10 Unique Exercises To Prepare For Labor

Are you full-term and want to prepare yourself for labor?

You are in the right place!

After reading this post, you are going to learn 10 exercises to prepare you for labor and childbirth.

Specifically, these exercises will:

  • Improve your hip mobility,
  • Strengthen the muscles in your thighs, and
  • Get you comfortable in common pushing positions

Are you ready?

exercises-to-prepare-for-labor

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

How to prepare for labor

First, let’s talk about how to prepare for labor and delivery.

The first thing that you need to know is that labor is a long process.

Expectations Of How Long It Takes To Deliver A Baby

Unlike the movies, you don’t just break your water and have a baby 30 minutes later. (At least, this isn’t true for the majority of patients).

Instead, it goes something like this.

You begin contracting painfully and head to the hospital only to learn that you aren’t dilated enough to be admitted.

After a few more hours of painful contractions (or even days), you are admitted to the hospital at 3-4 cms. From this point, you might not be ready to start pushing for at least 6-8 hours.

If you are admitted earlier than 3 cm, the process can take 12 hours or more.

If you are admitted for an induction, the entire process can take 24 hours or more.

So, if this is your first baby – don’t count on this being as simple as 1, 2, 3.

You might be an exception to this rule, but most women aren’t.

The Pushing Position

The second thing that you should be aware of is the pushing position. You may or may not be aware of it.

This is what it looks like.

pushing-position
  • You lie on your back and bring your hands behind the back of your knees.
  • Then, bring your knees up towards your ears and open your hips as wide as you can.
  • Next, you will inhale as much as you can, and hold that breath of air.
  • Lastly, you will curl forward by rounding your spine and begin pushing as if you are pooping.
  • (Lovely visual, I know 🙂 )
  • You will hold this push for 10 seconds without letting any air out of your lungs.
  • You will then let the breath out and repeat this 2 more times with every contraction.

On average, this process can take 90 minutes.

Yes.

90 minutes.

So as you can see, you will need to be able to do a few things while you are in the pushing phase.

You need to:

  1. Have the strength to hold your legs up by your head,
  2. Have adequate flexibility in your groin,
  3. Have adequate flexibility in your adductor muscles, and
  4. Have good glute strength to keep your legs abducted.

Now let me say this.

*YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE ALL OF THESE.*

Plenty of women give birth every single day with zero preparation.

With that said, the following exercises can help prepare you for the pushing position.


*Disclaimer 2*

It should also go without saying that you must get clearance from your healthcare provider before attempting any type of exercise, especially in pregnancy.

Okay?

Good.


10 Labor Exercises To Make Labor and Delivery Easier

The following exercises will help strengthen and improve the flexibility of your thighs and hips.

As such, these exercises might make labor and delivery a little easier.

Deep Squats

One of the best exercises for preparing for labor and childbirth is the deep squat.

The squat is one of the most fundamental movement patterns you can do. It strengthens all of the major muscle groups of the legs and it improves hip mobility if done with a full range of motion.

Just to be safe, hold onto the back of a chair or a table or a ledge to help you get up and down.

  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing outward.
  • While holding onto something for support, bend at the hips and knees simultaneously.
  • Keep your heels flat on the floor.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Go as deep as you comfortably can and stand back up.
deep-squat

Straddle Squat Holds

The next exercise is the straddle squat hold.

This exercise is similar to the deep squat, except you will do it with a wider stance, and hang out at the bottom of the squat.

This exercise will stretch the adductor and groin while further strengthening the muscles of the thighs and glutes.

Just to be safe, hold onto the back of a chair or a table or a ledge to help you get up and down.

  • Set your stance as wide as you comfortably can with your toes pointing outward.
  • Next, begin squatting down by bending at the hips and knees simultaneously.
  • Once you reach the bottom, hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Keep your knees out and do not let them collapse inward.
  • Actively engage your glute muscles to keep your legs as abducted as possible.
  • After 10 seconds, come back up to the top.
squat-holds

Bottom Of Squat Rocks

The third exercise is the bottom of the squat rocks. This exercise is also performed at the bottom of a full range of motion squat.

It adds a dynamic component and further opens up the hips in a position similar to the pushing position.

Here’s how it looks:

bottom-of-squat-rocks
  • Get into the bottom of a deep squat position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Next, place your elbows inside your knees.
  • From here, press out against your knees with your elbows to further open your hips.
  • Lastly, rock from side to side, shifting your weight from your right foot to the left foot.
  • Do not let your heels come off the ground throughout the exercise.
  • Do 5 rocks in each direction and then come back up.

Banded Hip Abductions

For this next exercise, you will need a small resistance band that goes around your knees.

This is the one I recommend.

This exercise is great because it will strengthen your glute muscles and your ability to abduct your legs.

  • Lie on a bed with a few pillows underneath your upper back so that you aren’t flat on your back.
  • Or, you can place a small wedge underneath one side to offset your weight.
  • Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the bed, with the resistance band around your knees.
  • Then, drive your knees outward while keeping your feet stationary.
  • Hold the end contraction for 1 second and release.
  • Repeat for 8 repetitions.
banded-hip-abductions

Lateral Band Walks

Alternatively, you can perform this exercise while standing. This movement is great for isolating the glute medius muscle.

