6 Physical Therapy Recommended Pregnancy Exercises For Labor and Delivery | VIDEO
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Are you pregnant and nearing your delivery date? Do you want to learn how to deliver your baby as quickly as possible by strengthening your body the right way?
A woman’s body can do amazing things. Let’s take advantage of our God given strength and maximize it to its fullest potential at the one moment in our life when we need it the most: childbirth!!!
In this article you will learn which exercises are highly recommended by physical therapists in order to have more success during childbirth. Also, at the end of this post there is a video of all the exercises which will help show you how to perform these exercises properly.
Physical Therapist and Mom of 4
I am a physical therapist so the body is my expertise!
I delivered 4 babies naturally. I would have to say, with each baby I became less and less afraid. Do you know why? Because I trusted in my own strength and I knew how my body was going to get the job done.
I was educated. Because I was educated, I wasn’t afraid. Fear is what cripples the birthing process. If you can conquer fear, than you can conquer childbirth!
I think the best way to conquer your fears when it comes to childbirth is to educate yourself on what actually occurs during labor and delivery.
Take A Birthing Class To Become Educated
I highly recommend contacting your hospital where you are going to deliver and sign up for a birthing class that they offer. I won’t be covering every aspect of labor and delivery in this post, but if you are interested in more information about labor and delivery, please comment below with your specific questions.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I signed up for a 2 day Lamaze crash course at our hospital where I was going to deliver. A highly trained and qualified nurse taught the class. She educated the group on the benefits of delivering naturally and how our bodies were designed to give birth.
This class was an eye opener for my husband and I. When I initially came to the class, I had not fully decided if I was going to deliver naturally or not. I was honestly afraid to do it without an epidural, and I just didn’t know any better. After learning about epidurals and how it causes you to lose all feeling in both your lower legs and pelvic muscles, along with losing your strength to push, I was convinced to do it naturally.
How on earth are you going to push a baby out without feeling your muscles push? It just didn’t make sense to me.
Throughout my research, I found two great sources from individuals who have made statements regarding the effects of epidurals on the ability to push during delivery:
“You might find that your epidural makes pushing more difficult and additional medications or interventions may be needed, such as forceps or cesarean.” American Pregnancy Association
“An epidural often makes the pushing stage of labor longer. The loss of sensation in your lower body weakens your bearing-down reflex, which can make it harder for you to push your baby out.” Baby Center
With that said, I had decided I wanted to feel my muscles work. I wanted to tell my muscles what to do. I wanted to strengthen my muscles to push as hard as I could so I could get the baby out as quickly as possible. I wanted to have the best delivery experience conceivable (no pun intended!). I was determined. And I hope you are, too.
I am not going to spend any more time in this blog post on epidurals (look for another post in the future about epidurals and childbirth). I want to focus this post on the role of your muscles during labor and delivery.
As a physical therapist, I take a lot of interest in which muscles are important during functional activity, how our muscles work and how to improve our strength to reach a goal. The goal for us women is to deliver our baby!!! We want to get our baby out and get our baby out safely and quickly. We need STRENGTH to do that!
So, which muscles do we need to strengthen in order to deliver our baby with more ease and as quickly as possible? What do these muscles actually do during delivery of a baby? Great questions! As a physical therapist, I can help answer these questions.
I am going to list the major muscle groups required for delivery, their purpose and role during delivery and the best way to strengthen the muscle group while pregnant.
(Always consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine)
6 Physical Therapy Recommended Pregnancy Exercises for Childbirth
1. Transverse Abdominis
The transverse abdominis is the innermost abdominal muscle and is an integral part of your core. It encircles your trunk like a corset. The action of this muscle compresses the abdominal cavity. It’s the prime muscle that helps you push during labor.
Exercise: Pelvic Tilts
in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees), draw your belly button in (like you are lifting it to the ceiling), tighten your abdominal muscles and hold for 5-10 seconds, continue to breath and count out loud. Then relax. Repeat 5-10 times. Perform 3-6 days a week
2. Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is the muscular base of the abdomen, attached to the pelvis. The main muscle of the pelvic floor, the pubococcygeus, lies in a figure eight design around the openings of the urethra, vagina and rectum. Kegel exercises are what strengthen the pelvic-floor muscles.
The pelvic floor is important for delivery because you need to be able to know how to contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles during the different stages of childbirth.
The overall benefit of having a strong pelvic floor is to increase your chances of having an easier second stage of labor (during the pushing stage of childbirth). A tense pelvic floor can also slow down the birth of your baby.
Squeeze the muscles around the vagina as if you are stopping the flow of urine or imagine that you are squeezing a tampon really tightly. Hold for 5-10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release. Do 20 reps.
You can do this exercise as often as you want throughout the day up to 5 times a day. This can be done every day of the week.
First try doing the contraction in a slow and controlled way. Then occasionally perform the contractions in a rapid on/off type of way.
When first trying this exercise, do it in a semi reclined position and then you can progress to sitting and standing. You literally can do this exercise anywhere and any time. The more variety of positions or activities you perform Kegels in, the better!
3. Heart-Cardiovascular Endurance
Everyone knows what your heart is. It’s the muscle that pumps blood through our body to give us life. We need to train our heart for the big day. Pushing could take hours, you want to have good cardiovascular endurance to sustain your energy for long durations. Exercising your heart will help you to be prepared for delivery day so you don’t fatigue quickly.
