Third trimester of pregnancy is often the time when the realization of labor and birth finally becomes real. Forty weeks of gestation seemed like a lifetime at the beginning, with plenty of time to eat healthy, stay active, and prepare the home and family for the baby's arrival. Suddenly, the final few months are here and the knowledge that your body is about to embark on an intense physical and emotional journey is at the forefront of your mind. By this time in your pregnancy, you have hopefully developed at least a general birth wishes list and have a vision for how you want your labor and birth to go. While birth wishes are exactly that - wishes that may change depending on the individual course of your labor - there are ways to prepare your body for this marathon experience and make your hopes more likely to become reality.
A few things to note: first, you should always consult your pregnancy caregiver prior to beginning a new exercise routine. The exercises discussed in this post are safe and beneficial for most pregnant women, but high-risk pregnancies (gestational hypertension, preeclampsia) and alternative placental positioning (placenta previa, for example) are just a few of the reasons your caregiver may want you to modify or forego some or all of this sequence Second, many of these poses are good options to perform when you are concerned about baby navigating his/her way into the vertex (head-down) position. It is important to remember that more than 90% of babies turn on their own from breech to vertex prior to delivery. In addition to the exercises discussed here, which may be helpful in getting a breech baby to turn, www.spinningbabies.com has wonderful resources about positioning.
Poses for Pelvic Muscles & Hips: the poses listed below help to strengthen and open the muscles of the pelvic floor while also increasing flexibility in the hip flexors, glutes, and thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings). Additional benefits include strengthening the muscles supporting the spine and improving posture, which can help alleviate back pain associated with pregnancy.
Baddha Konasana (also called "Butterfly," "Cobbler's Pose," or "Bound Angle Pose")
Anjaneyasana (also called "Low Lunge" or "Crescent Lunge")
Deviasana (also called "Goddess Pose," Utkata Konasana," or "Sumo Squat")
Malasana (also called "Yogi Squat" or "Garland Pose")
Poses for Optimal Baby Positioning: the poses listed below can help lift baby out of the pelvis, giving him/her room to turn vertex (head-down) if in a breech position. Like the poses above, they also help prepare the body for labor and birth by increasing strength and flexibility in the abdominals, hips, pelvis, and legs. The inversion found in Downward-Facing Dog can also help alleviate anxiety through its calming affects on the nervous system.
Bitilasana/Marjaryasana (also called "Cat/Cow," "Pelvic Tilts," or "Up-Cat/Down-Cat")
Adho Mukha Svanasana ("Downward-Facing Dog")
Exercise during pregnancy has many benefits to both mothers and babies. It increases oxygenation and blood flow, improves strength and flexibility, and creates a sense of well-being. It can also increase energy and improve common pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue, back pain, and even morning sickness. If available to you, prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to prepare the whole body, the mind, and the spirit for the experience of labor and birth while in a safe space and under the supervision of a trained instructor. But, no two pregnancies are alike, from one woman to the next or for the same woman who is pregnant multiple times. So, always listen to your body and your intuition when performing exercises. Modify and take breaks when you need to, and be sure your care provider knows what you are doing to stay healthy during pregnancy.