Labor is a mysterious and profound experience, usually ranging somewhere on the “marathon” scale from hours to days in length (although some labors will actually end up being quite short. I know of a couple who named their daughter “Octavia”, as labor lasted 8… minutes !).
In general however, preparing for labor, means preparing for a sort of marathon by building physical and mental endurance, and by giving ourselves resources and tools, almost like a toolbox, that we can come back to when the time comes, to help us cope with the intense and awe-inspiring event that is childbirth.
As our bodies progress through the birthing experience, much of our rational brain “turns off”, and some of the most important tools available to us become:
3. BODY AWARENESS
I’ve rounded up what ended up being the 25 most useful resources in both of my birthing experiences in helping me to develop this awareness in preparation for labor.
Often times, the welcomed side-effect of these exercises is to make pregnancy a bit more “comfortable”, too !
*There are many proven techniques that you can also look into and study, such as HypnoBirthing, Lamaze, The Bradley Method, Bonapace Method and Alexander Technique to name a few. Also, having a doula at your side can play an important role when it comes to pain management.
* As always, please consult with a licensed physician before beginning any new exercise program. The exercises and suggestions provided here are in no way intended as a substitute for medical consultation.
#1: BREATHING EXERCISES
– Without a doubt, abdominal breathing is probably the most important tool available to us during labor to help cope with the intensity and the waves of contractions.
– Oxygenates the muscles, thus keeping them more relaxed.
– Helps to focus and anchor the mind.
– Calms the nervous system.
– Can help reduce feelings of tension and stress.
– Here are 4 breathing techniques to help develop abdominal breathing, that can be practiced throughout pregnancy, as well as during labor.
Note: There is no right or wrong way to breathe. We learn these techniques, like guides, that we can adapt to our comfort and preference. The key is to feel the breath fluid and natural, and even “relaxed” when possible.
“Deep abdominal breathing is calming and reassuring. It’s impossible to feel fear or tension while breathing deeply, slowly, rhythmically.” – Childbirth Educator, Liza Janda
#2: YOGA BALL HIP CIRCLES
– Can help release tension in the pelvis, lower back and abdominal muscles.
– Bring mobility to the pelvis, which can help ease labor and facilitate baby’s descent through the birth canal.
– Develop a breath/movement connection – Staying connected to your breath while moving is one of the great lessons of yoga. It not only keeps us rooted in the present moment, but promotes focus and overall well-being.
– During labor, staying connected to the breath while moving can prove to be an essential tool in making the experience more manageable.
– Sitting on a yoga ball, 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 to more ample then more subtle circles.
– Breath remains steady, full and connected to the circular motion.
– Circle in the other direction.
– Feet are firmly rooted on the ground, and knees are about 90 degrees bent.
– Hands on the thighs with shoulders relaxed.
For a detailed explanation of Yoga Ball Hip Circles click here.
#3: PERINEUM “MASSAGE”
– Can help to ready the body and mind for the very real sense of burning that may occur during the infamous “ring of fire”, especially for first-time moms.
– May reduce or prevent tearing to the perineum during birth, as well as the need for an episiotomy.
– Promotes pelvic floor awareness.
– If your partner’s the one lending a hand, this can even become a daily moment to share in the final weeks before the arrival of your new baby.
– Here is a detailed and illustrated 10-Step Guide to Perineum “Massage”.
– Start around week 34 or 35, a few minutes a day.
*Note: Generally speaking, these are not what are referred to as “fun” to do. 😉
#4: VISIT AN OSTEOPATH
– The gentle work of an osteopath can help to find and recreate balance in the body, by “undoing” tensions that may have built up in the muscles, tissues and ligaments over time or simply during the pregnancy.
– A mobile and aligned, or “balanced” pelvis can participate in easing labor by facilitating baby’s descent through the birth canal. (See more on “Balance”, one of the 3 Principles in Pregnancy by Spinning Babies.
– Locate directories for osteopaths that treat pregnant women in your region.