Here’s how it looks:

band-walks

  • Wrap the band around your knees and go into a quarter squat position. 
  • Keeping your feet pointed forward, begin walking side to side.
  • Take 6-8 steps going one way, then 6-8 steps going the other way.
  • Keep your core tight, and focus on initiating every step using your glutes.
  • For this exercise, make sure to train both sides evenly.

Cat-Cow

The next exercise is the cat-cow. This is one of the best exercises for promoting movement and blood flow in your spine.

Also, it will teach you the difference between arching and flexing your back.

If you remember from before, you will need to flex (aka round) your back while you are pushing.

Here’s what it looks like:

cat-to-cow
  • Get in a quadruped position, on your hands and knees.
  • Make sure that your knees are directly underneath your hips and your hands are directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Next, inhale as you look upward and arch your back.
  • Hold this position for one second.
  • Then, begin exhaling as you tuck your chin toward your chest and you round your back completely.
  • Continue alternating between the cat and the cow position for 8 repetitions.

Okay, so those 5 exercises are meant to strengthen the muscles involved in labor and childbirth.

The following 5 exercises aren’t exercises per se.

They are stretches. These stretches will help improve the flexibility of the muscles and joints needed for pushing.

Let’s get started.

Supine Pigeon Stretch

The supine pigeon stretch is a great way to stretch out the muscles of the outer hip, and the glute muscles.

Here’s how it looks:

supine-pigeon-stretch
  • Lie on a bed with a few pillows underneath your upper back so that you aren’t flat on your back.
  • Or, you can place a small wedge underneath one side to offset your weight.
  • Next, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the bed.
  • From here, bring your left foot up and over so that it is crossed on top of the right knee as shown in the image.
  • Lastly, use your hands to gently pull your right shin up toward your chest.
  • You should feel a nice stretch on the back of your right glute.
  • Hold this stretch for 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Butterfly Stretch

Next is the butterfly stretch. This stretch will help open up the hips and improve the flexibility of the adductor and groin muscles.

Heres how to do it:

butterfly-stretch
  • Sit up tall with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Next place the bottoms of your feet together as flat as you can.
  • Clasp your hands around your feet to keep them from separating.
  • Then, let your knees fall out to the side.
  • You should feel a stretch along your inner thigh.
  • Keep your spine tall, and hold this stretch for 15 seconds.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

Next, you are going to stretch your hip flexors. These are the muscles that sit in front of your thigh.

They are often tight in most people.

Here’s how to do it safely in pregnancy:

hamstring-stretch
  • Find a chair or a box that you can comfortably elevate one foot on.
  • After placing your foot flat on the box, straighten out the other leg, behind you.
  • Next, place your hands on your waist and squeeze the glute of the back leg. Use your hands to help envision yourself posteriorly tilting your pelvis.
  • From here, simply lean forward gently without arching your low back.
  • Hold this stretch for 15 seconds, and repeat on the other side.

Frog Stretch

This next stretch is really good. It is one of the best ways to improve your hip mobility and stretch your inner thighs.

It is more intense than the butterfly stretch, so make sure you feel comfortable with that one first.

frog-stretch
  • Get into a quadruped position, on your hands and knees.
  • Make sure that you are using a mat or something to use as padding for your knees.
  • From here, begin opening up your hips and placing the inside of your knees flat on the ground.
  • The insides of your shins should also be flat on the ground.
  • This stretch might be enough for you here.
  • If not, you can gently shift your hips back towards your feet to increase the stretch.
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds and release.
  • To get out of the position, all you have to do is shift your hips forward.

Pancake Stretch

The last stretch is the pancake stretch. This stretch also focuses on the inner thighs along with the hamstrings and lower back.

Here’s what it looks like:

pancake-stretch
  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight, and toes pointing straight up to the ceiling.
  • Next, widen your legs as much as you can while keeping your legs as straight as possible.
  • From here, begin bending forward and placing your hands on the floor in front of you, between your legs.
  • You should feel a nice stretch in your inner thighs, your hamstrings, and your low back.
  • Hold this position for 15 seconds and relax.

Okay, so there you have 10 different exercises to prepare you for labor and childbirth.

If you could only do a few of these 2-3 times per week, you may notice:

  • improvements in your hip and leg strength, as well as
  • improvements in your hip mobility

But don’t forget- make sure that your OBGYN says it’s okay for you to do these exercises first!

Related Questions

Are There Any Exercises That Widen The Pelvis For Birth?

The actual pelvic bone itself probably won’t widen with exercise alone.

The pubic symphysis, which is a fibrocartilaginous joint that holds the two halves of the pubic bone together will naturally widen as your pregnancy progresses.

Aside from the exercises above, I don’t recommend you try any additional movements to widen the pubic symphysis further.

This can lead to pubic symphysis dysfunction postpartum.

Are There Any Exercises To Induce Labor?

Unfortunately, there are no exercises that we know of to safely induce labor.

Walking may help a bit, but it is not a proven.

Final Words On Labor Exercises

Labor and childbirth is a long process that requires a lot of effort from you.

It’s a good idea to have some expectations going in, especially for how long it might last.

Lastly, it may be beneficial to strengthen and stretch the muscles of the hips to make pushing a little easier.

Now, I want to hear from you.

What have you tried to prepare for labor and delivery?

Comment below and let me know!

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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