Optimal birth position – does that even exist?
As a birth doula and yoga instructor, I obviously understand the importance of movement, strengthening & stretching during birth, but Gail Tully, a midwife with over 30 years experience who developed Spinning Babies, takes it a bit further. She focuses on 3 principles; balance, gravity and movement. Each of these principles she says are essential to “enhancing baby’s starting position for labor.”
When you think about babies in utero, they are trying to find a comfortable position working around the shape of the mother’s organs, muscles and ligaments. During birth, it’s baby’s job to move and rotate through the pelvis and its Mom’s job to provide the space for baby to do so.
So, what can Mom do to create the balance, gravity & movement necessary to get baby into a good position? Practice these 3 poses every day. It’ll only take about 10 minutes – you can fit it in somewhere!
“Sifting the entire abdomen can relax tight ligaments and may help a baby rotate in pregnancy or labor more easily (Spinning Babies. Maternity House Publishing Inc., 2016, Web. 4 Feb. 2016.).” And it feels amazingly relaxing for Mom.
Using a large shawl or sheet, cover your entire belly and have your partner grab it behind you. Lower onto your hands & knees, resting your arms on the couch or an exercise ball. Have your partner stand up behind you, with the sheet in both hands, fingers facing forward. Have your partner lift the weight of your belly up and begin to slowly make baby circles with his hands (picture a choo-choo train) – tiny tiny circles. This should feel like a comfortable vibration for you. Be sure to communicate how it feels. Do for as long as your partner can stand it (they’ll finally appreciate how much weight you carry around every day).
2.Forward leaning inversion
The forward leaning inversion “stretches and potentially, untwists support ligaments to the lower uterine segment and cervix, such as the uterosacral and cervical ligaments. Repeating this stretch can release any asymmetry and allow baby’s head to fit more easily (Spinning Babies. Maternity House Publishing Inc., 2016, Web. 4 Feb. 2016.).”
Sit on the couch on your shins. Slowly lower your hands to the floor and then come onto your forearms, your head should be freely hanging, hips high. Stay here for 3 deep breaths and then slowly make your way back up to where you started. Sit back on your shins for 3 breaths.
This is not recommended if you are at risk of a stroke, have glaucoma, hypertension or heartburn.
The side-lying release “relaxes and lengthens muscles supporting the pelvis (Spinning Babies. Maternity House Publishing Inc., 2016, Web. 4 Feb. 2016.).”
Lay on the edge of your bed with a pillow under your head (make sure you scoot all the way to the edge). Be sure to stack your shoulders and your hips, legs are long, feet flexed. Have your partner support you at your hip. Lift your top leg on an angle and let it drop towards the floor (be sure your leg is hanging). Your partner should be pressing your hip back slightly to keep you from falling off the bed but be sure your shoulders and hips stay stacked. Stay here for 3-5 minutes. Switch sides.
In addition, walking, stretching, squats and lunges are all great exercises to keep the body loose and supple – ready for whatever birth will bring!
These yoga poses are great for runners looking to stretch the IT (illio-tibial) band and the muscles that put tension on the IT band; the outer hips and quadriceps.
Before you begin, be sure to gather your props - Today you’ll only need a block.
1. Begin on your back. Hug your right knee into your chest, left leg stays long. Bring knee to 90 degree angle then drop right knee over left leg until knee comes to the ground. Let your left toes fall over to the left. Take 5 long deep breaths here. Repeat on other side.
2. Come to Runner’s Lunge with your right foot at the top of the mat. Drop the back knee to the ground. Walk your hands back, straightening your right leg, foot is flexed (toes point up to the ceiling). Plant your left hand on a block, reach your right arm up (see image). Take 5 deep breaths and release your right hand down.
3. Walk both hands to the outside of your right leg and fold over. Take 5 deep breaths here before repeating #2 & #3 on the other side.
4. Come to Down Dog. Kick your right leg up and back for 3-Legged Dog. Bring right knee to left elbow, shifting forward so your shoulders are over your wrists (see image).
5. Extend your right leg out straight. Hold for a breath and then drop your foot down to the floor (see image).
6. Drop right hip to floor, keeping back toes tucked. Come down onto forearms and take 10 deep breaths here. For a greater stretch, bring the right leg forward. For less of a stretch, bring the right leg back (see image).
7. To come out of the pose, slowly come back up onto your hands, lift your R hip up and make your way back to Down Dog. Repeat #4-6 on the other side.
8. Slowly come onto your back. Bring both feet up in the air and cross the right knee over the left. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and with each hand; grab the outside of each ankle. Slowly lower your head and shoulders back down to the ground. For a deeper stretch, pull your shins in. Take 5 deep breaths here and then switch sides – left knee over right.
Are there any stretches that you find helpful?
I’m not sure anyone can be prepared enough for the day you become a parent – this new little human relying on you to care and shape them… but let’s give it a go!
Here are my top 5 book recommendations before baby arrives.
