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Chelsea at Crunch Gym

Forty Weeks of Fitness!

Chelsea, our pregnancy fitness expert, is a certified personal trainer at Crunch gym in San Francisco, California. She gave birth to her daughter, Madeira Re, in July 2006. Read more

Preparing Your Body for Labor and Delivery

Labor and delivery are the culmination of nine months of anticipation and are part of one of the most intense, exciting moments in most women's lives. However, while your body and your baby may be ready to go, you may not feel sufficiently prepared for the big day. Any great physical effort requires mental and physical training, whether you are running a marathon, climbing a mountain, or delivering a baby.

Attending childbirth classes will teach you what to expect during each phase of labor, as well as useful relaxation and breathing techniques. Most hospitals and birth centers offer classes for pregnant women and their birth partners; but there are also private classes, instructional videos and DVDs, and even online classes. Practicing at home with your partner between classes will help you feel even more prepared. Begin by practicing your relaxation technique, then have your partner time mock contractions and breathe through them, concentrating on ignoring any distractions and relaxing the rest of your body. The more time you spend preparing yourself, the more likely you will be able to face labor with (relative) confidence and minimal anxiety.

There are also exercises you can do at home that will simulate some of the work you'll be doing during labor, and strengthen the muscle groups you'll be using most. Starting in your first trimester, do the following exercises 2-3 times a week.

  1. Position yourself on your hands and knees, keeping your knees directly under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Keep your back as straight as possible and align your head and spine. Contract your abdominal muscles while exhaling and imagine that you are pulling your baby towards your spine with your abdominal muscles. Relax while inhaling, but don't let your back sag or arch. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat. Do 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions. This exercise not only strengthens the abdominal muscles, it's a great back pain reliever as well.

  2. Sit on the floor, position a stack of pillows behind your back for support, and bend your legs at a 90-degree angle so you are leaning back into a semi-reclined position. Your knees should be about shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the backs of your thighs, with your elbows pointing out to the side. Keeping your head and spine aligned and your chin up, inhale while tilting your pelvis upward so your body curls into a C-shape. Pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine while you relax your pelvic floor muscles. Hold this position for 5 seconds while you slowly exhale, then relax and inhale. Take two deep breaths in between each set. Repeat 2-3 times. This exercise strengthens your abdominal muscles and simulates the mechanics you'll use during pushing.

  3. On a mat or carpeted floor, kneel on your left knee beside a chair. Make sure your knee is directly under your hip. Keep your right foot flat on the floor, with your knee directly over your heel. Hold onto the chair for support with your right hand and lean slightly forward from the hips. Tilt your pelvis upward to keep your spine neutral. In your left hand, pick up a 3-5 pound dumbbell weight, and let your arm hang toward the floor with your palm facing backward. Bend your left elbow up and back while pulling your shoulder blades together. Bring your elbow back far enough to feel a stretch in your chest muscles without rotating your torso, then return to the starting position. Do 8-10 reps on with the left arm, and then switch arms. Do 2 sets on each side. This exercise strengthens your upper-back and shoulder muscles, which will help you to keep your chest open during labor, making breathing easier.

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