The Best Exercise for Natural Birth {plus video how-to}

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist March 24, 2013

natural birth

I’ve been an athlete all my life, enjoying a wide variety of sports on land, water, and snow.

When I got pregnant, however, I suddenly and unexpectedly became very much adverse to anything that was at all strenuous. I know a lot of women who run, lift weights and otherwise do not change their exercise routine much after they become pregnant, but this was not for me.

Oh no. My body wasn’t having any of that!

I knew that I needed to keep fit while I was pregnant in order to give myself the best odds for a natural birth, however.  My Mother had wisely told me that giving birth is like running a marathon and you need to not only pace yourself, but have the wind and endurance to make it past the finish line if a natural birth was the goal.

As  result, I figured out an exercise plan that kept me fit but still honored my body’s desire for minimal athletics during my pregnancy months.

This fitness routine involved a lot of walking and prenatal yoga several times a week.

That was pretty much it.

Yoga and walking was all the exercise I attempted postpartum as well and even though it might seem like a wimpy fitness regimen compared with some gals, it was incredibly effective and produced excellent results as I lost every pregnancy pound I gained by the time each child turned two.  Maybe not the fastest way to take off the weight, but it was gradual and stress free and suited me just fine.

During my prenatal yoga classes, my instructor emphasized one particular yoga position above all others as the best exercise for natural birth and nothing short of invaluable for preparing a woman’s body for the rigors of labor and delivery.

That position is malasana – the Sanskrit word for squat – specifically a yogic squat.  Mala in Sanskrit (with a short “a”, not a longer “ah” sound) translates as impurities and relates to the pose’s encouragement of healthy digestion.  Indeed, squatting toilets are typical in Asian homes and I have written before about the increasing popularity of squatty stools in the United States.

Besides helping digestion, a yogic squat gently and effectively prepares the pelvic area for natural birth with little risk of harm.  As with any pregnancy exercise, however, women need to be very careful as the hormone relaxin produced during pregnancy relaxes pelvic ligaments and can increase the risk of injury.

In this video, I demonstrate a yogic squat as I was encouraged to do every single day of my pregnancies by my yoga instructor. Did the exercise do it’s job?  I believe it did as I was fortunate to experience three fairly brief and complication free natural births.

I continue to incorporate malasana into my yoga routine today whenever it seems appropriate.  As a basic movement that has been performed for hundreds if not thousands of years by traditional cultures (and is still vital to everyday life in Asia today), squatting is an exercise that can potentially benefit not only pregnant women, but the general population as well.

Video How-to: The Best Exercise for Natural Birth

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Picture Credit

 

Comments (99)

  1. Is the reason some people need to hold onto something because of weakness in those shin muscles? I fall backwards immediately because I don’t had enough strength there to keep me upright and don’t see that developing in a matter of weeks. Is there something I’m missing here?

    Reply
  2. Hatem Kamal via Facebook April 16, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Really Sharon? and you too Helen? Is that who you think I am? what do you expect me to do? just keep silent? suppress myself and not say a word? not at least bring it up so that no one is misled in the future?
    She not only did not take down the videos that she no longer believes in (or even write an update in a bold color on the page where she put the video), but she made a new video to share information that she does not believe is true.
    I changed the picture of my profile for whoever wants to see how I adapted my life. I bought brown rice in large quantity, but now I discovered another post that she actually, contrary to her video, says that white rice is better. I grew up in a family eating white rice every day but I switched myself to brown rice and stopped enjoying the white rice because of the videos. In the picture, there is a large bag of dry wheat berries bought in wholesale and colander with wet berries which were in the process of sprouting. I abruptly stored them in the refrigerator to stop the sprouting process after I discovered a post of hers telling she actually does not believe that sprouting berries will significantly lessen phytic acid. But her video is still up informing people of exactly the opposite information.

