Thousands of years ago, when we lived as hunter-gatherers, it was the women who were the gatherers. The job of gathering meant that women would walk, bend down, squat, pick or uproot something, stand again, and walk on. They would bend backwards and forwards to gather berries from bushes, and stretch up high to pick fruit from trees. They might have to kneel and dig strenuously for tubers. All these movements, and others such as the rhythmical circular movements they would make sifting grain, would have helped prepare the woman’s body for childbirth.
How differently we live now! We are likely to spend a lot of time in front of the television, relaxing on a sofa, or slumped in front of a computer screen, or driving, and this can present us with problems when it comes to getting the baby in the best position for birth.
Midwives all over the world have put a lot of thought into solving the problem of babies being poorly aligned in the womb, and I’d like to encourage you to try these exercises, at the appropriate stage of your pregnancy, to help get your baby into the best position, and your body into the best condition for your big day.
On all fours
Spend a few minutes, several times a day, on all fours. When you do this, you are making your belly into a hammock and inviting the baby to snuggle up in the right way, with its head down and its spine turned towards your abdominal wall. While you’re on all fours you could use the time to do a few rounds of deep or birth breathing, or you could put some pillows down and rest your head, or just have a drink and look at a magazine. Doing this at least two to four times a day, for just three to five minutes, will invite your baby to take up the best position — so kick off your killer heels, get down there and give it a go!
Tilt that pelvis!
These movements will also help you to tilt your pelvis in the right way to get the baby into the best position.
- Stand upright and move your tailbone backwards and forwards, then bring it back to a natural position – don’t have it sticking out in a ‘ducky tail’!
- Create a relaxed pelvic tilt by making a tight roll out of a small towel and placing it underneath you, so that when you sit at your desk, your pelvis is tilted forwards rather than leaning backwards, encouraging your baby to relax into the hammock.
Gird up your pelvic girdle
This little exercise will help to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic girdle:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, put your hands on your hips and inhale.
- Putting all your weight on your left leg, lift your right foot off the floor.
- Keep your right leg straight and hold it a few centimetres off the ground.
- Now bend your left knee as many times as you can, up to 25.
- If you need a rest, have a rest, or do 10 repetitions at a time.
- Take a rest and repeat the exercise on the other leg.
- Remember, just bend your knee a little bit: you don’t need to go down very far to strengthen your muscles. If you do this exercise once to three times a day, you will feel the difference.
Women often start circling their hips during labour. It can help your baby to move, especially if it has got stuck somewhere. With your feet hip-width apart, take one step, imagining that you want to circle round the inside of your feet. On the next step circle round the outside of your feet.
Another very simple technique is to place your hands on your hips, or behind your head, and swing your hips naturally, as you would if you were dancing a samba. Not only is it fun, it’s great to practise throughout your pregnancy because it helps to release the tension from your pelvis. All your birthing energy is in your pelvis, so if you want things to move, sometimes you have to move yourself!
The ‘knee to hip’ move
- Stand opposite your birthing partner and hold hands or the lower part of one another’s arms.
- Look into each other’s eyes and inhale.
- Starting with your right knee (always move opposite knees, as if you were dancing), bring your knee up as close as you can to your hip. As you inhale, think or say ‘ knee to hip one’, then on the
- other side ’knee to hip two . . . three’ and so on, alternating the knees each time.
One day I was helping a woman who had got to the last stage of labour, but the baby was not moving down, no matter what she did. Suddenly the ‘knees, hips’ exercise came to mind. We did this exercise together for about 30 minutes, and in between, with each surge, she would squat down and move the baby further down and out. The mother told me afterwards that she could feel the baby starting to move down once we started our weird knee dance.
This exercise should be done during a break, not during contractions. (Don’t do it before 34 weeks, as you don’t want to drive the baby deep into the pelvis in the early weeks of your pregnancy.)
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It makes sense to get to know your body during pregnancy, and to work with it to give yourself the best preparation for birth possible. Your body – and your baby – will love you for it!