Thursday, May 30, 2013

{In my Opinion} The Best Way To Prepare For Labor

Its taken me longer after having Baby #2 to get back into regular workouts than it did after Baby #1 -- that is a post of its own -- but recently I decided to get my butt in gear and do this.  
Blake and I have been doing the "30 Day Shred".  
That baby is TOUGH!  
Day 1 -- afterwards I literally felt like I had the flu the rest of the night.  
But next day was much better (and no "flu".)  
And every day after that has gotten better and easier.  
We've been at it about a week and half now.  
Fingers crossed that I'll get to finish this time.  (Last time -- after baby #1-- I hurt my knee and had to do some other less-impacting work outs.)  

But anyway, my point of this post is: 
What I keep thinking every single time we turn the DVD on is
how much working out is like labor (baby-having-labor.)  

After having Baby #1 (which was a 12 hour induction [for post dates], including 2 hours of crazy-hard-nearly-passing-out-pushing, all ending in a c-section [due to baby malposition]) {Birth Story Here}, I was pretty disillusioned about all the stuff people told me about how to prepare for labor.  Nothing actually helped me cope.  And I didn't like hearing any new ideas on how to prepare for labor because I was SURE none of it would have helped me.  I was adamant that there was no way to actually prepare.  

When it came time to get ready to have Baby #2 however, I changed my tune and was out to read EVERYTHING about labor preparation.  I wanted to be able to get through it this time.  

I read a lot of stuff.  And a lot of it was wise and good.  But almost everything I read was specific coping techniques.  
What I did really not read in any having-baby-stuff-books was the concept that to prepare for labor you should work out.  I did find articles online about it --- when I specifically searched for that sort of idea  --- but most stuff out there just glazes over the idea that to do the suggested coping techniques (over and over for hours and hours) you need to be in good shape.  

(Please note: I'm just sharing my thoughts here, based on my own experiences.  I do acknowledge that many a non-working-out-women has made it through labor and delivery naturally.  And I also realize some women are placed on bed rest so that they can't work out --- this isn't a guilt trip.  This is just me talking about what I've gone through.  And hoping it might help someone else in their journey --- I know everyone has a unique one.)  

I blogged about it before, but during my first pregnancy I purposefully chose to be sedentary.  I thought this was my special time -- and lounging was how I was going to spend it.  
So then when I was in labor, and my body was telling me to do this squatty-bouncy-thing every time my contraction started, my muscles were so out of shape it was nearly impossible to make it through my whole contraction before my legs were on fire with muscle fatigue.  
And then when I was pushing (with every ounce of my being), I clearly had these two thoughts: "Why wasn't I preparing for this every single day --- like I would if I was doing a marathon --- this is more than a marathon!  Why did no one tell me?  Someone should have MADE me work out for this." and "I will never complain during a workout again.  If this is work --- I've never worked before."  

because of those two thoughts I knew that if I ever went into labor again, I would be ready.  I wasn't going to lounge the next time.  I was gonna train for the marathon of labor.  

So --- I got in shape between babies, and with my next pregnancy I ate healthily and stayed active (I mainly swam laps --- usually 5 days a week.)  (At the end of my pregnancy, I quit swimming and walked about 4 miles a day trying to get that baby out!!  My babies think they should be able to attend college from the womb!)  

And can I tell you?  All that effort --- My labor benefitted immensely!  {Birth Story Here}  

Me and Ruby right after she was born.  

My body wanted me to do a similar squatty-bouncy-thing with my contractions this time too --- but this time my legs didn't burn at all.  I could have kept going like that for a long time (physical-exersion-wise... I ended up switching to other positions because that's what my body told me to do.)  

But I just had so much more endurance overall.  

It's amazing to me the ways in which exercise gives you endurance beyond just getting better at each particular workout.  It's like a whole person kind of benefit --- body, soul, and mind.