    Reply
  3. Anna Slavich via Facebook April 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Lizzie Duszynski – figured maybe this would be useful for you. I didn’t read it yet, but I’m not nine months pregnant ;-)

    Reply
  4. Sharon Roark via Facebook April 14, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    If this were my page, I’d kick the trolls off, but I guess others have more patience with them then I do!

    Reply
  5. Hatem Kamal via Facebook April 14, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist September 21, 2011
    modern methods for preparing grains and legumes can be extremely damaging to health over the long term
    if you do not follow the centuries old traditions for eliminating anti-nutrients and maximizing the nutrition in the grain prior to baking, you could in fact be doing yourself and your family more harm than good.
    Source :
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-proper-preparation-of-grains-and-legumes/#more-5646

    After been poked by questions from her followers after seen a video for her using white rice , Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist July 12, 2010
    neither my husband or myself have ever enjoyed brown rice. Every time we eat it, it just seems to not sit very well in our stomachs. It, well, uh, sits like a brick for lack of a better word. I’m never one to force feed a food to myself that doesn’t intuitively seem to be something my body enjoys receiving – even if politically incorrect. So, for our entire married life (19 years and counting!), I’ve always served white basmati rice in our home.
    White rice just seemed to digest a whole lot better for us. That to me was reason enough to choose it over the brown rice. You are what you digest, after all – not necessarily what you eat!
    a few years back at the annual Weston A. Price Conference, I became familiar with a new book called Fiber Menace. The author, Konstantin Monastyrsky, was a speaker at the Conference that year and his talk about the dangers of a high fiber diet was really buzzing around amongst the Conference attendees. Now, Mr. Monastrysky’s point about the dangers of a high fiber diet was in relation to high fiber from grains, not fruits and veggies. In other words, folks who eat a bowl of All Bran every morning to keep the bathroom visits regular are unknowingly ripping their insides to shreds. The basic premise of Fiber Menace is that grain fiber plays a leading role in many gut related ailments including colon cancer.
    brown rice is very high in phytic acid and that soaking reduces this potent anti-nutrient by very little.
    the traditional method for preparing brown rice is never to eat it whole (with only the husk removed), but rather to pound it in a mortar and pestle in order to remove the bran layer too – coincidentally, the primary source of the phytic acid.
    milled rice, the rice that results from this pounding process, has the highest mineral absorption from rice. Mineral absorption from whole brown rice is much less as the phytic acid from the bran greatly interferes with the absorption process.
    So it seems that brown rice is not necessarily a healthier choice than milled white rice. Obviously, whether you choose one or the other is a personal preference
    As for me and my family, we will be sticking with the white basmati rice
    it seems that as the years go by, more research is coming forth to indicate that this decision was the right way to go after all.
    Source :
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/what-white-rice-better-than-brown/

    Sarah in this video Uploaded on Aug 26, 2011
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nX3RcU5Hhqg
    At the second 1:41 and 4:38 mentions rice during her talk about traditional preparation of grains. She specifically instructs soaking “brown” rice to neutralize phytic acid without any mention of exception for rice. Information that she started to know (as she said) years before 2010 and in July 2010 she revealed a big picture that she had in her article quoted above : What? White Rice Better Than Brown?

    But what about us ? we who only came to see your videos and altered their dietaries according to the teaching in them and didn’t dig in every article you wrote and read every word in a reply you post in a discussion under your articles?

    Reply
  6. Hatem Kamal via Facebook April 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist June 24, 2010 at 2:04 pm
    You do not need to soak sprouted flour. Sprouted flour already has the gluten and antinutrients broken down so soaking would be overkill. Only soak unsprouted flour.
    Source :
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/how-to-make-sprouted-flour-at-home/

    Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist November 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm
    Hi Anon, sprouted flour would need to be soured either by soaking or sour leavening as Rami has discovered that sprouting does not reduce phytates nearly as much as souring the dough does.
    Source:
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/whole-grains-cause-cavities/

