Working as a physiotherapist for the past 13 years, I’ve heard so many different stories from women about their experiences of childbirth. So when I fell pregnant myself, I knew I wanted to do everything I possibly could to give myself the best chance of an uncomplicated delivery.
My Ob kind of laughed when I told her this (in the loveliest way possible), because obviously everyone wants an uncomplicated delivery. But for me, it was more about the recovery than the birth itself. I knew that with my goals of returning to running and instructing Pilates, that I really needed my pelvic floor to recover as completely as possible.
I followed the advice of my Ob, GP and pelvic health physio (Fiona at Pelvic Wellness Physio) and I did quite a bit of my own research. So here are all the things I did while I was pregnant to help my delivery go as well as possible.
1. Pilates (of course)
- This is a bit of a no brainer, but I can’t not mention Pilates! I went to Clinical Pilates classes with a physio once per week and did my own classes at home 2-3 days per week. After the first trimester it’s important to follow pregnancy-specific classes so that you’re not lying on your back too much. Pilates is such a great way to exercise through pregnancy as it strengthens and stretches you in all the right places.
- I did a mix of classes at a studio and online, but ended up preferring the online classes, particularly as my belly grew. I just found a couple of 20 min classes on youtube that I liked and felt comfortable with. I started doing this most days of the week towards the end of my pregnancy to help keep my hips and spine mobile.
- I had a 5kg dumbbell and I would do 50 squats with it every second day for most of my pregnancy. Towards the end I didn’t feel like I needed the dumbbell anymore and there was a period when my iron was low that I felt too out of breath to even think about squats. I don’t know if there is any evidence to support this, but I think having strong legs must help with the pushing phase of giving birth. It was hard work, so much harder than I expected and I was definitely using my legs to help get her out.
- I really enjoy walking, so it wasn’t a chore for me to get out for a walk most days of my pregnancy. I needed a pelvic support belt for a while and the walks became shorter (mostly limited by my bladder) as my pregnancy progressed. But I still got out there for a walk most days
5. Perineal massage
- I’d read a bit about this and saw a great video on Vanessa from Illoura Birth. But I didn’t get started until I’d seen Fiona for an assessment. She taught me how to massage and stretch my perineum, which I did from about 36 weeks onwards. It’s surprisingly simple once you know what to do. I was able to reach myself, using a mirror, but some women get their partner to help. Either way, it only takes 5 minutes and there is some great evidence now to show that you can reduce your risk of tearing and episiotomy with regular perineal massage before giving birth.
6. Pelvic floor relaxation exercises
- After seeing Fiona for my pelvic floor assessment, she suggested that I needed to work on relaxing my pelvic floor rather than strengthening it. I think this made a big difference for me. I always had a feeling I might be a little overactive, but had never properly assessed it. Fiona gave me some specific exercises and then taught me to relax my pelvic floor completely between exercises. Even as a physio, it was so helpful to have an assessment and proper guidance as it’s very hard to know what you are really doing down there!
- Having seen so many women in-clinic with pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy, I was very wary of overstretching my hips. But they felt so tight, all I wanted to do was stretch so it took a lot of willpower to go gently. Between Pilates, yoga and a set of stretches I enjoyed, I was probably doing some kind of stretching nearly every day - but very gently. Stretching my inner thigh and gluteal muscles felt the most satisfying - you can see my post ‘The stretches I did to prepare for giving birth’ for my favourite pregnancy hip stretches.
That probably looks like A LOT to fit in and to be completely honest, this is where I put most of my energy and focus during pregnancy. I didn’t read a single book or listen to a single podcast about what to do after I’d had the baby, so all my time went into preparing for the birth. I think it’s also worth recognising that this was my first pregnancy and I may not be able to fit all of this in next time when I have Harper around as well. But I did have a really positive birth experience and have been very happy with my recovery. There’s never any guarantees when it comes to giving birth and I know this won’t be for everyone, but for me it felt good to be as physically prepared as possible.