It bolsters you up in ways beyond muscle strength.
It gives you the mentality that you actually can keep going because... you have done it before.  You've already pushed through the burn.
You know how to tell your body no when it says "I want to quit."
You know how to say, "I can." and when your body comes back with, "I can't" you know how to come back with "I WILL!"
You learn that exertion really isn't pain, and pain really can be overcome.
You learn how to pace yourself. How to save up energy for when it matters.
And you learn how to pull energy from out of nowhere when you think you are done.
You learn you are strong.
You learn you are more than your thoughts.

I can't stress how big of a deal that last sentence is for me.  Both before I had my VBAC (and my thoughts constantly wanted to tell me I didn't have it in me to do it) and now (when I just plain old struggle mentally day to day with my weaknesses and the hardships of life.)
When I work out I get to see that my thoughts are so often just plain wrong --- all those nasty thoughts that say "You can't do this, this is too hard."  --- I just keep on pushing through the burn until I've silenced them.  They have nothing left in that moment.  I just proved them wrong.
I just showed them, "I don't have to listen to you."
I just showed them that no matter how convincing they sound ("you can't do one more sit up" --- and it seems true because my muscles really do hurt), they aren't true (I just did 5 more sit ups... until Jillian told me I could stop!)
It's empowering beyond getting a toned physique.  The benefits come out in me in normal day-to-day stuff, when the hardest emotional issues surface.
(Currently I have a hard time worrying about my kid(s?)'s food allergies.  My thoughts want to say "this is always going to suck."  But as I've started working out again, I'm starting to figure out "oh thoughts are so often wrong.  I've been so much stronger than my thoughts before.  (Like last night when they said you'll never finish this set of pushups, but I did!)  I don't have to bow to my thoughts because a lot of times they are lies!  I can do this.")

So clearly I'm a big believer in working out at any stage in life.
But what I really want to stress in this post is how phenomenally helpful working out is in preparation for labor.

Photos Via: (1) & (2)

If my daughters have babies when they grow up, I will want them to stay active (so long as they have medical permission to do so) because I've experienced both ends of the spectrum and I know to the core of me what a difference it makes.
If someone were to ask me what's the best thing you can do to get ready for labor?
I wouldn't recommend any book or class.
I would say, "work out."

  • If you work out through your pregnancy, you will be prepared to be active for a long amount of time --- which is what labor really is.  They call it labor because it is work.  And the average of first time mom's labor is something like 12 to 18 hours.  Working out while you are pregnant will be what gets you ready for working for 12 hours (give or take) straight.  
  • If you work out, you will be ready to listen to your body.  You will be more equipped to follow your body's lead in the ways you need to move while in labor --- because you will have spent so much time listening to your body already.  You'll hear its signals because you know what they are.  
  • If you work out, you will know you are stronger than you think you are --- because you will have shown yourself over and over again that it's true.  And that comes in pretty handy when your getting tempted to think you can't do this.  If you are used to telling those kinds of thoughts "no," you won't let them get you down in labor.  You might have gotten so good at ignoring them, you might not even hear them in your labor!  
  • And, while birth outcomes are never guaranteed, and emotions are sure to follow after giving birth --- I do think that if you work out while pregnant, it will help you be ready (or at least more ready than had you not) to see yourself as strong and capable no matter the birthing experience.  And knowing you are strong is such a great way for any mom to start out motherhood --- because being a mom takes more strength than I ever knew I had, or would ever need.  
Note: I firmly believe these things apply to c-sections, scheduled or otherwise, as well.  You may, or may not, be undergoing labor.  But I know from experience that it takes work to recover from a c-section.  Working out before hand will help you to maneuver well post-op.  You need to be strong to care for your baby while recovering from surgery.  Having worked out will also help you to listen to what your body needs during your recovery.  And, mentally, you will know that you can press through the discomfort of recovery so that you can just keep getting better.  You will be able to tell any discouraging thoughts, "no." because you are used to saying "I can."  The mental aspect might be especially helpful to you if a c-section was not something you had hoped for.  

So how can you best workout with labor in mind?  
I think you can do any sort of physical workout and have it be beneficial in these ways.  
(I chose swimming because its the most appealing workout in general for me.  And sweet pregnancy plus: it makes you feel unpregnant once you are in the water --- holds up that belly for you!  And it's easy on the joints.)  

