In today's times, we are (generally) a culture that spends a lot of time doing activities that don't do many favors for the health and well being of our bodies. What am I talking about, specifically? Sitting. We sit to drive, we sit to work, we sit to rest. And for many of us (raises hand over here), we are not sitting with proper alignment. You know how older generations often say, "sit up straight, don't slouch!" As it turns out, they are onto something. How we sit and how often we sit affects our body's balance and mobility. For those who are pregnant, this imbalance can have a big impact on birth, including the length of labor and pushing, the intensity, and the number of interventions like epidural, pitocin, vacuum extraction, and c-section. Specifically, too much sitting and sitting improperly (slouched back, not upright on the sitz bones) can tighten unevenly the ligaments responsible for supporting the uterus and pelvic floor, which play a major role in labor and birth.
The good news is, there are simple things you can do to counteract and improve upon all this sitting and its resulting affects on the pregnant body. This past weekend, I took a "Spinning Babies" workshop with several other birth professionals eager to learn how baby's position and mom's body impacts labor and birth. If you've never heard of Spinning Babies, I encourage you to spend some time on their website to learn more. It's a funny name, but the information, resources, and research is serious business. Spinning Babies offers a multitude of resources on fetal positioning in labor and what to do if there is a problem in labor that could be caused by positioning. Perhaps more importantly, Spinning Babies encourages pregnant people to take advantage of time during pregnancy to be proactive in using activities that encourage balance, gravity, and movement.
Today I will share with you three simple but effective movements you can do every day in pregnancy after 20 weeks to improve your body's comfort level and increase your chance of having an easier (shorter and with less interventions) birth. These three movements will help your muscles, fascia (the network of connective tissue that wraps all muscles), and ligaments release, which can bring you more comfort and possibly allow baby to position in a more optimal way. These three movements are generally safe for most pregnancies, but it is important to ask your care provider in advance of starting any new exercise or stretching routine. These movements may not be safe for those with certain conditions. All of these movements require the assistance of another person.
This is often done using a rebozo (a traditional Mexican shawl), but can also be achieved using a very large scarf or bed sheet. This movement is helpful to allow the relaxation of muscles and ligaments that is hard to relax otherwise during pregnancy. In this movement, the pregnant person is on the knees (at a 90 degree angle) with her arms and head resting on either a yoga ball or a chair (with a pillow if desired). The assisting partner wraps the rebozo or other fabric smoothly across mom's belly bringing the two "tails" of the fabric over mom's lower back. Holding these tails like you would two ski poles, pull up on mom's belly gently but firmly. She should feel a lift in the belly. Partner stands over mom's calves, which are resting on the floor, and begins to move arms in circles, as in a "bicycling" motion, slowly and steadily. The sifting movement can be continued for a few minutes or until partner's arms give out! Upon release, it's critical to continue bicycling the arms at the same time the belly is being lowered. This prevents jolting the muscles and ligaments, which can cause harm over time. For pictures and more details, check out the description of this movement on the Spinning Babies website.
This movement may look and sound daunting, but after a few times, it can be done easily. The forward-leaning inversion can stretch and possibly untwist uterine support ligaments, both of which can be helpful to restore balance of these ligaments and allow a better position for baby's head in labor. Using a couch, bench, or lower-to-the-ground bed, mom starts by sitting on her knees, then lowers her upper body down to the ground, hands first. Initially, this is best done with the support of another person. Ultimately, mom will be resting, head down, on her forearms with elbows on the ground. Stay in this position for three breaths, then come back up to seated position for two breaths. The hips should be as stacked as possible over the knees for this position. For pictures and more details, check out the description of this movement on the Spinning Babies website.
This position is done to restore balance to the pelvic floor and uterine ligaments, which can impact baby's position and the progress of labor. Using a firm bed, a counter top, or even a long dining table, mom will lay on her side as close to the edge as possible. It's crucial in this movement that 1) there is a support person standing near mom's hips to prevent her from falling off and 2) mom's hips and shoulders are as stacked as straight up possible. Mom should straighten both legs. Partner is to then take the top leg and bring it forward so it is dangling down off the table. Mom can rest her top arm's hand on a chair next to the bed. Encourage mom to relax and let her leg feel as heavy as possible, letting go of all of her muscles. She should feel comfortable to sink into the bed and partner who is supporting her by holding the hips in place upright. This position is held until partner feels a small release in mom's upper leg (from 5-30 minutes). Repeat the movement on the other side. For pictures and more details, check out the description of this movement on the Spinning Babies website.