Prenatal Pilates: 5 exercises for a (hopefully!) smoother birth experience
Updated: May 1
As I’m approaching the tail end of my pregnancy, I’m both excited and scared about my first ever birth experience. I’m hoping to be able to go through an unmedicated, natural birth, and while I have been preparing myself for it both mentally and physically, I really can’t imagine how it’s going to be like! Reminding myself that my body was built to birth my baby, and I’m so, so excited to meet my little girl ^^ For mummies out there who are hoping to go by the natural birth route too, with/without epidural, here are some exercises that are great to do especially in the 3rd trimester, to prepare your body for birth.
Begin with this gentle stretch which is great for opening up your hips to prepare for birth. Sit tall with your knees bent and out to the side and feet together in a diamond shape. Flap your knees up and down gently to get an active stretch into the hip and groin area. To deepen the stretch, fold forward at the hips with a straight back to bring your belly into the space between your thighs. Try not to round the spine! If the hips feel very tight, you may try sitting on a yoga block or thick book to give the hips a bit more space.
Come into your all-fours quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Breathe in to lift the chest, creating an arch in the spine (cow stretch); as you exhale, round the spine and curl your tailbone (cat stretch). Do this a few times for a lovely spine stretch.
To open up the hips further, bring your knees wider than hip distance apart into external rotation, about mat-width wide. As you do the cat/cow stretch, begin to send your bottom toward your heels, allowing your belly to fall into the space between your knees. This movement of flowing back and forth is a great position during labour to help in relieve the intensity of the contractions.
As baby moves down the birth canal into the lower part of your hips, you would want to open up the sit bones to create space for baby to continue progressing downwards. While keeping the knees mat-width wide, take your shins outwards to bring the knees into internal rotation and this creates more space between the sit bones. Continue to flow back and forth in your cat/cows.
This is a great position to birth in as it allows the hips to open and create space, and the upright position works with gravity to help baby to move down the birth canal. It’s a position that I like to call the “coffeeshop uncle squat”, something that our earlier generations are very comfortable in! But for ourselves who have become a little too comfortable sitting in our chairs, coming into such a position could be quite a struggle for some. If you notice that your hips/thighs/ankles feel tight in this position, it is normal! But I encourage you to try. Even if your heels are lifted off the floor, or you can’t lower your bottom to the ground very much, it is good to still try to spend some time in this position. Just a couple of minutes a day, even if you’re not planning to birth in this position, but it’s a lovely stretch for the lower half of the body.
If you’re hoping to encourage baby to move down the birth canal, you might’ve heard that squats are good to help encourage labour. Squats strengthen the lower half of your body – legs & bum – and help to improve the alignment of the birth canal for a hopefully smoother labour.
Stand with your feet hip wide, or slightly wider than your hips to accommodate a bigger belly if needed. You can have your arms up along the sides of your ears (most challenging), at your shoulder height, or on your hips. Take an inhale as you bend your knees and lower your body into a squat position, imagining sitting back into a chair behind you. It is important to make sure your knees don’t go forward over your toes, hence it’s essential to sit backwards. Breathe out and stand up, thinking of drawing your sit bones together and lifting up through your pelvic floor. You’ll definitely feel this in your thighs & bum after a few repetitions!
Fitball Hip Bouncing/Circles
One of my favourite Pilates props these days is my fitball – I pretty much sit on it every day in replacement of my chair. Not only is it fun to bounce on the ball, but it is also a way to stretch & strengthen the pelvic floor which is essential for birth.
While sitting on the ball, you can draw circles with your hips, or figure of 8s – this encourages baby to move down the birth canal, and can help to relieve the discomfort of contractions during labour.
These exercises can be done throughout your pregnancy, and in fact I highly encourage you do to so! Don’t wait till the last minute, lest you need time to figure out how to do the exercises. Of course, birth is a very personal and unique experience for everyone, and these exercises cannot guarantee a smooth labour. I’ve also dropped links to some of my other Prenatal Pilates posts, so do check them out! And if you need some visual guidance on how to execute the exercises, check out my IGTV for a video.