Optimal exercises to prepare for delivery

What to Know

  • Learn pregnancy-specific exercises to support the ultimate workout: labor and delivery!
  • Recognize which positions to avoid while pregnant

You’re headed for the biggest workout of your life – childbirth! To get ready, you can learn specific exercises to help you prepare for the physically demanding act of delivering your beautiful baby.

Pregnant women with exercise balls in gym

Moreover, regular exercise can help you throughout your pregnancy (and your life!), with improved strength, flexibility, balance, digestion, and circulation all being added benefits. Try to engage in 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (think swimming, walking, prenatal yoga and strength training) on most, if not all days of the week.

Added bonus: many exercises that can help the body prepare for delivery, require little to no props, take just a few minutes, and can be done in front of the television, while reading, or while working on the computer. For specific instructions for these exercises, see the WHAT TO DO section.

Stop exercising and call your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Uterine contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

What to Do

Avoid lying flat on your back

After your 1st trimester, do not lie flat on your back, which can reduce blood flow to your baby. Instead place a pillow under your back to incline yourself and keep your heart above your naval. Remember to roll to your side and use your arms to push yourself to sitting. Never sit up directly from a prone (lying down) position.

Strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles

Isometric abdominal exercises, also referred to as abdominal bracing exercises, are an excellent way to keep the core strong and engaged throughout pregnancy. Here’s how to set them up properly:

  1. Stand up straight and place one hand on the small of your back and one hand on your abdomen.
  2. Lean slightly forward at the waist (only a few inches) and feel the lower back muscles contract.
  3. Return to an upright position and feel the lower back muscles relax.
  4. Now gently contract the abdominal muscles (without bending forward) as if pulling your naval straight back toward your spine while squeezing the muscles in your backside. Feel the lower back muscles contract and tighten.
  5. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Relax and repeat.
  6. And keep breathing throughout. You should be able to talk and breathe normally throughout the exercise.

Another way to set up abdominal bracing correctly is to imagine the feeling of coughing or blowing out a candle. You will feel the contraction in your abdominals, lower back muscles, and backside.

See Everything you need to know about pelvic floor muscles and how to strengthen them and Everything you need to know about strengthening and protecting your core during pregnancy and post-partum for even more details.

Follow these exercises to prepare for labor

Exercise #1: Tailor sitting – stretches and lengthens the muscles on the upper insides of your legs, in your back, and in your pelvis. Improves blood flow to the pelvis and can ease an achy back.

  • Sit on the floor straight up on your sits bones (if this position is uncomfortable, add a blanket underneath you to prop you up).
  • Bring your knees up and together and either cross your ankles or put the flats of your feet together (if you choose to cross your ankles, then alternate which ankle is in front after each rest).
  • Let your legs fall open so that your outer thighs are parallel to the floor or, if you are very limber, resting on the floor.
  • Don’t strain or bounce, instead, let the weight of your legs and knees and the littlest application of pressure create a gentle inner thigh stretch.
  • Lean forward just a bit from your pelvis while keeping your back and neck straight, which should create a bit more of a stretch. (Don’t curve your head and spine over your legs in the process.)
  • For a deeper stretch, place a hand on the opposite knee and turn toward that knee. Put your other hand behind you for balance. Ground yourself in your pelvis and sit tall before you begin to turn to help protect your back while giving you a better stretch. Think of turning with your whole upper body, not leading with your head and neck.
  • Rest for 5-10 seconds, switch sides and repeat the sequence for 2-3 minutes.

Exercise #2: Sitting on an exercise ball – maintains an aligned pelvis, strengths your core and keeps your baby in the optimal birthing position. This may not sound like an exercise, but when you’re carrying an extra 20 pounds or more during pregnancy, proper sitting becomes an exercise in itself!

  • Inflate an exercise ball so that when you take a seat your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
  • Use the ball instead of a chair and sit with a straight back throughout the day, or switch on and off with your regular chair at home or at work.

Exercise #3: Pelvic Tilts (Cat and Cow Stretch) – relieves pressure of the upper and lower back by stretching your back while strengthening your abdominal muscles to help prepare for delivery. May also help improve digestion, increase circulation, and relieve pressure on other organs compressed during pregnancy.

  • Get down on all fours and place your wrists directly under your shoulders. Make sure your knees are directly underneath your hips and your back is parallel to the floor.
  • Gently brace your abdominals and pelvic floor to maintain a stable table top posture.
  • Inhale and gently lift your chest up while looking slightly in front of you. Hold the position for a few seconds while gently breathing and letting your belly relax and fall towards the floor.
  • Exhale and round your upper back by pulling apart your shoulder blades while very gently drawing your belly inward without compressing your baby belly. Gaze between your legs focus on stretching the muscles of your upper back and neck.
  • Repeat this exercise 5-10 times daily to achieve the relief you need.

