From Grace Lillywhite at Centred Mums.
These exercises and recommendations will help to get your body in a place where it is easier to labour and give birth as well as assisting your postnatal recovery. Try to do them all every day if you can but remember to listen to your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain and always seek advice from your healthcare
professional if you are in pain.
If you are preparing for an abdominal birth, I would still recommend that you do these exercises as your postnatal recovery will be smoother. Pregnancy exercise should never be just about preparing for a vaginal birth but getting your body to work in the best possible way and setting you up for the best possible postnatal recovery.
Walk 3 miles a day - you may need to build up to this if you are not currently active. Don’t be put off if it feels like a lot! 1 mile is better than 0 miles! Start slowly and build up until you are doing what feels good in your body. It is so important for your body that your pelvis gets lots of movement - it will help your pelvic floor to maintain strength, it will help prepare your body for birth and it will help your baby to find the best possible position for them.
Calf stretch - step onto a rolled up yoga mat, block or even the bottom step of your stairs. Let the ball of your foot be supported and let the heel drop down to stretch out your calf. This will help with your postural alignment - tight calves can pull your weight into the balls of your feet which can encourage your pelvis to come out of alignment. This will impact your pelvic floor function and your glut activation so a calf stretch is more important than you might think!
Cat/cow - on all 4s, exhale to tuck the pelvis under, feel the sit bones draw together, inhale to release to a flat back and feel the sit bones widen. Another simple but effective exercise! When we exhale our pelvic floor naturally lifts and contracts, when our sit bones draw together this increases the contraction. When we inhale the pelvic floor moves downwards and lengthens, when our sit bones are wide it increases the sense of length. It is helpful to tune into this and helpful to understand that pelvic floor health is about good function rather than strength. We need to be able to release the pelvic floor as well as contract it and learning to feel this in our bodies can be helpful both during labour and postnatal recovery.
On all 4s with a flat back - inhale to shift the weight back towards the heels, exhale to shift the weight forwards again. Don’t let your spine or pelvis move. You don’t need to get your bum to touch your heels. Think of the legs swinging in your hip sockets and the pelvis staying neutral. Again this will create unconscious movement in your pelvic floor but it will also allow the posts (hip flexor) to release which is really helpful. When we hold tension here it can impact the position of the pelvis and can also inhibit the space the baby has to move around and get themselves in the bets position for them.
Squats - these are really the best exercise you can do in pregnancy for so many reasons! They are functional; you need to do this movement every day to move from sitting to standing so you can fit it in numerous times a day without changing anything in your life! They are fantastic for your pelvic floor; they create both lengthening and contraction which makes them the perfect exercise. Plant both feet on the floor in a slightly wide parallel. Inhale to sit down into a squat, making sure your tailbone does not tuck underneath you as you sit back, exhale to push back up to standing. Try to keep your knees lined up over your toes as you squat down so they don’t roll towards each other.
You will never regret getting your body in the best possible place for birth. No matter how your journey progresses, focusing on your posture, alignment and pelvic floor health will set you up for a smoother process throughout your pregnancy, birth and postnatal recovery.
Grace Lillywhite is the founder of Centred Mums and has been teaching Pilates for thirteen years. She specialises in Women’s Health and can’t imagine a job that is more enjoyable or rewarding! She has trained as a doula, hypnobirthing teacher and in Biomechanics for Birth.
Grace has taught in Pilates studios throughout London and has lectured for the Pilates Foundation on postnatal wellbeing, pelvic floor health and Pilates for Menopause. She was a UK faculty member for The Center for Women’s Fitness from 2018 - 2022 before leaving to start her own teacher training programmes.
Grace has appeared in Women’s Health magazine, Stylist and Fabulous as well as contributing to the books Move More At Your Desk and Your Postnatal Body.
Grace’s mission is to teach as many women as possible to tune into their bodies and learn to exercise in a way that is nourishing and energising.