Train for Birth
As the mama of a toddler and also pregnant with number two, I am constantly staying active. My goal for exercising while pregnant isn’t to race in a 5K or marathon, lift heavy things, or even reach new fitness goals; it’s to train for birth. Birth is a mental and physical task, and training for birth focuses on just that — preparing mentally and physically for the unknown. I wish it could guarantee a magical birth with zero complications, but that just isn’t life or birth. Training for birth is about connecting with myself, moving well, moving often and respecting my body’s adaptations and needs.
My number one task in training for birth is to cultivate connection. Connecting with myself, my emotions, my fears, my strengths, and also my breath and body. My daughter’s delivery was a test of emotional strength, but it lead me to understand the importance of self-reflection, meditation, and listening to your body. As Lindsey Mathews says, the breath connects the physical and non-physical.
When I am stressed, fearful, angry, or my mind starts to race, I choose to train for birth by connecting with my inner self and navigating my emotions. It takes work because after years of running from my fears, I am learning to acknowledge my fears and frustrations rather than hiding from them. Connecting with my emotions and my feelings through the breath helps me better tune into my body, rather than hide from it. Training for birth is managing those connections to my emotions and my body to create emotional stability and strength.
During pregnancy, I want to move and I want to move well. Learning the fundamentals like diaphragmatic breathing, neutral spine (form and appropriate movement patterns), and intra-abdominal pressure are the great ways to reduce risk of injury while exercising (1,2). Focusing on the basics like proper diaphragmatic breathing help connect the core and pelvic floor. My goal is always ensure equal activation so my pelvic floor is both mobile and stable so I can move and be strong. After consistently moving efficiently, we add load as long as we maintain that stabilization and breath.The key is to ensure that, even as our pregnancy advances, we do not develop poor movement strategies that can alter our form or control, which may increase the risk of injury.
Training for birth can also mean the physical act of training for birth: increasing movements that can be useful during labor. I am purposely adding movements that can be done in labor so I can build endurance and be ready for a possible marathon birth. In general, the deep squat (but not if the baby is breech), being on hands and knees, and side-lying are all positions that women can labor in and have found useful for decreasing labor time and easing labor pains. Even the straddle stretch to help down regulate the pelvic floor can be trained throughout the third trimester of pregnancy and be utilized in delivery. Knowing I have an anterior placenta and my baby is posterior, I am adding even more forward-leaning inversions, side-lying releases and sacral releases to my movement routines. Training for birth is about moving well and moving with intention.
Pregnancy is not a fragile state, but it does need to be respected and it requires appropriate and intentional training. As our bodies naturally change, there are exercises that may not be best for us anymore and there are exercises that may be better. Just as our bodies are adapting to the changes of pregnancy, so should our fitness routines.
Pregnancy may cause painful or frustrating changes to our body, from pubic symphysis dysfunction (lightning crotch) to diastasis recti or even pelvic organ prolapse, and it’s important to respect those changes. Each of us is unique, so our bodies and the changes we make should also be unique. For diastasis, maybe you need to take out overhead movements because you put too much pressure on your anterior abdominal wall and maybe I need to adapt Functional Progression 1 due to coning or tenting. For pubic symphysis dysfunction, it may be good for both of us to swap out single leg movements like lunges. Listening to our bodies may be helpful, but it’s even better to find a coach or professional who is trained in appropriate pregnancy movements. BIRTHFIT Coaches are trained to notice the nuances of pregnancy (hello pelvic tilt) to not only ensure the exercises you are doing are generally safe, but they are beneficial for your body at this time. Training for birth is respecting our bodies and finding movements that are effective in helping us reach our goal of childbirth without creating dysfunctions or pain along the way.
ADAPT“Move without judgment of what you did yesterday or last year, and move with joy for what you can do today.”
Some days my body and mind are ready for a full workout and other days it is hard to navigate the daily demands of parenting an active toddler or working. Sometimes the best exercise is an exercise in patience and ensuring I have enough sleep and rest to nourish my body. Sometimes the best exercise I can do is to slow down and eat a meal as a family with no interruptions. Training for birth is also allowing ourselves to rest without feeling weak or guilty.
Training for birth isn’t about doing more, because you are already enough! I wish I could tell you that training for birth would mean you never have to go through a traumatic vaginal or traumatic cesarean delivery, but unfortunately life is unpredictable. What I can say with certainty is that training for birth is about connecting with yourself, moving with intention, respecting your body and adapting to meet the demands of pregnancy and ideally be emotionally and physically prepared for whatever comes your way.
Lauren Keller, DC, DABCABIRTHFIT Chicago: Western Suburbs @birthfitchicago_western_burbs
- Best core stabilization exercise to facilitate subcortical neuroplasticity: A functional MRI neuroimaging study, Technology and Health Care , 26 (2018) 401–407
- Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization & Sports Rehabilitation, Int J Sports Phys Ther. , 2013 Feb;8(1):62-73