1.Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond by Francoise Barbira Freedman
While baby is in utero, it’s all about you! Learn positive benefits of yoga with this quick reference. It provides breathing techniques and simple steps to practice poses for early, mid & late-pregnancy as well as postnatal yoga from birth to 16 weeks! Best part – most of it is filled with pictures!
2.The Birth Partner (Third Edition) – A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas and Other Labor Companions by Penny Simkin
Penny Simkin is the founder of DONA (formerly Doulas of North America) and has a wealth of knowledge about birth. This is the ultimate reference for anything birth-related. While this is a longer read, it can also just be used as a reference if you have specific questions. Pack it in your hospital bag, just in case!
3.Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel
For those of you wanting a “natural” birth but feel more comfortable in a hospital, this book’s for you! Being your own advocate and listening to your body gets more difficult when surrounded by hospital staff trying to speed up your labor and get you out. This book explains how to evaluate medical advice and avoid unnecessary interventions so you can have the best of both worlds – natural in a hospital. It’s not an oxymoron!
4.Breastfeeding Made Simple Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher IBCLC, FILCA and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett PH.D., IBCLC
Love love love this book! Such an easy read, makes so much sense. We trust our bodies know how to make a baby; we need to trust our bodies know how to nourish our baby!
5.Easy Labor by William Camann M.D. and Kathryn J Alexander, M.A.
I had the opportunity to meet William Camann after reading this book and what a pleasure it was! For anyone who fears pain during childbirth, this is a great read. This book includes an abundance of doctors/medical providers and Mom perspectives, which help wrap your head around what you might want or can expect.
What are your favorite getting-ready-for-baby books?
So you’ve read a bunch of books and you’ve thought about every scenario of how your birth could go… now its time to boil it all down and create a plan for how you want it to go.
First, I recommend Birthing Naturally’s checklist (http://www.birthingnaturally.net/forms/birthplan.pdf). Once you see the list of options, you can research each and see if you have a preference. If not, no worries, don’t include it!
Next, use this box format to organize your thoughts.
Now you’re ready to finalize your plan. Start with a short intro paragraph introducing you and your partner. Note that you “understand certain emergency or other medical circumstances may not allow for the accommodation of all your goals listed below.”
Then write your plan in bullet form and keep it simple & direct. Try to condense it all so it fits on one page. You obviously don’t need to include everything, just include those areas that are important to you and keep it positive!
Be sure to review it with your doctor and/or doula prior to birth and pack a few copies in your hospital bag so you have it with you.
Finally… relish in the newfound feeling of accomplishment. Another “to-do” checked off your list!
What I love about yoga is its ability to provide your body exactly what it needs. Whether its relaxation or energy, focusing a few minutes on your breath, connecting your mind & body can bring you to a new state of bliss.
Try these 5 poses to nourish your body:
1. Child's Pose
Begin on your hands and knees in Table Pose. Bring the tips of your big toes to touch, your knees out wide (the width of your yoga mat), sink your sit bones back toward your heels. Fold forward, extending your arms out in front of you, resting your forehead on the ground. Take several long, deep breaths here (filling your entire chest, all the way up to your sternum). Exhaling slowly, release your belly back towards your spine. Stretch your right hand out in front of you as far as possible, feeling a stretch along your entire side body. After a few breaths here, switch sides, stretching your left hand out.
2. Low Lunge
Beginning in forward fold, step left foot back in a low lunge ensuring your right knee is directly stacked over your ankle. Drop your back knee to floor and bring hands to hips. We hold a lot of stress and tension in our hips so this pose helps you open up and release. Focus on breathing through any sensations and practice "letting go." After 5 breaths, switch sides.
3. Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
Step feet out wide, toes slightly pointing inward and hands on hip. Slowly begin to fold forward bending at your hip creases. Drop your hands to the floor, shoulder-width distance. Letting the top of your head drop to the floor, release any tension you may be holding in your neck or jaw. Knees can be slightly bent. Take 10 long, deep breaths focusing on releasing more with each exhale. To come up, place hands on hips and using your legs, come up nice and slowly.
4. Goddess Pose
Step feet out wide, point toes slightly outward and begin to lower into a wide-legged squat. Place arms out to the side at shoulder height and bend at elbows creating field goal post arms (fingertips pointing toward the ceiling). Squat a little lower maybe doing a few pulses up & down or side to side, working your inner thighs. Coming back to neutral, exhale your breath completely and draw your pelvic floor in and hold. Hold as long as you can, release and take a round of breaths before trying again. Continue to practice the pelvic floor raises to improve the muscles of your vagina, great for before or after birth.
5. Reverse Process
Begin sitting on the floor with one shoulder blade touching the wall. Keeping your bottom up against the bottom of the wall, swing your legs around and up the wall, legs extended, until your back is resting on the floor. Place arms down by your side, palms facing up. Relax here for approximately 20 breaths. Breathe gently making your exhale twice as long as your inhale. Legs can be slightly bent. This pose is great if you are having trouble falling asleep or have been on your feet all day. It may be uncomfortable for those who are pregnant.
Thank you for sharing your practice with me today. Best of luck on your journey to relax & renew!