But what I am realizing recently is that beyond the physical workout,
you can be intentional about the mental aspect of your workout in order to REALLY prepare for labor.  

During my second labor I got to a place where I almost didn't exist.  I just kind of became the contraction and disappeared until it was over.  
Recently I've started to realize that I do this while I work out now.  I stop hearing Jillian (on purpose) and stare at a spot on the wall and become the squats, so intensely, that I don't feel my legs burning --- I just am the squats --- I'm not experiencing them.  If I start thinking during it, I am suddenly shocked out of that peaceful moment and straight into the fire in my legs and I get disoriented and want to quit.
 This is so shockingly similar to my experiences in labor.  The times I could focusedly (I know...not a word) transcend the contraction were great... but when I started to think --- no good, because then I was feeling the contraction, and then I started to hear my "you can't do it" thoughts.  But when I focused myself there were no words --- I just disappeared until I could come back when it was over.  
This is exactly what goes on in my workouts now.  I use my labor skills to get through my workouts.  

So I started to see in reverse that you can use your workouts therefore as the PERFECT opportunity to hone your labor skills --- getting past an uncomfortable moment.  
I know that for me the best way I can get through workouts and contractions is to just "check out" and come back when it's done.  I imagine this would be helpful for many people.  But you may not like to transcend like that.  You might like to power through.  I think working out gives you a great chance to experiment and see what helps you through an intense moment of time in the best way.  If you try to do this before you are in labor it will be a lot easier than trying to get the hang of it when you cannot take breaks.  

I find that the "30 Day Shred", with its reps for a set of amount of time, followed by another taxing activity, lends itself well to the idea of contractions lasting a set amount of time coming at in intervals.

(Check this out: I found a mom online who did the "30 Day Shred", with modifications, till she was 34 weeks pregnant!  Pretty awesome!  Interested?  Level 1 here.  Level 2 here.  How to do ab workouts while standing (while the dvd does laying ones ) here.)  

But really any type of repetitive, feel-the-burn for a set-amount-of-time, kind of exercise will give you a chance to test your mental place during taxing moments.  

In both labor, and workouts, there is the initial phase --- when it's not too intense, and your mind just kinda does whatever and that's fine --- that's the beginning.  
Then you get to the place in the workout that threatens your peace, threatens your endurance.

When that happens in your workout --- that's when I want you to try and be intentional about the mental aspect of your workout in order to prepare for labor.  Because that same feeling will happen in labor.  I want you to try and find a way through without getting rattled, a way through where your "I can't do this" thoughts get quieter (or totally GONE.)  Gather yourself again in the break between reps.  You can kinda of instant replay what you just did to see how well it worked.  Or you can just breathe and rest.  But get ready to try again in the next set.  (Because there will be the next set --- there will be the next contraction.)  Try again to get through without getting rattled.  Try to get to a place where no matter how tough it feels you can stay positive.  Try to find a way through that makes your "I can't do this" thoughts get quieter.  Try to get to a place where the next set isn't scary because you know exactly how to get through it.  

That will definitely get you ready for labor.  

It's hard to feel positive during a workout.  I know when I restarted doing the "30 Day Shred" for 5 days, every day all day long I was battling thoughts.  Thoughts that told me "There is no way you can do this."  And all day long I was dreading the point when we put in that DVD.  But now, 9 days later, I'm not battling the thoughts during the day about the DVD.  And it takes me at least half way through the work out to start hearing them.  It's a mental workout as much as physical.  So is labor.  It's so good to try and train yourself before you get there.  

Not to mention working out makes it easier to be pregnant.  It's hard work carrying around that belly.  If you stay active your muscles are stronger and more able to get you around.  I know my second pregnancy was worlds apart from my first in terms of my comfort and physical ability.  And of course working out can help keep the weight gain in check --- which, of course, makes it easier to be pregnant again.  I gained 9 pounds less the second time --- and nine pounds is nine pounds --- you can feel it.
There are tons of other benefits to working out while pregnant --- but I already blogged about those here.  