    On January 23, 2012
    Sarah said :
    Preparing your oatmeal the traditional way as practiced for centuries by ancestral societies will take a little planning on your part, but you will be greatly rewarded with a much more nourishing, digestible breakfast that will stay with you all the way to lunchtime!
    Source :
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-how-to-cook-oatmeal-the-right-way/#more-8018

    Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist November 24, 2010 at 7:19 pm
    I should note that when I was at the Wise Traditions Conference, I ate a big bowl of soaked oatmeal (soaked in yogurt). I LOVE soaked oatmeal and I should note that I do not have any issues eating grains. But, after that bowl of soaked oatmeal, I was so bloated and uncomfortable for a full 24 hours. I am sure it was all that grain fiber that I just don’t normally eat. Won’t be doing that again anytime soon!
    Source :
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/whole-grains-cause-cavities/

    Big changes to teaching in videos happen in another post or in a comment under another post ?? !!

    Soaking over night then turning upside down in a special sprouting jar that has holes in its top cover and tilted at the edge of the kitchen sink and checking every 2 hours to wash and keep wet then dehydrating then milling then sifting then soaking again with “whey” separated from yogurt …. etc.
    it is too much work … did slaves dedicated themselves to do that for others in the traditional cultures in the past? how can people routinely do all that work for just making daily bread?
    I imagine traditional cultures in the past did not have dehydrators and if they spread in air the grains after soaking to be dried they can get mixed with sand or dust so they have to wash them again.

    Reply
  7. I had a seven hour labor, waterbirth, most of the time in the water squatting, combination of hypno and birthing from within methods, besides squattting and open mouth is an open vagina. Hypno breathing is amazing.. im about two months away from expecting our second baby at home.. believe your body can do it!

    Reply
  8. Dear Sarah,
    Do you have any information on prolapses?
    I’ve sat for two years scared that if I stand or
    walk to long or to much my prolapse will get
    worse. What did women do years ago when
    they had a ton of physical work to do?
    I so miss going hiking, walking and especially
    running. This is so sad. I almost feel my life is
    over in a big way, of course I love my family and
    this is not a suicide thing, I’m just so sad about
    not being able to conquer the world in the same
    physical way I once did. Help!

    Reply
  9. Lynn Branham via Facebook December 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

    totally agree. I’ve given birth eight times now, only incorporating squats for the last four. What a difference!!!

    Reply
  10. Yes, it works. My first three births actually got progressively harder with more and more lower back/hip/pelvic tension. With baby number four did squats religiously and had an easy three hour labour and actually enjoyed pushing. What a diffwrence!
    I had so much muscle tension that I was unable to squat correctly when I started. I followed Katy Bowman’s instructions for working toward a full squat, available on her blog, and a valuable companion to your video I think!

    Reply
  11. 1. If you want to be a parent, I recommend adopting over reproducing. There are numerous people already here who are begging for a parent. Non-existent people do not care if they don’t exist but they do care when they get here. (Some to the point of depression and/or suicide) By reproducing, you create a being who will suffer an unknown amount and die (and people who exist usually don’t want to die). Please understand that reproduction is not an unselfish act. Please think about this, especially in a world where there are already 7 billion people and enough problems to last multiple lifetimes. This world is far too flawed for intelligent and loving humans. If you already have biological children, you can still love them while refraining from creating more.

    2. If you are going to choose to play god by reproducing, no one can stop you, but I highly recommend against home births in case something goes wrong. Yes, things can go wrong no matter how healthy you eat, how much you exercise, or how much you pray. That is the nature of life. Please read the Skeptical OB for more information.

    3. Please understand that by choosing to reproduce, your child may hate you. Permanently. So, if you are looking for love, reproduction isn’t where you’ll find it.

    Reply
  12. I discovered that basic belly dance moves – hip circles and figure eights did an AMAZING job at reducing the pain of contractions. I delivered my little 8 lbs boy after 18 hours of back labor – he was OP- and I was able to go unmedicated with the help of a doula and lots and lots of the hip movements through my contractions. It was the only thing that really brought relief.

