As a midwife, Anita Guerra has supported countless mums during their labour and birth and has witnessed firsthand how exercise throughout pregnancy can assist with labour and birth preparation. Here she takes us through the benefits and why she highly recommends it.
Do you sit there awake at night and wonder what labour and birth will be like?
Will it be painful?
Will I be able to get through it without feeling totally exhausted at the end?
Will I have the stamina to avoid having pain relief?
Will I be able to hold my body up during contractions?
These are all daunting questions, and as a midwife and a mum of two myself (who has experienced 2 vaginal births both very different to each other), I can certainly say that I’m so happy that I exercised the whole way throughout both pregnancies even though I had SPD.
I wasn’t going to allow pubic pain to stop me as I knew the benefits of staying active and mobile was going to outweigh me lying in bed all day, feeling like a cripple and having no strength at all when it was time to go into labour and to give birth. Plus, I ensured I wore the SRC pregnancy garments to keep me supported and active.
As a midwife, I have witnessed and supported so many mums during their labour and birth, and I can certainly say that the women who exercised throughout their pregnancy certainly had better coping skills and their labours were shorter.
Yes, most of the time first labours can be over 24hrs when you count the pre-labour time as well. But when my girls who exercised with me gave birth, the majority of their first labours were under 10 hours. The proof is in the pudding and research backs pregnancy and exercise all the way as there are so many benefits for mum and baby.
Being pregnant and giving birth are physically demanding. Having a reasonable level of fitness will help you manage your changing body shape as well as the demands of pregnancy, birth and early parenting.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of pregnancy and exercise and how it assists with labour and birth:
- Improved core strength to support your spine and help you carry your baby around during pregnancy and during labour and birth.
- Improved posture to minimise back pain.
- Improve your mood during pregnancy and to create a positive mindset for labour and birth.
- Improved muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness so you can cope with labour better.
- Tone your lower body to handle the demands of labour and birth.
- Strengthen your upper body to lift and hold your baby afterwards and so you can hold yourself up during labour and pushing.
- Reduced likelihood of experiencing symptoms associated with pregnancy including: leg cramps, swelling, constipation, varicose veins, back pain and incontinence.
- Decreased risk of gestational diabetes, plus exercise helps to control gestational diabetes during pregnancy for reduced chances of a bigger baby at birth.
- Confidence in own ability to cope with labour and birth.
- Improved circulation and blood flow for mum and baby.
- Improved relaxation and possible improved sleep patterns.
- Enhanced mental wellbeing, improved self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Lower chance of developing high blood pressure.
- Improved recovery time after birth.
- Increased placental growth and functional capacity.
- Easier, shorter and less chance of a complicated birth.
- Improved aspects of growth and development post birth.
There is also remarkable evidence in the reduction of medical interventions in pregnancy for labour and birth for women whom exercise including:
- Reduction in the need for analgesia.
- Reduction in the need for Induction of Labour which can include artificially rupture of the membranes and oxytocins infusion to stimulate contractions.
- Reduction in the need for an episiotomy.
- Reduction in the need for an instrumental birth (forceps or vacuum).
- Reduction on the need of a caesarean.
Cardiovascular Training in pregnancy along with strength training has also proven benefits for the mother for the pregnancy and during her labour and birth. These include:
- Improved circulation and flexibility.
- Increased energy, strength, endurance, and muscular coordination.
- Reduced discomfort from water retention.
- Reduced tension, stress and depression.
- Fewer stretch marks, varicose veins, and abdominal separation.
- Decreased likelihood of postnatal depression.
- Increased ability to relax.
Recommendations to be active during your pregnancy until you give birth:
To achieve and maintain a reasonable level of fitness aim for one of the following:
- a session of moderate intensity exercise on all or most days of the week.
- at least 150 minutes of exercise over a week.
- 10,000 steps per day.
Make sure if you are doing strength training that it is with a Safe Return to Exercise
accredited trainer. Most now run live virtual training and face to face classes and will understand your needs and focus on safe pelvic floor training as well.
Anita Guerra is a Registered Midwife and Certified Fitness Trainer. She runs Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram.