Labour is a physical act. You wouldn't sign up for a 42 kilometre run and sit on your ass all year leading up to it, then be very disappointed when you could only run 2 of the kilometres. Or maybe you would. But I can assure you that labour is harder than any marathon you will ever run and the more time you take to get serious about your body and its abilities, the easier and happier the process can be.
Everyone hates squatting. Its tiring and your feet go numb and our Western culture has created little need for it. Except that it is one of the most natural positions to sustain during labour. It opens your pelvis and relieves pressure on your back. If you have not spent any time doing squats, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold this position and you can fall prey to the supine (laying) position during labour which trust me, is very uncomfortable. Just like every year before you go snowboarding you squat against your wall so your legs don't burn up and fall off after four runs, you should try to spend time each day squatting before your labour. At a bookstore while your browse books on the bottom shelf. While engaging with your older children. In intervals against your wall while you catch up on Grey's Anatomy. Half an hour of squats a day will help your body prepare to open, help your baby get in proper position, and help your strength which you will need more of than you thought possible.
Much like squatting, yoga is all about stretching, strengthening and opening your body. But labour is much more than just a physical act. It is an emotional process and a true test of your mental clarity and strength. Many times our body sends signals to our brain saying "this is too much, you can't keep doing this, you should stop". Without training our mind to learn to say gently "no, we are fine, and we can hold on for ten more seconds." we become the victims of our own bodies desire to just chill out. Yoga taught me that I could continue through an uncomfortable stretch, or breathe through an elevating heart rate, to calm my mind as it raced with thousands of thoughts. These were all instrumental in my labour with Lennon. When I thought I couldn't go on, I knew I could because just days earlier I had held that camel pose five seconds longer and felt ten times better after. Yoga will help with the strength you need as well as the positioning of your baby. Postures I strongly recommend during pregnancy include: cat/cow series, half moon, pigeon, butterfly, camel, and standing bow pulling. Spending time on all fours, raising opposite arm/leg for seconds is wonderful for strength and stretching and helping your baby avoid getting caught in breech position.
|Butterfly pose at 39 weeks pregnant|
|Standing Bow Pulling Pose|
If you have ever read any of Ina May Gaskin's books, especially Spiritual Midwifery, you will know that walking is a wonderful form of exercise for the pregnant woman before and during labour. The natural sway of your hips as you walk, as well as the increased heart rate, working of leg and arm muscles, and the peace of breathing in fresh outdoor air, are invaluable assets to give yourself during pregnancy. When I was in labour with Lennon, we went for a small walk around a bird sanctuary. It felt great to be outside. It felt great to be moving my hips from side to side. It helped progress my labour into the next stage. If you are having a bad day, or feeling like a giant whale, take that big ol belly outside and allow it to move back and forth. You will be reminded of how strong you really are.
Pregnancy is not about sitting on your couch all day. Although there is a need for rest and relaxation, you must also remind yourself that the stronger, healthier and more open your body is leading up to your labour, the more likely it is you will have an empowered birth. What activities did you find helpful during your pregnancy?