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Childbirth is often daunting to first-time mothers, who are often surprised how physically demanding it can be.

An average first time natural labor is roughly eight hours, though it is not uncommon for the experience to last through to 14 hours.

However, there are often physical exercises that can be done beforehand to prepare for a relatively smooth and painless birth.

Getting Physically Ready

Keeping a level of fitness throughout pregnancy can help your body feel less exhausted through those hours of contractions and allow you to maintain a level of core and pelvic muscle strength for the pushing stage of labor.

The general rule to exercise is to never over-do it, as overheating and dehydration can endanger the health of the baby. 

If you did not have a regular exercise regime before, it is never too late.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you have had a regular exercise program before your pregnancy—and you have no contraindications during your pregnancy—you should be able to continue exercising (although this may need to be modified as the pregnancy progresses).

If you did not have a regular exercise regime before, it is never too late, but you are restricted to a range of gentler exercises such as walking, swimming and prenatal yoga.

Keep in mind that the levels of your hormone called relaxin can increase 10-fold during your pregnancy (preparing the body for labor), making your joints hyper-mobile and increasing your risk of joint injuries. Therefore, extra care and caution is advisable.

Improve Your Hip Flexibility

If you’re planning on a natural birth, chances are you will spend a relatively long time in stirrups or in a squatted position.

To maintain such hip movements, you will require a certain level of hip muscle flexibility.

The following are simple hip stretches that can greatly improve your hip mobility and also help you maximize the opening of your pelvic cavity.

Diamond pose

Seated on the floor with your feet touching, open up your hips so that your knees are close to the floor and lean forward. 

Pregnant woman striking diamond pose

The diamond pose

Adductor stretches

Seated on the floor, stretch your legs apart and lean forward.

Pregnant woman performing adductor stretches

Adductor stretches

Squatting position

With legs wide apart, lower yourself to the floor to a squat position. Try to keep your heels on the ground if possible. 

Pregnant woman squatting

Squatting position

Glute stretches

Seated on a chair, place your outer ankle on your opposite knee. Gently lean forward. 

Pregnant woman performing glut stretches

Glute stretches

Child pose

Kneeling on the ground, sit back onto your heels with the top of your feet against the floor, big toes touching, and knees wider than hip-width apart.

Slowly lower your chest to the floor between your legs. Extend arms overhead, touching your forehead to floor.

Pregnant woman performing child pose

Child pose

For all these stretches hold the position for 30 seconds, rest and repeat three times. Repeat these stretches three times a day.

Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor muscle is the sling-shot shaped muscle that runs from your pubic bone moving backwards and attaching to the base of your spine and tailbone.

It wraps around your vagina, urethra and rectal sphincter allowing you to have bowel, urinal and vaginal control.

During your pregnancy, you require the strength of your pelvic floor muscles to prevent urinary incontinence. 

However, during labor these muscles need to relax and thin out, or else the tension of the pelvic floor muscles will slow down the birth of the baby.

During your pregnancy, you require the strength of your pelvic floor muscles to prevent urinary incontinence.

To identify these muscles, begin to urinate and then stop midway—contracting the muscle to stop the urinal flow. Hold, then release.

Do this a few times so that you can locate this muscle but focus on knowing how to relax these muscles.

Any of the above-mentioned hip stretching exercises can also help stretch the pelvic floor muscles.  

Seek Advice for Previous Injuries

Your body will undergo the natural process of opening up your pelvic bones during pregnancy to provide enough space in your pelvic cavity for the baby to pass through.

If you have a history of lower back pain, sacroiliac joint pain or hip issues, it’s advisable for you to see an osteopath or a related health practitioner to check if any lingering conditions have affected this process.

All body images courtesy of Chung Sze Chan.