Why prepare physically for birth?
As a Hypnobirthing instructor I am used to considering all the ways that fear can prohibit the natural hormones of birth and cause labour to slow or stop altogether. There are a myriad of ways to prevent this and preparing from earlier on in pregnancy is essential to try and undo some of the inherited and cultural fears most of us have about birth. But there are also a few other things that can cause labour dystocia, which is an abnormally slow or protracted labour that can often end in unwanted or unplanned interventions such as caesarean or instrumental birth. One being the over-use of medicalisation (but that is another rant for another day) and another is biomechanical issues, in other words something physical that is preventing baby from getting in an ideal position or from moving down and rotating as they should.
So just as I advise my clients to prepare mentally for birth, by getting super informed, learning how their bodies work, practicing visualisations and affirmations and a load of other stuff, I also advise an equal amount of physical preparation. So, I thought it might be useful to go through some do’s and don’ts as well as some specific things you can do to encourage your baby into an optimal position for birth. I should caveat all this by saying that there are no guarantees…you could do all the things you ‘should’ do and sometimes babies still find themselves in wonky and potentially difficult positions, but with birth it is all about maximising your chances of a straightforward and positive experience (whatever that looks like for you) and knowing that although we cannot totally control birth, we CAN heavily influence it.
Predispositions to pelvic imbalance
I thought we would start with the three main things that can make you predisposed to pelvic imbalance as well as some suggestions for you if fall into one of these categories.
1.Sedentary lifestyle – Sitting for long periods of time can obviously affect your overall health and your pelvis is part of that. When we spend a lot of time sitting the calf muscles can shorten which has an effect on how your pelvis sits in your body. It can also cause a tight or weak pelvic floor which can have an influence on how the baby moves through the pelvis.
The solution here is quite simple, and does not have to be anything extreme. Daily walks, making sure if you have a desk job that you get up and move every 30 minutes or so, using a birth ball instead of a chair, dancing, swimming, yoga… anything that you like that feels good in your body, will have a massive impact.
2. Being very active – Seems unfair, doesn’t it?! But although fitness enthusiasts, athletes and horse riders in particular, will have great overall health, they often have very tight or strong pelvic floor muscles which can make it less easy for baby to pass through.
Again, the answer here is simple. Rather than practicing the standard ‘squeezy’ pelvic floor exercises, it would be beneficial to practice relaxing the pelvic floor, particularly using diaphragmatic breathing. Pregnancy Yoga can also be really helpful here and there are many specific movements and poses to help relax the pelvic floor muscles. Bear in mind that if you have a very tight pelvic floor it may take a bit longer to actually push your baby out, but if you and baby are both well, this in itself is not a problem.
3. Previous Injury – An injury to your hip or impact on your spine can obviously have an impact on the health and balance of your pelvis, but even an ankle injury can have an impact on how you walk and stand which can have a knock-on effect on your pelvis.
If this is you, it is a really good idea to see an expert like a physio, craniosacral therapist, chiropractor or osteopath, to give you the once over and see if your pelvis is being affected by your injury and can suggest a treatment plan to remedy any issues.
Do’s and don’ts: encouraging your baby into an optimal position
If you don’t fall into any of those categories there are still some simple do’s and don’ts that will help with pelvic balance and encourage baby into an optimal position. One of the big ones is avoiding slumping on the sofa (instead either lie on your side, sit on your birth ball or sit propped up with cushions.) If you work at a desk, make sure you are not sitting with your legs crossed and that the chair is the correct height. Another thing that falls into the ‘strongly avoid’ category is wearing heels, this can shorten the calf muscles, which attach to the pelvis via the hamstrings, and can cause an imbalance. A way to combat this is to practice daily calf stretches. If you have a toddler at home, be aware of how you carry them, as carrying repeatedly on one hip can cause an imbalance, so try swapping hips every now and again.
As I mentioned above, walking and swimming are great ways to prepare your body, but I have to give a special shout out to pregnancy yoga, which will strengthen, stretch and relax you in all the right ways and you can usually make some good friends in the meantime.
When it comes down to the third trimester there are also several specific positions/movements that can be done daily to encourage baby into an optimal position and to balance the pelvis. Sitting on your birth ball every day is great (and also amazingly beneficial in labour too) and spending some time leaning over on all fours, (you could do this over a chair, birth ball or just on your hands and knees) is a great way to encourage baby’s spine to come to the front of your belly. If you want to level up your practice, visit spinningbabies.com and try out some of their positions like the forward leaning inversion. If you want to level up even more, find yourself a doula or hypnobirthing practitioner that is trained in biomechanics and can give you personal, tailored advice and in the case of a doula can suggest and assist you with positioning and movement when you are actually in labour.
I think it is really helpful to remember that babies know how to be born. They have a set of primitive reflexes which signal them to move, rotate and emerge in the most incredible way. And, on the whole our bodies do know how to give birth… it’s just that our modern lifestyle can get in the way sometimes. So, check out my tips, get yourself to a yoga class and don’t forget to prepare your body as well as your mind!
Guest Blog Author - Amy Wilson
Amy teaches pregnancy yoga, hypnobirthing and baby & postnatal yoga in Nottingham. You can find out more about Amy and her services on her website Twelve Moons Birth