SingaporeMotherhood | Pregnancy

August 2020

Do Pregnancy Exercise for Easier Labour and Delivery

Desiree Chung, 40, started personal fitness training two years ago, when her first child was three years old. When the auditor got pregnant again, she asked her obgyn if she could continue exercising, as she enjoyed her kickboxing, cardio, and weights sessions at the gym. As she did not have any existing pregnancy complications, Desiree was given the go-ahead. “My doctor and my gym instructor advised that it would be good for me to continue training. They also told me that exercise could help build stamina for an easier delivery and lower the risk of pre-eclampsia.”

The mum of two believes that pregnancy exercise helped her to have an easier labour and delivery for her second child. “Unlike the first time when I required vacuum assistance to deliver my baby, I did not need any help for my second baby. I believe exercise made a difference to my stamina and helped me push my baby out without help,” the mum of two recalls.

(See also: How to Choose Dr. Right when you are Pregnant)

Pregnant? Exercise if you can

Desiree (left) exercising at True Fitness during her second pregnancy, and (right) with her children, aged 5 years, and 11 months

We know that staying active benefits the pregnant body. It can help reduce common prenatal conditions such as backaches, constipation, and leg swelling, and decease the rate of gestational diabetes. Pregnancy exercise also improves the mum-to-be’s emotional wellbeing, and helps her sleep better. Best of all, pregnancy exercise can — as Desiree experienced — lead to a smoother labour and delivery.

“Exercise helps to increase the overall fitness level of the mother, which can result in shorter labour, fewer medical interventions, and less exhaustion. It leads to better endurance to get through labour. Kegel exercises or squats can help to prepare the pelvic floor muscles for birth, and for better bladder control,” says Dr Claudia Chi from Astra Women’s Specialist (Paragon).

While we commonly hear of mums-to-be taking prenatal yoga and pilates classes, gym bunnies can still maintain their workouts, as Dr Chi assures us that certain gym exercises are suitable for mums to be. These include stationary bicycling, which helps to avoid the risk of fall with standard cycling, and the use of light to moderate weights.

Image: from Pexels

However, it is important not to overdo it, Dr Chi cautions, as pregnancy hormones will relax the ligaments that support the joints. “This makes the joints more mobile and less stable, and thus at greater risk of injury. In addition, the pregnancy bump shifts the centre of gravity, making it harder to balance,” she adds.

Pregnancy Exercise to Help with Labour and Delivery

Eric Siau, 34, Fitness Team Leader at True Fitness Djitsun Mall who conducted personal training for Desiree throughout her pregnancy, recommends the following pregnancy exercises that mums-to-be can do to prepare for birth, and beyond.

Pelvic floor contractions
Proper breathing and learning how to engage pelvic floor muscles can help with back pains arising from pregnancy. To do this, pull your belly to your spine and hold it there. This is also known as an upright abdominal compression.

Deadlifts and sumo squats
These are good for strengthening the posterior chain (the group of the muscles at the back of the body). They also help to counteract the anterior pelvic tile due to a growing belly. In addition, deep wide squats help you get into the pose to prepare for labour and delivery.

(See also: Exercise During Pregnancy: What you Need to Know)

HISS Compress

Targets: Core, specifically, the Transverse Abdominials
This helps you: Learn how to breathe better, and to activate the core muscles
How to do it: From a seated position, inhale and relax from the abdomen. Make a hissing sound as you exhale, contracting the abdomen at the same time. A useful cue is to “imagine you are hugging the baby with your abdomen.”

Spinal C Curve

Targets: Transverse Abdominals, Rectus Abdominis
This helps you: In a similar way to the HISS compress, but at a more advanced level
How to do it: Start the same way as the HISS. When exhaling, contract the abs even more and round the spine into a ‘C’ shape, with your arms stretched out. Sit back upright as you inhale.

Anterior-Posterior Pelvic Tilts

Targets: Hip flexors, butt, hamstrings, pelvic floor
This helps you: Improve pelvic mobility, and stability
How to do it: You can do this while standing, or while seated on an exercise ball. Start with three sets of 5, then progress to three sets of 10.

Lateral Pelvic Tilts

Targets: Hip flexors, butt, hamstrings, pelvic floor
This helps you: Improve pelvic mobility, and stability
How to do it: Just like pelvic tilts, only these are done side to side. From here you can progress to pelvic circles.

Birth Squats

Targets: Hip flexors, butt, hamstrings, pelvic floor
This helps you: Improve lower limb and pelvic floor strength, and mobility
How to do it: Using a ball or a chair as support, go into a deep wide squat. Repeat two to three times, staying in the position longer each time. Start with 30 seconds, and increase progressively.

Pregnancy Exercise: What to be aware of

  • Pay attention to any discomfort or tightness to the spine, abdomen and groin area.
  • Avoid lying supine with legs straight for longer than two minutes at a time. In this position, pressure from the growing foetus would rest on a major vein (vena cava), leading to a reduced return of blood flow to the heart. Also avoid any exercise that requires you to lie on your belly.
  • Avoid stretching beyond what you were able to before pregnancy. Also, do not bounce. Aim for a good, relaxing stretch — never a painful one. Pregnancy hormones will relax the ligaments that support the joints, resulting in a pregnant woman becoming more flexible and mobile. This poses risks of overstretching and injury through hypermobility.
  • If you do self-myofascial release, choose a method and tools that are not overly painful. This could cause muscle spasms. You’d also want to avoid nerve damage. Do not perform self-myofascial release on the abdominals, or on the obliques area.
Image: cottonbro from Pexels

If you notice any of the following, stop exercising, and see your doctor immediately.

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Regular painful contractions
  • Amniotic fluid leakage (from vagina)
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Shortness of breath before exercising
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain or swelling in the calves
  • Chest pain
  • Headache

Pregnancy exercise photos: Courtesy of Eric Siau and True Fitness

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Do Pregnancy Exercise for Easier Labour and Delivery