Childbirth Prep Exercises for New Moms-to-Be

Let’s be honest: Few new moms say childbirth is an easy, painless process. Although every woman’s experience is different, it is entirely possible to lessen any labor discomfort if you plan and prepare accordingly. Here are four moves to master before the big day that will help you cope with and control labor pain:

New mom exercise #1: Kegels. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles improves circulation to your rectal and vaginal area, which helps prevent hemorrhoids and may even shorten the pushing stage of labor. The best part of performing Kegels is that you can do them anytime, anywhere, because no one but you knows you’re doing them, whether it’s while you’re watching TV, reading a book, or standing in line at the grocery store. Here’s how you do it: Tighten the muscles around your vagina as if trying to interrupt the flow of urine when going to the bathroom. Hold for a count of four, then release. Repeat 10 times. Try to work up to three or four sets about three times a day.

New mom exercise #2: Pelvic Tilt. This move strengthens the abdominal muscles and eases back pain during pregnancy and labor. Here’s how you do it: Get down on your hands and knees, arms shoulder-width and knees hip-width apart. Keep your arms straight, but avoid locking your elbows. As you breathe in, tighten your abdominal muscles, tuck your buttocks under, and round your back. Relax your back into a neutral position as you breathe out. Repeat at your own pace, following the rhythm of your breath.

New mom exercise #3: Squat. Squats are a terrific way to strengthen your thighs and open your pelvis, and one of the most frequently recommended exercises for childbirth prep. Here’s how you do it: Stand facing the back of a chair, with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart, toes pointed outward. Hold the back of the chair for support. Contract your abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Then lower your tailbone toward the floor as though you were sitting down on a chair. Find your balance -- most of your weight should be toward your heels. Take a deep breath in and then exhale, pushing through your legs to rise to a standing position.

New mom exercise #4: Tailor or Cobbler Pose. This position can help open your pelvis and loosen your hip joints in preparation for birth. It can also improve your posture and ease tension in your lower back. Here’s how you do it: Sit up straight against a wall with the soles of your feet touching each other (sit on a folded towel if that’s more comfortable for you). Gently press your knees down and away from each other, but don’t force them. Stay in this position for as long as you’re comfortable.

Be careful when performing these moves, and if anything feels uncomfortable or you feel unbalanced, stop. Aim to run through all of these moves at least four times a week. The more you stick to them, the easier your labor may be! And that’s a welcome relief for any new mom.

Prenatal Yoga 101

“Keep calm and carry on” should be every expectant new mom’s slogan. Some of the most important things a pregnant woman can do are stay calm, reduce stress levels, and keep her body in the best shape possible. Fortunately, there’s a form of exercise that can help with all these and more: prenatal yoga. Check with your doctor to see if prenatal yoga could be a good fit for you, and read on to learn the benefits and tips for each trimester.

Potential Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

It does a body good. Yoga helps keep you limber, and improves balance and circulation. It also helps strengthen muscles, which provides stamina for childbirth and gives you greater flexibility when finding the best birth position for delivering your new baby.

It teaches you how to breathe easier. Yoga practice utilizes deep breathing, which can help you keep you calm when you need it most. Some yoga methods and classes will also teach you how to breathe through discomfort or pain, which you can utilize during labor, as well as how to relax your muscles, which can make for an easier delivery.

It keeps you centered. Yoga is all about focusing on the present, how your body is feeling, and the sensations you’re experiencing at any given moment. This focus may help you tune into your body’s needs, even after your new baby arrives.

It helps you sleep better. Because yoga may help reduce back and neck pain, and nausea, many expectant moms find they are able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer once they adopt a regular yoga practice.

Tips by Trimester

To stay safe, follow this trimester-by-trimester advice.

First trimester There aren’t many restrictions during this time, but instructors advise expectant new moms to drink lots of water before, during, and after the class. Listen to your body and if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop the pose immediately and ask your instructor for an alternate position.

Second trimester Your expanding stomach will start to affect your balance at this point. Don’t try to hold poses for a long time, and remember to sink into each pose slowly and carefully to avoid injury. Take your time and don’t overdo it. Avoid lying flat on your back now, too, in order to keep blood flowing properly to your uterus.

Third trimester At this point in your pregnancy, it’s best for expectant moms to perform all standing poses with heels to the wall, or using a chair for support to avoid maintain balance. Props such as blocks and straps can also help you move through difficult poses with greater stability.

If you do decide to give yoga a go during pregnancy, make sure to find a studio with an instructor who is trained to work with new moms-to-be. And have fun! You may love the benefits of yoga so much that you continue to do it past your pregnancy.