    Reply
  13. I would also recommend looking into Janet Hulme, PT’s work. She helps women throughout the life span. She is a very smart lady that not only looks into the biomechanical side of our bodies but also the autonomic nervous system as well. She has great resources on her website.

    Reply
  14. I would argue from Dr. Lamaze’s legacy on childbirth and my personal experience that there are three more beneficial exercises than the squat. They are 1 – pelvic rocks on all fours: This movement strengthens your abs and butt, takes pressure off your back, gets pressure out of your pelvic area that leads to sciatica, swollen legs, painful veins etc and helps the baby get into a good position. 2 – Kegels: done properly prevents incontinance and anal prolapse among other lame issues, and helps you know where they are so you can actively release them when its time for the baby to descend so you aren’t flexing them which leads to tearing. 3 – Breathing exercises that build the strength of the diaphram such as exhaling as slowly and as completely as possible. This will build a good tool to help push your baby out regardless of what position you choose to push in. You need good control of your breath, lungs and diaphram to get adequate oxigen during labor without hyperventilating, and to know how NOT to push during expulsion if the baby is not in a good position or it is too early, or you don’t want the baby to move too fast which can lead to tears.

    Reply
  15. ? for who ever on egg yolk. I soft boiled 4 min but its runny. I saw on diff site boil 4m then set in hot water for 4m it was solid. so ? is what is right and how should the yolk be. runny or soft solid. help please. she is 10m. didnt do great on it at 5m. trying again now. thanks to all who give advice

    Reply
  16. I agree that the squat it especially important for birth, before, during and after! Katie Bowman at alignedandwell.com recommends the squat be done with a curve in the lower spine and with flat feet facing forward though. She also recommends that it be incorporated into daily life naturally rather than stressed as a “exercise.” This is more like what you’ll find in Third World countries where squats are used often and where women deliver their babies naturally quite often. This can be accomplished by using a rolled yoga mat under the knee while squatting. I encourage students in my childbirth ed classes to do this and we’ve had great results

    Reply
  17. I did yoga to get my body back after my pregnancy and it worked wonders on my body! I wish I had done yoga when I was pregnant but I will this next time around. I think it’s so beneficial not only for your body but for your mind as well.
    Julia\’s last post: Hazel’s Home Birth

    Reply
  18. Although I am a man, I know that someday my wife will be pregnant and will carry our baby. I never know anything about childbirth or how a pregnant woman should exercise but this post was really helpful to me, I never knew yoga can be used as an exercise for a pregnant woman but now I do, thank you for this wonderful post, it helped us so much.
    Clarrence Silvederio\’s last post: What Causes Hemorrhoids?

    Reply
  19. Can I just say that this post gave me hope? Not about the exercise, but the part where you said you lost every pound gained in pregnancy by the time your children were two. I started reading that sentence thinking you were going to say something ridiculous like 3 months. But knowing that someone like you who eats very healthly and did exercise still needed 2 years to lose all the weight, is every encouraging to me. My daughter is 10 months old and I have not lost much to speak of.

    Reply
  20. Bethany commented above about about the skeletal positioning of your squat and recommended Katy Bowman’s blog KatySays.com. I’m a Restorative Exercise Specialistâ„¢ trained by Katy and I agree, squats are great BUT there is a lot of damage that can be done by repetitive squatting in incorrect alignment. Katy offers a whole squat-prep series of exercises to help get your body ready for the squat, which will also get your body ready for birthing AND for a healthy recovery of your pelvic floor. Walking- a lot!- is equally important to your pelvic floor (and overall) health. I appreciate your sharing helpful knowledge about a wide range of subjects, but in this case there is a more scientific and careful approach that will help more without risk of causing injury. Another post to read is http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/you-still-dont-know-squat/. Thanks for taking the time to read up on something that can help a lot of your followers.

