IN THE OLDEN DAYS, women who were nearing the end of pregnancy were encouraged to milk cows, harvest paddy, wash clothes or swab the floor as the postures for these tasks stretched the muscles lining the abdomen, pelvis, perineum, thighs, glutes (buttocks) and calves. They rendered a woman’s lower body fitter and more flexible, prepping her for labour.
Today’s women have a range of exercises to choose from. It doesn’t matter what form as long as your doctor has green-lighted it because pursuing some form of exertion (producing sweat) along with focused breathing is beneficial to you, your baby and in monitoring weight, sugar and blood pressure levels.
Recommended exercises include:
Yoga: It is sound for body and mind. Breathing techniques like pranayam can help once contractions begin and cope with mood swings and insomnia. Certain asanas like mala asana (garland pose), which require full squatting, help the hip bones to spread, getting the pelvic area used to for the passage of the baby later.
Brisk walking: Convenient and safe, it improves posture, blood circulation to you and baby and also relieves back pain and nausea.
Pilates: Great for achieving balance, endurance and flexibility, it focuses on strengthening core muscles in the abdomen, spine, back or lower back and hamstring area. Their strength is crucial for enduring labour and recovering later.
Swimming: It is gentle and low impact. As your belly grows, you might begin to walk like a duck. In water, the same waddling woman will feel more fluid and graceful because of the lightness experienced under water. When swimming becomes harder, switch to walking in a pool.
Birthing or exercise balls: Sitting on a birthing ball gives a counter pressure to your sore perineum, glutes and thighs on which there will be maximum pressure at the fag end. It also forces you into an erect position since there is no back support. Experts encourage moving or bouncing or squatting on the ball during labour as the erect position gives the gravitational push required for the baby to make its final descent.
When trying something new, please learn from a certified instructor. Look out for any untoward signs, like overexertion or bleeding. Remember the strain of pregnancy and wear and tear of labour on a fitter, flexible body is lesser and recovery faster.
Note: During my pregnancy, my child didn’t occupy a head down position. Since neither I nor my baby was under any other distress, a planned c-section was performed on 40 weeks and 1 day. For at least a year after, I wondered if my attempts to keep my pregnancy too old-fashioned and simple was a wise decision. I had resorted to walking daily, and doing namaskarams (prostrations before god, which I was told would aid with the baby’s descent). I didn’t actively engage with my lower body and cannot help but wonder if it might have produced different results.
Next issue: Piling on the kilos