Labour is not something for which training is necessary, but most antenatal clinics give instructions in exercises, similar to the ones outlined here, designed to alleviate discomfort during delivery. It is highly unlikely that when the time comes for a woman to give birth, that she is unable to – simply because she has not prepared herself by doing the recommended exercises every day. However, most pregnant women will find exercises that help them to relax very useful, especially because the extra weight being carried
around causes unfamiliar aches and pains. Labour will be made easier if the whole of the body is relaxed during uterine contractions; otherwise valuable energy will be wasted on tensing muscles that should be at rest, and as a result pain is likely to be felt more intensely. Awareness of different ways of breathing may also help women to cope better in labour, although for many women this is something they adapt to naturally when the time comes.
The following exercises are recommended for pregnant women. They are aimed at firming muscles necessary for the stages of childbirth, and also to enable women to learn to control and relax the muscles during labour. Many of the exercises described here can still be beneficial after the birth, especially if a furtheris planned.
The uterus, vagina, and other lower abdominal organs are held in place by strong muscles and ligaments at the base of the abdomen. It can be beneficial to keep these muscles firm and fit even if you are not pregnant, but is particularly important in, because of the relaxing effect of the hormone progesterone on the muscles and ligaments. This, coupled with the weight of the enlarged uterus and its contents, has a weakening effect on the .
If the pelvic muscles are not in good condition, incontinence or even prolapse of the pelvic organs can result; conversely, if they are strong, you get more satisfaction out of making love and, if you are pregnant, you will be better able to cope during the second stage of labour. A good way of checking how strong yourmuscles are, is to try to stop yourself in midstream when you pass urine. If you can do this, the muscles are in quite good shape. During pregnancy, however, it is a good idea to do the following simple exercise several times a day.
It can be done standing up, although you may wish to try it initially while lying comfortably on your back with your knees bent and legs slightly apart.
First clench the muscles around your vagina, anus and buttocks, gently at first and then as firmly as you can – just as you would if you wanted to go to the toilet and were unable to do so. Hold this for a few seconds while you take a few breaths in and out. Then gently relax the muscles.
This exercise can be repeated whenever you wish, preferably about 30 times a day, and the more you do it, the longer you will be able to hold your muscles contracted. It has the advantage that you can do it anywhere; on the bus, in the supermarket queue, or whenever you have a spare moment. Always finish with a firm tautening of the muscles.
This exercise is also very important after you have given birth: failure to strengthen theat this time may have serious consequences such as incontinence.
Try the following test for the abdominal muscles: lie on your back with your knees bent, place your fingers just below your navel and breathe in. As you breathe out, raise your head and shoulders. If you can feel a bulge of flesh between taut muscles, your abdominal muscles need toning up. This is a useful procedure after pregnancy and can be achieved in two ways: either repeatedly raise your head and shoulders, or pull your abdominal muscles in and gently relax them.
The latter version of the exercise is particularly beneficial if it is carried out several times during the day, particularly if you are feeling tired.
Simple improvements in posture can be of enormous benefit when pregnant. For example, when standing up use your tummy muscles to straighten your spine. Tuck your bottom in and keep your shoulders down. When sitting, try if possible, to sit on the floor with the knees bent, the soles of the feet touching and keeping the back straight.
This exercise helps to strengthen the back, loosen the groin and hips and improve circulation in the lower half of the body.
The exercises that assist in the preparation for labour can be divided into two main groups: relaxation exercises and breathing exercises.