The word ‘labour’ is always followed by the word ‘pain’ isn’t it? And from what most of us have experienced, they do go hand in hand. I don’t want to remind you of your labour pains and neither do I want to remember mine!! But what I do want to share in today’s post is that there could be a way to reduce the pains we experience through antenatal exercises.
Almost all moms-to-be make checklists during their pregnancy. I did too. There is always a list of things to do before the baby arrives. But it took me the third time around to add an important to-do to the list – Attend an Antenatal Class. I have written on antenatal or prenatal classes before and let me remind all moms-to-be once again that it is hugely beneficial for a healthy pregnancy and childbirth. While nothings rivals the experience of our elders, there are a great many topics that are left untouched.
Before attending my antenatal class, I will admit I was a little smug. After 2 babies, I certainly knew everything there was to it – especially compared to the first-time moms attending the same class. Well, I walked out humbled and realized that there was as much for me to learn and soak, as for the first-time mom sitting beside me. As we helped each other practice some of the exercises demonstrated, it dawned upon me that being a mom is always special – whether it is your first or third time. And you always need care – more if you are in your third pregnancy at 35!
I couldn’t help wishing that these classes existed (of if they did – I knew about them) during my first and second pregnancy also. At that time, it was only something I saw in movies (Salaam Namaste, if I remember correctly! – I was pregnant at that time and so was Preity Zinta in the movie). 12 years later, things have changed. Leading hospitals like Sitaram Bhartia now offer prenatal classes for all expectant mothers. Their classes cover everything from when to leave for the hospital to handling labour pain to exercises and positions to facilitate labour.
Antenatal Exercises and Labour Pain
Coming back to the main point, I wanted to elaborate on how these Antenatal classes help manage and ease labour pain. My only exercises during my first 2 pregnancies were walking. While it remains one of the best ways to remain fit and fresh, my pregnant body needed much more to prepare for childbirth. Childbirth is an important event for your body. Just like you would prepare your body for a marathon or skiing, you need to prepare your body for labour.
Now muscle exercises during pregnancy are only intended to maintain the contractile capacity and the resilience of the muscles. You can not strengthen the muscles during pregnancy. This is prevented by the increased secretion of the hormone progesterone. By combining muscle exercise with breathing techniques, you can teach your body how to stay relaxed during labour.
The secret to a pain free labour or one with lesser pain anyhow, is to be relaxed. You can only be relaxed when your body is prepared.
Prepare Your Body with Antenatal Exercises
Your body undergoes many changes during your pregnancy. The pregnancy affects, among other things, your posture, flexibility, balance, stability, muscle strength, mobility and breathing. Antenatal exercises help you to accept these changes and prepare optimally for childbirth. In addition, you also learn relaxation exercises, breathing techniques and exercises to expel the baby and to protect the pelvis, the pelvic floor and the baby during childbirth.
Major Benefits of Antenatal Exercises
Antenatal exercises help you prepare your body in the following ways:
- Relax your swollen and tired legs and feet as the pregnancy progresses
- Stretching helps with short calf muscles that are caused due to wearing heels
- During the delivery, the woman must keep her legs spread for a considerable time which leads to your adductors being pushed. Antenatal exercises can help relax and extend the adductors beforehand.
- Increased weight and lack of exercise with weak or overstressed muscles can aggravate knee pain. Prenatal exercises can help alleviate this pain.
- During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles are stretched. Abdominal exercises help shortening the abdominal muscles, raising the pelvic floor and maintaining the strength of the trunk muscles
- Pregnant women have a greater need for oxygen. Proper breathing exercises are meant to relax, stay calm and support the pressing of the uterus during the last trimester.
- A common complaint during and after pregnancy is the uncontrolled loss of drops of urine during coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting etc. By a good control of the pelvic floor, you can limit this loss.
- Antenatal exercises help you avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy which is also the root cause of back pain.
- And finally, it helps you gain the much needed strength for a normal delivery. I just saw a video on FB of a 37 year old mom who delivered normally 🙂
How They Help Ease Labour
If I were to speak in direct terms about labour pain, then antenatal exercises help your pelvis to ‘open up’ and position your baby in the most optimal way. Thus, your body is prepared in the best way, your mind is at rest and you are breathing in a relaxed manner. All these together, can bring down the labour pain considerably.
Doctors and Physiotherapists who specialize in pelvic floor physiotherapy after childbirth, teach you how to contract and train the pelvic floor muscles in an antenatal class. They also educate you on how to relax the muscles in the correct way. Daily exercises at home can determine the quality of your pelvic floor not just during childbirth but in the long term.
Of course, you must exercise caution and always seek medical advice before starting off. Make it a priority to learn only from the experts. They are experienced enough to know the physical and emotional needs of each mom-to-be. But do add ‘antenatal classes’ to your pregnancy checklist 🙂