Giving birth is like running a marathon: You’ll get better results if you prepare. In labor and delivery, your body will get the workout of a lifetime – especially your pelvic floor, the muscles that support your uterus. Prepare for the big day with these tips. When contractions start, you’ll be glad you did.
Step 1: Do Kegels
Kegel exercises aren’t just for better sex; they also improve strength and endurance in the muscles of your pelvic floor. Syed Rizvi, M.D., of the Women’s Health Foundation Bakersfield, California, suggests getting familiar with kegel exercises while urinating. “Try to stop the flow of urine midstream by contracting your pelvic floor muscles. Repeat several times, until you are sure of how to perform the action and familiar with the sensation of consciously contracting these muscles.” You can do kegels anywhere at any time of day.
Step 2: Bathroom smarts
The longer you stay on the toilet, the greater your chances of weakening your pelvic floor, says Janice Rafferty, M.D., chief of the colon and rectal surgery division at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. The increased pressure of pushing causes pelvic floor muscles to lengthen and stay stretched. Regaining the tighter, shortened muscles can be very difficult. When it comes to using the bathroom, don’t strain during bowel movements. If you have trouble with constipation, drink 8 to 10 glasses of water per day, eat a high-fiber diet, and get regular exercise.
Step 3: Build up back and belly
Working out the muscles in your lower back and abdomen helps build up your pelvic floor. Fortifying these muscles can also help alleviate some of the lower back pain that’s the bane of late pregnancy. Good bets: stretching and strengthening exercises like yoga and Pilates. To ensure you’re exercising these areas safely, start out with a specified prenatal class.
Step 4: Watch your weight
Yes, gaining weight during pregnancy is absolutely necessary for baby’s health and development. But the more weight placed on any object, the more it has to strain to stay in place. The same goes for your pelvic floor. Excess weight can lead to pelvic dysfunction and incontinence. Gaining a healthy amount, on the other hand, can keep your pelvic floor strong. Follow your doctor’s advice about weight gain, and stay on track to avoid gaining more than is healthy for you and baby.
Step 5: Keep moving
When comes to exercise, the benefits are endless. “Not only can you have a more relaxed pregnancy, but you can also have an easier time and labor,” says Lanalee Araba Sam, M.D., medical director at Elite Obstetrics and Gynecology in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During your third trimester you may be most comfortable with walking, swimming or water aerobics, or another low impact cardio workout. Keep things basic; now is not the time to start a new regimen. Always consult your health care provider before changing your exercise routine.
— Nicole Palacios, a mother of three, is a personal trainer and group exercise instructor in North Vancouver, British Columbia.