Here are five simple changes can make a big impact on pelvic health and alignment which will support feeling strong and empowered throughout your pregnancy and into labor.
Your goals should be to untuck the pelvis, strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, learn ace-in-the-pocket relaxation techniques, build strong legs and glutes, and perhaps most importantly: align your joints.
More important than doing “reps” of any exercise is trying to make shifts in how we habitually carry ourselves throughout the day. How you hold yourself now — during your pregnancy — also dramatically affects the state of your post-baby body. Take it slowly and always listen to your body. Old patterns are deeply ingrained in both the connective tissue and in the neurology through the “set” length of the musculature.
*Please be sure to consult with a doctor or midwife if you are uncertain whether these practices are appropriate for you. Make that a pretty please.
First change: SITTING (sitting?)
If I can give you one priceless piece of advice, it would be to stop sitting on your tail bone the majority of the time! As I mentioned above, we need untucked tailbones for optimal pelvic floor strength much more than we need the isolated contraction of kegels. To shift your weight off the sacrum and onto your “sits” bones, tilt the pelvis forward. This should return curvature to the lumbar spine as well and make you feel like you are sitting taller. One great way to do this more easily is to regularly sit on a cushion that raises the sits bones above the knees. I suggest a meditation zafu filled with buckwheat or kapok. These firm but giving materials help to give the musculature somewhere to land without having to constantly re-stabilize as when we are sitting on a soft cushion or couch. Midwives also tell mamas to sit this way as much as possible towards the end of their pregnancy to help the baby’s head get into the best position for labor (facing the sacrum).
Second change: SQUAT with intention
I’m not suggesting you take up quadricep-powered gym squats. For these squats you want to focus as much attention on strengthening the lumbar curve as you can (think: don’t pee on your feet), while maintaining the integrity of the knee and gently strengthening the legs. A proper natural squat requires that all of the joints from our feet to our hips are working optimally, and for most people this is simply not the case, so moving towards an optimal squat may mean first mobilizing the ankle joints and lengthening the calf muscles with a half dome (not this, but this) or rolled towel. Doing preparatory squats with a chair is a great way to allow oneself to experience the openness and suppleness of the pelvic floor right away. I highly suggest you just go here and read up on squatting because there are pictures and Katy goes into some depth about the mechanics.
You can also use the back of the chair to work on doing small pelvic tilts with a straight spine (without bending the knees) while you feel your sits bones moving away from one another and your booty blossoming. It may not feel “lady-like” but it’s building an essential skill for better birth. Here’s a video.
Third change: Move DIFFERENTLY
We are creatures of comfort and habit. Though the joints and articulations of the body are capable of (literally) innumerable configurations, we tend to get comfortable as adults using the least amount of effort to move in predictable ways, which ultimately begins to limit and constrict us (and ultimately contribute to degeneration). This is your invitation to re-inhabit your kid body. Sit on the floor. (You will find yourself wanting to stretch, naturally.) Stretch your body long like a cat in bed before you start your day.
Put on your favorite music (music with a stronger beat helps) and dance in your bedroom. Move those hips and booty EVERY single day. We tend to equate fluidity with sensual movement, so feel into your beautiful sensual pregnant self. Remember that pelvic floor disorder is most prevalent in western and european countries, where we sit in chairs a lot more and move (and squat and booty shake) a lot less. (Please start doing this now so I don’t have to keep myself from saying “I told you so” in five, ten or twenty years.)
Fourth change: RELAXATION as an essential practice
Relaxation is not optional. It is an essential part of your movement practice just like the spaces between these words are essential to legibility and ease of reading. A day at the spa is luxurious and wonderful, but often expensive and impractical. But I highly recommend that you find a way to receive nurturing massage from a pregnancy-trained therapist (like me) whenever you can. Massage releases hormones of relaxation and contentment that even your baby will experience. (But avoid painful deep bodywork as any extended mama pain can potentially decrease oxygen to the baby.)
Aside from getting massaged when you can, it is equally important that you learn to relax throughout the day. Until I create my own (soon!), I recommend this guided meditation from my Restorative Yoga Mentor Jillian Pransky. A prenatal yoga class can also allow you to tune in to your body and your baby, and provides a great setting for nurturing relaxation.
As much as we want to strengthen the pelvic floor, we also want to deepen our capacity to release those muscles.
Fifth change: WALK WALK WALK
Take movement breaks, walk short distances instead of driving, and don’t give in to the idea that pregnancy means that you can rest at home with your feet up all the time (unless your doctor tells you to, of course). Walking may be the most important movement that you do. It strengthens our core musculature, our glutes, and our legs, supports circulation, moves the lymphatic system, and creates healthy cellular loads. As you work towards optimal pelvic alignment and greater symmetry, you will find that walking becomes more effortless too.
Research also indicates that “for women with normal pregnancies, physical activity is accompanied with shorter labour and decreased incidence of operative delivery.” The key is to engage in “submaximal weight-bearing activity” which includes walking, hiking, using a treadmill, or stair stepping.