Friday, May 18, 2012

History and Benefits of Belly Dance in Pregnancy & Birth

When researching all things VBAC (my personal hobby since June 2010) I ran into the idea of belly dancing during pregnancy.

My interest was piqued.  I've always been intrigued by dancing, and I like to imagine that I am a dancer at heart.  (Not saying I have any skills, but my heart likes it a lot.)


     I was really surprised to learn that belly dancing was never intended to be the sort of dance we all immediately think of when we hear the words 'Belly Dance'...
In fact, women who are still a part of the heritage of Belly Dancing for Birth are heartbroken at the idea of belly dance being on display like this.  Men were forbidden from seeing these dances in the birth process, it was not a dance of seduction.  (They, the men, have their own dances---from which women were likewise excluded---that they do during their child's birth.)  

     Some sources say that the dances would be taught to girls after they hit puberty to prepare them for childbirth.  Then when the time came to have a baby, fellow tribeswomen would gather around the woman in childbirth and perform the dance.  The purpose here is to hypnotize the woman in labor into an imitation of the movements with her own body.  It greatly facilitates the birth and reduces pain from womb contractions, it helps the mother to move with instead of against the contractions.  

     Different cultures have had their own very similar takes on this idea of dancing the baby into the world.  Childbirth is something that must be prepared for.  Dormant muscles must be built up little by little, step by step.  All it takes is a little work.  Strengthening the muscles also helps in carrying the child through pregnancy.  Belly Dancing was intended for all of these things.  In a way, belly dancing is the oldest form of natural childbirth instruction!  

(If you are interested in reading a bit more on the subject here is a really cool account from the 1960's of a New York dancer faking her identity to witness a Moroccan woman in Casablanca give birth to twins using ancient traditional dance.)  


Belly dancing can be especially good for muscles that are used during labor and delivery, and of particular benefit for the pregnant woman.  Some of the muscles that are specifically strengthened during Middle Eastern dance, which can benefit the pregnant woman: 
  • The muscles of the abdominal wall (rectus abdominus, obliques): These muscles are used in performing chest circles, undulations, belly flutters and rolls, and are the same muscles that come into play when the woman is pushing during delivery.  
  • The gluteal muscles (the bottom): These are used when doing hip lifts, drops, and locks.  
  • The quadriceps (the thighs): these are used to support the body during dance, and with traveling movements.  
  • Pelvic floor muscles: These are indirectly exercised when doing pelvic rolls and tucks.  These muscles are directly involved in the birthing process.  

Other muscle groups that are strengthened by belly dance:
  • Rectus abdominus muscles (long front belly muscles) used in combination with the pyramidalis (just above the pubic bone).  
  • Obliques/transversalis (muscles that wrap around from the back to the waist in front) are also strengthened.  
  • Vaginal muscles: strengthened when performing pelvic omi circles slowly, with tightening of the vaginal muscles.  This exercise can help with pushing during labor, and strengthens the support for the base of the bladder and the uterus.  

General Benefits:
  • Improves body image and self esteem
  • Improves posture and core stability
  • Movements promote optimal position of the baby in the uterus/pelvis during pregnancy
  • Learn to recognize tense muscles 
  • Increases breathing capacity, rib cage mobility, and space for stomach to function optimally (prevents gas & constipation)
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces symptoms of fatigue
  • Conditions the mind to focus on moment to moment awareness, which is a great tool for labor
  • Belly dance movements are nurturing for the baby
  • Babies at 20 weeks and beyond can enjoy music played (which has been found to calm and relax newborns when hearing the same song from when in utero)

How To

      So, when I learned all this a while ago, I saved up some SwagBucks to get myself some Amazon Gift cards and buy myself a Prenatal Belly Dance DVD. 

     The DVD was really pricey, and if I hadn't used those gift cards I would have felt crazy to spend $50 on it!  So I thought, "You know, if I wanted to show women how to do this, I bet I could compile some free videos off the internet for them."  And guess what?  It's true.  I could!  
     I was able to find a nice eHow video series showing exactly how to do the same moves I've been learning from my video.  Of course this woman isn't pregnant.  But I promise, she does the same moves that were on my prenatal video.  

So if you want to try and rock some moves in the comfort of you own home, 

here you go.  
Give these clips some views and start practicing!  
Just have fun.  
And who knows, maybe it will be life changing!  

Here are the links:

(There are more videos in the eHow series, but these ones in particular are what I've seen done on my DVD.  The other moves seem equally as doable in pregnancy. Although I did read somewhere that during the first trimester, shimming isn't recommend for the baby's safety.  
And I am no doctor, so please use your best judgement and speak with your provider before attempting any workout, as I do not assume responsibly for any personal decisions, and cannot be held liable for any injuries incurred by your actions.)  


  1. Angela FitzgeraldJuly 17, 2012 at 5:08 AM


    have you come across bellydance for birth by maha al musa? She has written a superb book and DVD, it's really worth posting here.

    student midwife from australia

  2. Movement is such a vital part of our lives and heightens within the birth process. These motions re as natural to the birthing mother as her health is.
    Fiona Willis shares her wisdom of this sacred dance of fertility, conception, labor and life.
    Get inspired here!

  3. Hi Lydia,I found your blog by accident and I'm SOOOOO GLAD I did!!!! While all of the pics are GREAT,I have to admit that the third one from the top is my favorite.I wasn't sure if that was you or not,but whoever she is she has the most BEAUTIFULLY shaped pregnant belly I've ever seen!!! On top of that she has an outie bellybutton that to me is just like ICING on the cake! I just had to throw that in there because so many people find pregnancy bellybuttons quite unappealing,but I find that they make pregnant bellies all the more FASCINATING and INTRIGUING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Thanks for writing this! I am so interested in learning about belly dancing and birth. Do you have sources for your research? I am having a hard time finding quality literature on this topic!

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