Bringing your baby into the world is a marathon, not a sprint. And you wouldn’t try to run a marathon without preparation. In order to give yourself the best shot at a positive, empowering birth experience, you should also do some preparation. Childbirth requires endurance, strength, flexibility, and the right mindset. Let’s talk about how to prepare your body for labor.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- Prepare Your Body for Labor: Strength & Stamina
- Prepare Your Body for Labor: Flexibility
- Prepare Your Body for Labor: Rest
- Prepare Your Body for Labor: Nourishment
- Prepare Your Body for Labor: Practice Coping Skills
- Prepare Your Mind for Labor
Prepare Your Body for Labor: Strength & Stamina
With labor, unlike preparing your body for a marathon, you can’t just “do the actual thing” in order to get better at doing it. To practice running, you just run. To practice swimming, you swim. You can’t experience contractions until the big day, of course. But you can increase your body’s stamina by doing any kind of exercise. And to use the sports metaphor again, think of it like cross-training. Running doesn’t directly teach you to be better at the mechanics of swimming — the actual strokes and kicks — but it absolutely does help by making your heart and lungs stronger and more efficient.
How Should I Exercise to Prepare My Body for Labor?
Don’t stress about how to suddenly become an athlete. Just move. Do things that you enjoy. Walk. Dance. Swim. (Swimming can be an especially good choice later in pregnancy when your body feels heavy and uncomfortable. The weightlessness of being in water can feel so good to an achy pregnant body.) Ride a stationary bike while you listen to an audiobook or even binge a show. You’re more likely to stick with exercising if you enjoy it, so figure out what you find enjoyable.
Aim for 30 minutes of activity a day at least five days a week (1). Get your heart rate up a bit, (though aim for being able to still comfortably hold a conversation). Work on strengthening your core muscles. And don’t forget about those kegels and pelvic floor exercises! They help not only during labor, but also in recovering more quickly and being less likely to suffer from incontinence after your baby is born.
Learn More: Exercise During Pregnancy: Benefits and Safety
What Exercises Should I Avoid When I’m Pregnant?
Always ask your doctor or midwife about exercising during pregnancy, because each situation is different. However, if mom and baby are both healthy and your pregnancy is normal, there are usually no restrictions. If you were active before pregnancy, you’re most often okay to continue with pretty much the same level of activity. If you weren’t active before pregnancy, start slow and build yourself up to more. Either way, the main things to avoid during pregnancy are high-impact activities, contact sports, or activities that increase the risk of falling. (And remember that as your joints loosen and your shape changes, you’re more likely to lose your balance.)
What are Signs that I Should Stop Exercising?
Stop exercising right away if you experience dizziness, nausea, faintness, or shortness of breath (1). Also stop immediately if you experience contractions, vaginal bleeding, or any fluid leaking from your vagina.
Prepare Your Body for Labor: Flexibility
Something that you can do throughout your pregnancy to prepare your body for labor is to stretch and work on flexibility. Stretching can help not only with preparing your body for labor, but also with the aches and pains that pregnancy so often brings. Prenatal yoga classes, either online or in person, are a great option for strengthening your body, increasing your flexibility, and helping you relax and feel grounded.
But in terms of specifically preparing your body for labor, one thing you should focus on is opening up your pelvis. Simple movements like hip circles on an exercise ball, hula hooping, or dancing can all help loosen and open your pelvis. Flexibility in the muscles and ligaments of the pelvis will help improve baby’s position and descent.
Few things are more helpful in labor and childbirth than a deep squat. While people these days may picture women lying on their backs to deliver babies, history shows women birthing in upright positions. Squatting is particularly helpful as it increases the size of the pelvis by as much as 25% (2). However, if you try a deep squat for the first time while you’re in labor, you will likely find it uncomfortable and exhausting. It will take some time to be limber enough to deeply squat with your feet flat on the floor, and to work up the stamina to comfortably hold this position. It is a powerful tool to have in your labor toolbox, though, and very much worth some advance preparation.
Having said all of this, it is also important that you remember that the hormone relaxin loosens all of your ligaments when you’re pregnant, so you don’t want to overstretch or go beyond what’s comfortable. Never stretch to the point that it’s painful.
Prepare Your Body for Labor: Rest
We’ve talked about movement. Now let’s look at its equally important partner — rest. Some women find it hard to get enough rest late in pregnancy, with the discomfort of trying to sleep with an achy body that can’t get comfortable, a bladder that needs to be emptied every few hours, and a racing mind. And it can be hard to get off your feet and just rest your body throughout the day if you’ve got a busy schedule or are feeling the push to get everything ready before baby comes. But you want to come into labor feeling strong, not carrying a load of accumulated fatigue.