#5: POSITIVE AFFIRMATION PHRASES
– Especially during my second pregnancy, I realized how important it is to nourish oneself with positive thoughts. Labor is a voyage into the unknown, and to be strong and prepared mentally, nourishing ourself with positivity can help to build this strength.
– I was so lucky to have found these beautiful positive affirmation phrases, that I listened to every night before going to bed in the final (long 🙂 ) weeks of my second pregnancy.
Truly beautiful and so full of light! (and the music is so soothing!):
Posted on youtube by Indigo Midwifery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSXc-a_AH2k
Thank you to Indigo Midwifery for posting such a beautiful tool for mamas-to-be!
#6: THE “YOU MUST BE LIKE THE BEAST” ..!
– This yoga-inspired exercise helps us tune into our natural, spontaneous, even animal self, (the Beast 🙂 !) by bringing us to connect to our bodies and to the way it intuitively feels like moving. – Our bodies may choose various movements or positions intuitively during labor to help us cope with the waves of contractions. This exercise helps to nourish that intuition.
– A way to release tension in the body.
– Develops the breath/movement connection.
– Moving can help to make labor more manageable.
– Baby gets used to mama’s movements.
– Integrate cat/cow and lateral movements of the spine until you aren’t doing specific or technical positions anymore, but simply letting your body move in space how it wishes to.
– Keep the breath flowing, and observe how breath and movement are connected.
– Try ample and subtle movements, letting the body go to 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 🙂 !
For a detailed description of the “You Must Be Like The Beast”..! click here.
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#7: PRACTICE MAKING SOUNDS – Vocal Toning
– There is a good chance we’ll use sounds during labor, as they can play an important part in pain management. –“Practicing” in advance helps us become familiar with our voice and range.
– Vocal toning helps focus the mind and promotes deep relaxation.
– Physiologically, the vocal cords are connected to the diaphragm (the beautiful umbrella-shaped muscle in our torso that expands the rib cage to let air fill the lungs), which is connected to the perineum. (see Perineum Breathing)
– Toning the vocal cords develops this connection.
– Using low vocalizations during labor can lessen the sensation of pain during contractions.
– Find a comfortable position.
– Begin by practicing sighing sounds.
– Practice low humming, as well as low vowel sounds, such as “ah”, “hah”, “ooo”.
– Here is a video I discovered during my first pregnancy that helped me practice vocal toning in the perspective of childbirth:
(In this video, the woman demonstrating is lying flat on her back, I would recommend a supported “supine” position (like in the drawing above) for 3rd trimester comfort and to promote optimal circulation.)
*Note: You may look, sound or feel a bit silly doing this, but it’s worth it!
For more information on vocal toning, I found this article by Better Childbirth Outcomes to be very helpful.
#8: MEDITATION (through breath awareness)
– Strengthens our ability to focus and stabilize the mind.
– Calms the nervous system.
– Builds inner calm and confidence.
– Brings the attention back to the present moment. –*Bringing the attention to the breath brings the attention back to the present moment, an indispensable tool for helping to remain rooted through emotions and sensations that arise during childbirth.
– Elevates levels of endorphins. (endorphins are powerful and natural pain-relieving hormones produced by our bodies)
– Enhances levels of DHEA. (a hormone produced by the body with many benefits such as enhancing the immune system and balancing brain chemistry)
– Can help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Many meditation techniques exist, this is a breath awareness meditation:
1. Find a comfortable position.
2. 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 use words, or mantras, as guides, for example:
3. Inhale, say to yourself: “Inhaling”, or “Expansion”, or “Nourish”,
4. Exhale, saying to yourself: “Exhaling” or “Release”, or “Cleanse”.
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 and follow the breath once more.
It is normal to have many thoughts arise. It may even seem like a continuous stream of the thoughts when you first begin. Meditation will help to make the lapse of time, or “space”, between thoughts become longer.
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!
Between 5-15 minutes.
Note: If you don’t already have a special place to meditate, try… the bath! One of my favorites! 😉
#9: WELCOMING WHAT IS THERE (ie: fear!)
– Many women experience feelings of fear during pregnancy and labor. (fear of pain, fear of the unknown, etc.)