Disclaimer: I am not a professional of any kind, just a momma who tried this having-a-baby-thing twice now --- in two very different manners, and I'm sharing what I learned in the process.  As with anything, please use your best judgement and get your provider's consent before beginning a workout regiment.  


  1. great motivational post! thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the tips!! I've been doing 30 Day Shred for about a month now (I only do it M/W/F) and was curious as I'm hoping to conceive soon whether or not it was considered safe or appropriate for pregnancy. I was mostly concerned about the few days between conception before I would even know I was pregnant. So now I know, have pinned the recommendations and will keep at it. :)

  3. I adore this post. I'm due 8/21 and have been working out throughout my whole pregnancy through power yoga, twice weekly Barre classes, and daily walks. I even mow my quarter acre of a lawn even though my MIL thinks I need to just "rest" and let my husband do the hard work. But working out has helped me sleep well, I have no back pain in my third trimester, have yet to see any swelling, and it makes me feel empowered. I know that I'll feel mentally and physically prepared going into a natural childbirth. This post says everything I feel and I want to share it with the world. Thank you!!

  4. I needed this! I'm 37 weeks and have been working out the majority of my pregnancy but have felt like giving up now that I'm huge. You make such a good point though, I will try to stick to my daily stair climb at the least. I want him out now!

  5. Anyone seen any goof fitness benchmarks to reach before pregnancy? Like - leg press __lbs. Seems like it could be helpful to have goals & measure progress.

  6. There is a fabulous book on all the benefits to mom and baby of exercising during pregnancy - this is my first pregnancy but I was a gym rat before I got pregnant and I've been following it's exercise recommendations to the letter. The book is Exercising through Your Pregnancy by James F. Clapp III, MD. It's amazing.

    Elizabeth in Michigan

    1. Awesome! Thanks for passing that along. I hadn’t heard of it, but just peaked at it on Amazon and it does look amazing. It will definitely be on my reading list. Congratulations and all the best to you, Elizabeth!

  7. This is great information with a personal twist! Can I share this on my Doula blog in Winnipeg Canada?

  8. So glad someone is emphasising the importance of exercise!!! I jogged walked and weightlifting while pregnant with my first. Especially my leg presses. Then ended up with an active labor of more than 30 hrs where my body refused to let me go through contractions sitting so I paced and climbed up and down my stairs for over 20 hrs of it (homebirth) by the end I was so tired I was crying but I made it and I owe it all to having worked out. I couldn't have made it without the gym. I 100% believe that!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. And the encouragement to workout during pregnancy. After over 20+ hours of labor with my first, he went into fetal distress and i had to have an emergency c-section. But with this info and with other books, apps, and blogs that I've read i know thay a Vbac is possible.

    Thank you again!!

    1. Oh you are so welcome. I hope all the best for you!! It really is possible, don’t let the circumstances of last time tell you otherwise. Your body is strong and capable!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge! I'm 24 weeks with my first one, and although I've been quite diligent with physical exercises last couple of weeks, but now I have motivation to keep on going and work harder. Thank you for the inspiration!!

  11. Awesome!!! Thank you for sharing. I love working out and worked out during my first pregnancy and now am 39 weeks(as of tomorrow) along in my second and have done the same. It will help anyone who does. 1st pregnancy I did mostly weight training and cardio. This pregnancy I have done Shred (found it after 1st pregnancy, really got into it and LOVED it) I have listened to my body all the way through and have made necessary adjustments but have kept it up 3 times a week (except a wk or so when I was sick with a horrid cold) but I did it as recently as yesterday and it's great. (Key: listen to your body) I also weight train, do a yoga/Pilates/tai-chi class called flow- at my gym, pre-natal yoga (brought this in nearer the end) and added in more walking (from 37 weeks on). I have had great pregnancies and it's definitely due largely to the practice of fitness- demanding of my body. Fitness made me feel great before I was pregnant and has throughout.


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