    Reply
  21. Yes! This is the perfect position because it builds strength and flexibility. Squatting is the best position for pushing the baby out because it provides the largest pelvic opening. There is an excellent book that details this (and other beneficial labor positions) called Active Birth. I naturally went right into a squat when it was time to push out my daughter.

    Yoga is also perfect for pregnant women because it teaches us to focus on our breath, which is also very helpful during labor. I’ve had two completely natural homebirths, and can attest that yoga and squatting are wonderful ways to prepare for birth. I never used a table when practicing the squatting position, but instead liked to do it with my arms either loosely crossed in front of me or in the yogic prayer (namaste) position.
    Sarah Smith\’s last post: One Ingredient Face Moisturizer – Healthy and Effective!

    Reply
    • It only provides the largest pelvic opening if your pelvis is “untucked.” I speak from experience. The squat she is demonstrating is with a tucked pelvis (note the flattened lumbar spine) and the sacrum is not being pulled outward by the glutes in this position.

      Reply
  22. yah good video. this works because it opens up the area the widest to push or just let that kid come thru as you don’t have to push your body will get baby out. altho at the moment i couldn’t help but push. A birth class I took said it’s just like pooping. you most likely will want to but your body not the Dr or midwife,etc can tell you when too.

    Reply
  23. Sarah,
    I love this! I was a bit of (okay a huge) “gym rat” before I was pregnant with my first child. Running, cycling, weights, seven days a week. I too switched to a daily walk and yoga with both of my pregnancies. I focused on squatting at the recommendation of my friend and yoga instructor, who had birthed her third child in this position.

    One comment/question: With my second she was facing the “wrong” direction, not breach but just turned around. My midwife recommended skipping the squat and doing hands and knees instead, cat/cow etc. Once the baby turned herself around I resumed the squat and delivered my second baby naturally with my midwife at the hospital. I am curious if you have any additional information for ladies who may have the same issue.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  24. CarolynandDrew Franklin via Facebook March 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Walking 5 times a week worked for me and I had a great complication free home birth. First baby – 4 hour labour.

    Reply
  25. That baby is sooo cute!
    I had 5 children, all natural, the first of which was breech. I still delivered her naturally..why..b/c I did NOT want a c-section. I feel that staying very active and having a positive, I can do it attitude greatly helps natural childbirth

    Reply
  26. Laura Joanna Myers via Facebook March 24, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    I wish I had practiced more squats. My thighs got very tired during labor and I ended up having to lie down to push because of fatigue. I ended up with a bad tear, and I’m sure this was a contributing factor.

    Reply
  27. Sara James via Facebook March 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I think women should start exercising pre-conception when possible. It makes it much easier to stick with it. I found doing squats in the garden was extremely effective because I didn’t feel like I was exercising. Wall squats with a medicine ball behind your back are also good if you have knee pain as well as a good way to start out learning to squat.

    Reply
  28. I did this with my first and labored 40 plus hrs, 24 with second. with third husband was a functional manual therapist through the institute of physical art, he mobilized my tailbone to open things up and it was quick five hrs, turned out my tailbone was flexed

    Reply
  29. A friend told me that this position is more effective for female incontinence than Kegel exercises. Do you know if this is true?

    Reply
  30. Shelley Farra-West via Facebook March 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I found that a lot of it is mental preparation and breathing technique. I had 3 natural waterbirths and would greatly suggest that method for natural muscle relaxation.

    Reply
  31. Heather Forrest via Facebook March 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Nothing guarantees a “quick and fast natural birth” but this is a good exercise to practice. :)

    Reply
  32. Pingback: Video: The Best Exercise to Prepare for a Natural Birth | CookingPlanet

  33. This is the position my doctor advised me to try when my labor wasn’t progressing very quickly. After having held it for quite a while (it seemed forever at the time), I was ready to push! I think she called it the “squaw squat” or something like that :) Very effective!

    Reply

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