– This exercise is one of many to learn how to cope with feelings of fear.
– Builds the understanding that it is normal to experience these feelings.
– Builds the confidence in ourself that we are prepared and have the tools necessary to deal with emotions that arise.
– As with meditation, this exercise helps us connect to the ever-present space that is in each of us, a safe place that is deeply rooted in the present moment (fear lives in the future!) that we can always come back to.
– Calming effect, can help fear feel less “overpowering”.
– When emotions such as fear present themselves, begin by following the breath, using breath awareness. (exercise in #8).
– Then, try to “welcome” the feeling of fear as best you can, acknowledging it’s presence.
– You can even “greet” it, for example, “Hello fear, it’s ok, I see you are there, and that you are a part of what I’m feeling right now.” (but you are not me, nor are you all that I feel!).
– Also, speak about your fears with supportive people you trust. – Simply expressing your feelings often has the effect of making them feel less overpowering.
– Inform yourself about that which scares you. “Knowing is half the battle” is especially true when it comes to fear. Fear definitely has a way of getting bigger when it’s left “in the dark”.
– Practice techniques that calm the body and mind, such as breathing, meditation, relaxation or yoga.
– Use mantras, for example:
Exhale fear and doubt”
Exhale that which does not serve me”
“Inhale I acknowledge my fear,
Exhale I let it go”
– If your feelings are overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional health care provider.
#10: STANDING SACRAL RELEASE by Spinning Babies
– This lesser-known exercise relieves tension in the pelvis and lower back, thus helping to create balance in the body in preparation for birth.
– Can improve fetal positioning and pelvic alignment, which can help to ease labor and to facilitate baby’s descent through the birth canal.
– Creates more comfort during pregnancy, by reducing heartburn and even snoring.
– A way to connect with your partner. – this exercise requires a partner, practicing with your partner can be a way to connect.
-“The Standing Sacral Release is a simple, highly-recommended technique done with a very light touch to release the fascia around the pelvis and the pelvic and respiratory diaphragms.” (Spinning Babies)
#11: RELAX WHAT DOESN’T NEED TO BE “WORKING”
– An excellent tool to use for helping to cope with contractions.
– Trains in focusing the mind.
– Develops body awareness.
– Relieves stress.
– Helps to calm the mind by bringing the attention back to the present moment.
– You know how sometimes when you’re working hard on something, you realize at one point that you’re tensing up other parts of the body, say the forehead, jaw or shoulders, as if these parts of the body want to “work” with you? (Nice of them, but no thanks 😉 !)
– As you sit or stand, bring your attention to different parts of the body, for example, your mouth. Notice if there is any tension there, and try to relax your mouth. Move your attention to another part of the body, for example the shoulders and jaw, and see if there is any tension there. Then, try to relax them.
– Breath remains full.
– Closing the eyes can help to focus the mind and become more aware of the subtle sensations in the body.
Note: This is an excellent exercise to practice in moments that require extra or unexpected physical and mental efforts in your day-to-day life (ie: having to carry more bags than you thought while running errands, forgetting something in your home and having to go back up the stairs to get it (and being 8 1/2 months pregnant 🙂 ), being stuck in traffic, having a headache, dealing with your toddler’s tantrum, stubbing your finger, etc.). Each time an extra physical or mental effort presents itself, focus on the body, and attempt to release any tension in the body that doesn’t need to be there.
“Breathing, I find relaxation where I can.”
Contractions are indeed an extra physical and mental effort, and finding any source of relaxation in the body while having one can be an invaluable tool in dealing with the pain.
#12: PRENATAL YOGA
– Increases muscular strength and stamina in preparation for labor.
– Reduces stress and anxiety.
– Can help you connect with your baby.
– Improves sleep and helps to make pregnancy more “comfortable”.
– A moment when mama takes care of mama (as well as baby 🙂 ).
– Find a school you love, this is also a lovely way to meet up with other mamas-to-be!
– There are also many quality videos online.
– You can also have a look at my 10 Late-Pregnancy Yoga-Inspired Exercises.
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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