Make a conscious effort to sit and relax several times throughout the day. Enlist help so that you can get a little more free time in your day. Friends or family may be able to add your errands to their own, help watch children if this baby isn’t your first, or help with projects you’re trying to accomplish before baby comes. Be creative in buying yourself some extra time in whatever way you can. For example, you may consider paying a few extra dollars to have your groceries delivered if your budget allows.
How Can I Get More Sleep During Pregnancy?
If you’re not one of the lucky ones who finds that sleep comes naturally, you may need to be intentional about getting enough shuteye. Sleep difficulties may come from a variety of sources, so try troubleshooting to figure out the source of the problem.
- Racing mind? Try shutting off electronics an hour or two before bedtime, because electronics are stimulating to your brain.
- Achy body? Consider a pregnancy pillow, or use a variety of pillows that you already have to support your body in all the places where it needs it. (Read Kopa Birth’s article Tips and Comfortable Sleeping Positions During Pregnancy for more tips on getting comfortable.)
- Need to pee constantly? Stop drinking an hour before bedtime — just remember to drink plenty throughout the day.
- Heartburn taking over when you lie down? Use a wedge pillow to elevate your upper body, or even consider sleeping in a recliner sometimes.
Prepare Your Body for Labor: Nourishment
Your stomach is crowded by your baby, so you don’t even feel all that hungry. Or maybe you find that when you do eat, you’re likely to feel heartburn. Late in pregnancy, it is so easy to fall off the wagon with your nourishing foods. It’s easy to hit a drive-thru because you’re tired, to skip meals if you’re one who doesn’t feel hungry these days, or to eat comfort foods if anxiety hits. Just remember that it’s still important to eat healthy foods and stay hydrated.
You are still growing a baby who needs nourishment from you, and you are also in training for the physically exhausting event of birthing a baby. Stay away from greasy or acidic foods if you’re struggling with heartburn. Eat more frequent, smaller meals to avoid feeling uncomfortably over-full. And make sure those meals are nutrient-dense. Aim for lean proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. And keep drinking plenty of water!
Prepare Your Body for Labor: Practice Coping Skills
One of the things that many (or even most) women don’t do as much as birth workers recommend is practicing the coping skills that they will need to rely on during labor. A good childbirth education class will arm you with a wide variety of tools that you can use when the time comes. But don’t assume that you’ll simply be able to pull them out of your toolbox and use them when that time does come. As with so many things, you need to have a good “muscle memory” for these skills in order to be able to easily access them when you need them.
When your body is stressed and in pain, you will most likely revert to the use of familiar coping tools. If you think about what your body does when stressed or hurting, you’ll likely realize that you tend to hold your breath and tense up your muscles, as if you’re, in a way, bracing against the perceived danger. In order to best cope with labor pain, you will need to do exactly the opposite of that. You need to know how to breathe, how to relax your muscles, how to calm your body and override the anxiety and fear that you may feel. And to get there, you’ll need to practice.
Prepare Your Mind for Labor
As with any endurance physical event, there is a huge mental component to having a positive, empowering natural delivery. Many women who have had positive birth experiences credit the ability to use tools like mindfulness, visualization, and positive affirmations to overcome anxiety and fear. As with other types of tools, these “mental tools” are something you won’t be able to access easily if you’ve never practiced them.
If you have spent time meditating over and over on the positive affirmations or guided imagery that work for you, then you will find yourself able to slip into that familiar place. Having spent time visualizing what your body will do when you’re in labor, you will be able to connect what you’re feeling and trust that your body know’s what it’s doing. If you have spent intentional time noticing how your body is feeling, you will feel more tuned in to it when labor comes.
Don’t Stress About It
Don’t let the desire to “get it all right” cause you to feel stressed instead of relaxed. It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. You don’t have to become a yogi or climb to a mountaintop on a quest to find yourself. In your Kopa Birth online childbirth class, you’ll receive regular homework assignments to help keep you accountable and on track for the big day. If you don’t opt for a class, just spend some time each day sampling a variety of coping tools. Try guided meditations. Try lying quietly and just noticing what you feel and hear. Find a few pregnancy affirmations that really resonate with you, or write a few of your own. Start with 5 minutes a day if that’s all you have. 15 is even better. And if you don’t find it easy to even know what to think about on your own, there are popular smartphone apps like Calm and Headspace that have huge libraries of guided meditations on a variety of topics. Some are as short as just a few minutes.
If all of this sounds like a lot, remember that it just boils down to some easy tasks: move your body; stretch your body; rest your body; feed your body; and practice labor coping skills. The first four of these will likely come pretty naturally to you, as you’re probably doing them already, and the practicing part may be something you find that you enjoy. Just keep on making healthy choices for you and baby. You can do this!
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
- Exercise during pregnancy. (2019, July). Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
- DiFranco, J. T., & Curl, M. (2014). Healthy Birth Practice #5: Avoid Giving Birth on Your Back and Follow Your Body’s Urge to Push. The Journal of perinatal education, 23(4), 207–210. https://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.23.4.207