Perform 20 minutes or more of walking 3-5 days a week in which you are able to reach your target heart rate. CLICK HERE for a Target Heart Rate Calculator . Wear well supported and comfortable shoes.
Jena’s Tip: If swelling is a concern or issue in your legs during pregnancy – don’t let that stop you! Consider purchasing medical compression stockings which help return blood flow to your heart and prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs, especially when standing upright for longer periods of time. (Coming soon: a blog post on swelling during pregnancy – look for it in the future!!!!)
4. Quadriceps and Hamstrings:
Squatting opens the pelvic outlet an extra 1/4 to 1/2 inch, allowing more room for the baby to descend.
To perform squats safely, legs are positioned about shoulder width apart. Slowly and gradually squat down while maintaining a flat back. When you squat, if your knees go way over top of/in front of your toes, you’re not performing the squat correctly and you need to position your buttocks further backwards.
The knees should only maximally go right over your feet/toes and not past them. Only go as far down as your body is comfortable doing.
Do not strain and do not hold your breath. You can go straight back up to the starting position or you can attempt to hold the position for 5-10 seconds. Slowly and smoothly return to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 reps. Perform 3-6 days a week.
Jena’ Tip: If this is too hard, perform this exercise next to a kitchen counter or bathroom counter so you can use your arms to help support you.
5. Hip Adductors and Hip Abductors (Inner and Outer Thighs)
During labor and delivery, your legs are positioned in an awkward position, very similar to the position you are in when you are getting your internal exams. Without your inner and outer thigh muscles, your legs would naturally flop down to the side so that your legs would be wide open.
I found that during delivery, I required a lot of strength to my inner and outer thighs in order to stay comfortable during the pushing phase. I needed to keep my legs stabilized in the right position in order to push effectively.
With all my pregnancies, I found my inner thighs were one of the most sore muscles after childbirth. Also, your hip adductor muscles connect to the pubic bones. Of course your body will naturally activate the hip adductors during delivery!
Exercise: Hip Abduction and Adduction Sidelying
Lie on your side with your head comfortably resting on your arm in a neutral spine position (straight spine).
With a straightly aligned spine, first tighten your core before attempting to lift your legs.
To perform hip abduction, slightly move your hip backwards a few inches and then maintain that position as you slowly lift your upper leg about 12-18 inches and then slowly lower to the starting position.
The slight hip extension is important in that it helps to isolate the muscles you are wanting to focus on. Repeat 5-10 times.
Then complete hip adduction with the bottom leg by slowly lifting the bottom leg about 6 inches and then return to the starting position (make sure you upper leg is positioned out of the way like shown in the picture). Repeat 5-10 times.
Once completed, lie on your opposite side and repeat the series again. Perform 3-6 times a week.
6. Back Muscles
Your back, specifically the erector spinae muscles, has gone through a lot of straining throughout the pregnancy with the added weight that is pulling your lumbar spine forward. Your back needs to stay healthy and strong during the pregnancy in order to be comfortable as well as supportive during labor and delivery.
Exercise: Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is a yoga pose that helps ease discomfort especially when starting to have labor pains.
This exercise also lengthens your back muscles as well as your pelvic floor muscles. Begin by positioning yourself on your hands and knees. Spread your legs apart and rest your bottom on your heels. Bow forward, placing your trunk between your thighs. Allow your forehead to come to the floor.
As your belly grows, you may need to spread your knees farther apart to create space. Hold for 10-20 seconds or up to a minute depending on your comfort level.
Remember to take slow and relaxed breaths while resting in the child’s pose position. When done, return to the starting position on your hands and knees. You may perform up to 5 times a day, 3-6 times a week.
These are my all time favorite exercises to recommend to women who are pregnant, especially as they are nearing their 3rd trimester.
They are also easy to do at home! These exercises are not very strenuous, so most pregnant women can perform them in a safe manner. Like I always say, consult your doctor before starting a new workout routine.
And don’t forget to watch the video which will help show you how to perform these exercises properly.
You Are Strong!!!
Initially, I felt like natural childbirth was an impossible task, but through my faith and after extensive research and education on the topic, I realized that not just me, but virtually all women are strong enough to achieve their labor and delivery goals.
I encourage you to continue to learn more about this topic ahead of time before your baby arrives.
Be prepared and be confident in your ability to deliver your baby. Don’t sell yourself short. You are STRONG!
You have the ability to do this!
Your body has more strength and can handle more stress than you know.
I encourage everyone to start with the goal of delivering naturally.
Sometimes the delivery process does not work out as we originally planned due to unforeseen issues. If this happens and you don’t end up delivering naturally due to circumstances outside of your control, don’t sweat it.
You just carried a little, tiny person in your tummy for 9 months and delivered him/her into the world!!! ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!! I am proud of you; nothing should distract from the pure joy of welcoming your baby into this beautiful world.
Physical Therapy Resource
I can be a valuable asset to you during your pregnancy. With my physical therapy background and my experience with delivering 4 babies naturally, I can definitely be a great resource for you.
You can always contact me on my contacts page to ask me anything related to this topic or comment below. Also, when you sign up for my Newsletter, you will get insider tips on pregnancy and motherhood as well as other physical therapy recommendations and advice!
Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
*It is important to always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and get medical clearance. Perform exercises at your own risk.
About Dr. Jena Bradley
Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey. She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visitng her ABOUT page.