Exercise #4: Squatting – strengthens your legs and core while encouraging baby to face down in the birth canal

  • Fold a thin blanket, ideally the thickness of a yoga blanket.
  • Place your heels on the edge of the blanket with feet wider than your shoulders (to allow plenty of room for your belly), with your toes pointed out 30 degrees (think 11:00 and 1:00) and your hands on your hips for balance.
  • Inhale and slowly bend your knees while lowering your tailbone toward the floor (imagine you’re sitting back in a chair). Drop down as low as your body feels comfortable and hold for a few breaths while maintaining a good neutral posture.
  • Slowly rise back to standing.
  • Repeat 5-10 times and build up to several sets of 5-10 repetitions.

Exercise #5: Side-Lying abductor lifts – improves your balance and strength to accommodate a larger belly during your second and third trimesters. Also allows for pulling your legs apart easier and reducing leg shaking in the second stage of labor.

  • Lie on your left side and cradle your head in your arm. If you’re in your second or third trimester you can place a small pillow or blanket underneath your back for support.
  • Lift your top leg as high as you comfortably can without putting any strain on your lower back.
  • Hold your leg at the top for a few seconds and focusing on contracting the muscle of your outer upper thigh.
  • Slowly lower the leg.
  • Complete 10 repetitions on the left side, switch to the right side and repeat.
  • Build up to 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per side.

Exercise #6: Butterfly lift – similar to the side-lying abductor lifts, the partner-assisted butterfly lift also improves your balance and strength to accommodate a larger belly during your second and third trimesters while increasing flexibility and reducing leg shaking in the second stage of labor. This position has the added benefit of incorporating some mild resistance in what many women find to be a (relatively!) comfortable birthing position.

  • With a partner, sit in an inclined or angled position with pillows so you’re not laying flat on your back.
  • Bend your knees and pull your heels back toward your bottom.
  • Have your partner place his hands on the outside of your legs at the knee and apply mild pressure while you use your thigh muscles to push your legs apart. Allow your legs to open as wide as they comfortably can.
  • Ask your partner to start with mild pressure and increase the pressure as your strength improves.
  • Repeat up to 10 times daily.

Exercise #7: Reverse and side lunges – improves balance, strengthens legs, hips, and core, and encourages your baby into an optimal birthing position. Keep in mind that lunges are most appropriate in the 1st and 2nd trimesters and may become too difficult in the 3rd trimester as your belly grows (using a chair for support will help).

  • Start with reverse lunges. Hold the top of the back of a chair, gently brace your core while keeping your torso upright and begin to lunge back about 12 inches while keeping your back knee slightly bent and the front foot securely on the floor.
  • Alternate legs and repeat each leg 3-5 times, working up to 5-10 repetitions per side.
  • As you build strength, move on to side lunges. Hold the top of the back of a chair, gently brace your core while keeping your torso upright and begin to step to the right side while bending your right knee as your foot securely lands on the floor. Keep your left leg straight but not locked. Hold your position at the bottom for a breath and keep your right knee behind your toes while slightly sitting back as in a chair (similar downward position as a squat).
  • Alternate legs and repeat each leg 3-5 times, working up to 5-10 repetitions per side.
  • With both moves, start with small lunges to maintain your balance and then gradually increase the lunging distance.

Exercise #8: Knee planks – strengthens the muscles in your abdominal, lower back, and backside.

  • Lie on the floor facing down and position your elbows beneath your shoulders.
  • Lift your torso off the ground and keep your knees in contact with the floor.
  • Hold your body straight through gentle abdominal bracing. Try to maintain a straight line from your head and neck down through your back.
  • Work up to holding this position for 10-20 seconds at a time (or more!).

Exercise #9: Alternating heel slides – strengthens core muscles (think pelvic floor, lower abdominals, and lower back).

  • Lie on the floor facing up while supporting your body weight on your elbows or a rolled-up blanket or pillows under your back to avoid lying flat on your back.
  • Bend both of your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your heels back toward your backside.
  • Engage your pelvic floor and alternate sliding your heels towards your backside.
  • Repeat 10 repetitions per side.

Exercise #10: Oblique side stretches – stretches your spine and lateral abdominal muscles, which often become sore and overworked during pregnancy.

  • Sit on the floor straight up on your sits bones (if this position is uncomfortable, add a blanket underneath you to prop you up).
  • Bring your knees up and together and either cross your ankles or put the flats of your feet together (if you choose to cross your ankles, then alternate which ankle is in front after each rest).
  • Sit with a straight spine and gently brace your abdominals.
  • Place your left hand on the floor about 6 inches away from your left hip for support. Lift and straighten your right arm close to your ear and stretch over to the left until you feel a soft stretch on your right oblique.
  • Repeat on your right side. Aim for 2-3 repetitions on each side.
Sources

You may also like