funk playlist (geared to Motown:) and I just danced, let what felt like my huge body move and boogie in space, feeling filled by the music and rhythm in my body and heart.
Honestly felt so good, so.. « freeing »! Ok, so it didn’t induce my labor, but who knows, it may have helped!
2 more things worth mentioning :)…
– because its’ its just as important as moving and mobilizing the body, rest! When you can, find a moment to lay down, by now the most comfy positions will likely be on your left side, or in a reclined position. (Use a bolster or as many pillows as needed to prop your knee(s), head, etc.)
For reclined positions, I use a cylindrical bolster like the ones used in a yoga class.
Here’s a breath awareness exercise you can do as you rest (if you’re not already sleeping 🙂 ):
1. Close the eyes, and bring your awareness to your breathing.
Notice the movement of expansion in the body as you inhale, and of release in the body when you exhale. As best you can, stay present to both the inhale and the exhale. It can help to actually use words, for example:
2. Inhale, say to yourself : “inhaling”, or “expansion”
3. Exhale, saying to yourself: “exhaling” or “release”.
When thoughts arise and grab your attention, observe them as you need to, (you can even name them, saying for example “thoughts”), then let them pass.
Observe how the thoughts are like clouds, they come and they go, and that your presence is like the blue and infinite sky behind them, immense and limitless.
We actually are limitless!
Even just 5-10 breaths like this can to wonders for calming the nervous system, and it also practices awareness to breath, an indispensable tool during labor.. and motherhood !
It is said again and again, but such a lovely way to build stamina and keep your body mobile and healthy, pregnant or not.
When we go for a walk, we activate our circulation, we create mobility in the entire body, and we’re breathing fresh air.
Try breathing in connection with your steps, like a walking meditation, for example:
Inhale while counting 1-2-3 steps,
Exhale while counting 1-2-3-4 steps,
or whatever number of steps suits your rhythm (it can be inhale 1-2, exhale 1-2-3 steps if you’re walking more slowly, etc.)
You can also say to yourself the words, like a mantra, “Inhaling” and “Exhaling” as you go.
Note: Normally the exhale is longer, so add an extra step or two.
What a gift to feel our bodies move in those last weeks of pregnancy, even just a few minutes a day can feel so good and be so helpful.
One very important last thing to keep in mind : …you’re a total babe! 🙂
Hi! I’m Myriam, a former dancer turned yoga teacher based in Montreal. I’m also mama to two unbearably beautiful little ones, ages 1 and 4. 🙂 I believe in the virtues of bringing breath and body awareness as well as humor and loving-kindness to new mamas, and mamas-to-be! Read more→
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Highly recommended, this book is a must-have for any prenatal yoga enthusiast (I use it all the time!). It provides detailed info and safe modifications for yoga practice throughout pregnancy and after birth. A must!!!
RECOMMENDED for at-home practice:
Oh my goodness I love my bolster! You may be used to the joy of using bolsters from your yoga practice in the studio. Having one at home is a treat! Bolsters are an essential part of my yoga practice at home. Because of their length, they can support the entire upper body in reclined poses, offering optimal relaxation. I use the cylindrical bolster by Halfmoon.
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Are you wondering about birth preparation?
In this work, I share the tips, tools and thoughts from my yoga and dance background that were helpful for me in preparation for birth and during labor, including pain management techniques, relaxation exercises and mental preparation tips.