You may be wondering under which circumstance could a woman want or need gym equipment to assist her in the process of labor and childbirth. As it turns out, plenty!
Consider the following scenarios:
- Women wishing to labor in the comfort of their home for as long as possible before heading out to the hospital.
- Women who plan their home births.
- Women who may end up having accidental, unplanned home births (as is the case of those with a history of precipitous births; the health team will typically inform a woman when she is at chance of experiencing a fast birth).
- Women who have been experiencing insistent Braxton-Hicks contractions.
- Women who wish to create a mindfulness and movement practice as part of their preparation for birth.
- Women aware of the many benefits of remaining as mobile as possible during labor.1,2
- Women who wish to increase their chance of fewer medical interventions and/or diminish the length of time of labor.
- You’re training a pregnant client and she goes into labor. (Joking! Totally a joke. Though hey, if it were to happen at least we got you covered, right? Ha!)
A little bit of background: I’m a fitness professional and I’m also trained as a doula (support person for the birthing woman). My third baby was born at home, accidentally. (Yes, I was one of those warned about a potential “precipitous” birth — that was an understatement!) I also co-authored the Coaching & Training Women Academy Pre- and Postnatal Coaching Certification, and I like to think I know a thing or two about meshing the worlds of birth and fitness.
Doulas are known for having wonderful tricks up our sleeves to make women’s birthing experience easier, better, and more in tune to their wishes. When financially and regionally available, we recommend pregnant women hire a doula!
There is some evidence to suggest women who have a doula present at the time of birth are less likely to experience a birth complication, are more likely to establish breastfeeding successfully, and have an overall better view of their birthing experience.3 Of course this isn’t always possible or accessible, and so we have some crafty ideas.
As fitness enthusiasts, most of us have some gym equipment at home. If you are an expectant mom, or you have an expectant mom in your life, this article will teach you what to use — and how to use it — during the process of labor and childbirth.
First, though, let’s take a look into an intrinsic component of labor and birth: rhythm.
Rhythm describes any kind of movement, breathing or sound pattern a laboring woman may find soothing or helpful in passing contractions. In birthing groups, this is sometimes referred to as “labor land,” i.e. the intimate mental zone a birthing woman can reach during labor.
Rhythm provides an anchor of sorts, something for the woman to focus on during the spike and intensity of sensations.
For most women, rhythm comes from a very instinctive and primitive part of themselves. They may not even realize they are doing it! For example, they may tap their hand on a table, rock side to side with each contraction, sway in a deep squat, or hum audibly as each contraction peaks. The repetition patterns of each woman’s rhythm can provide comfort, distraction or focus, and a sense of grounding.
Once a woman finds her pattern it tends to become a crucial part of her laboring experience. Regardless of how abstract or superstitious the concept of rhythm may sound to some, the reality is that logic and rational thought is hardly what rules a woman’s behavior during the intensity of labor.
A woman’s rhythm can be compared to the proverbial magic feather: it allows her to believe that “As long as I can do this, I can get through this next contraction.” In this sense, it is in her benefit and best interest that we facilitate and encourage for her found rhythm to continue throughout the process.
(As a side but very concerning note, this is but one important reason why the shackling of laboring inmates, still practiced in many U.S. prisons, should alarm and horrify us; it is barbaric to restrain a woman against what her body needs to do to birth her child, in addition to presenting a medical hazard for both mother and baby.4)
In my case in particular, during the birth of my second child my rhythm became pressing a hot water bottle against my belly with each contraction. There was a moment during which my doula took the bottle from me to replace the now lukewarm water and make it hot again. As I felt new contraction coming on, I experienced what could best be described as sheer panic: my safety anchor was gone!
Hearing the alarm in my voice she hurried back in time, but that moment has stayed with me clearly for years and I reflect back on it often — it demonstrates how strong is our pull, our instinct, our need to preserve what feels correct for us as we birth our babies.
How does all of the above tie into our topic at hand? Well, all of the following ideas are examples of ways in which birthing women can tap into their rhythm.
The Swiss ball allows for a variety of positions which may be beneficial for the laboring woman.
A laboring woman may find comfort sitting on a large Swiss ball. Increased pressure and sensations on her bottom can make it very uncomfortable to sit on firmer surfaces. She may choose to sit upright, or lean forward resting her arms and head on a bed, the back of a chair, or her partner’s lap.
A slight bounce while sitting on the yoga ball may bring some relief to women during labor. This will depend entirely on how she’s feeling regarding feeling any pressure on her bottom.
This position can feel very adequate at times. The woman can kneel on the floor and hug the yoga ball; here she can rock back and forth, allowing her hips to open if she’s keeping her knees wide apart.
The following techniques have been adapted from what midwives in Mexico have done for centuries with their rebozos (shawls) — utilizing a secured, long fabric for support of the birthing woman as she moves freely and follows her body’s needs. Suspension trainers are a good substitute.
Some women will opt to go into a hinge position during contractions. Others may want to do it in between, to rest their back and/or keep the flow of motion going.
The deep squat is arguably one of the most helpful positions for a birthing woman. The opening of the hips, along with the natural downward pull of gravity make a great combination in helping labor progress. It’s even better when a woman can feel more stable in her position by holding on to a suspension system. A partner holding her hands works as well, although a partner may get tired and need a break, which in turn could impact the woman’s sensations and experience.
Similar to the squat, a deep lunge — often a side lunge — can help open up the hips and offer some relief from contractions.
Lacrosse Ball or Tennis Ball
Keep in mind the lacrosse ball tends to be denser than the tennis ball, and thus its pressure may be more intense. This may be perfect for some women, but it will be too much for others for whom a tennis ball may be a better option.
Back Labor Pressure Point
Some women will experience what is called “back labor.” Back labor refers to intense sensations on the woman’s lower back, just above the tailbone. Using a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball to counteract the pressure felt on that particular area with each contraction can offer some release.
A gentle massage with rolling the ball over the birthing woman’s back may be welcome. However, plenty of women cannot stand the feeling of being touched at all, and others who welcomed the massage initially may refuse the touch as labor progresses. Both situations are normal, as labor can be an intensive process where certain stimuli can feel overwhelming.
Walking and Climbing Stairs
Although this is not strictly gym equipment, we couldn’t pass the opportunity to mention the great benefits of the cheapest and most readily available form of fitness there is: walking.
Mobility during the early stages in labor is linked to reduced interventions, lowered chances of a C-section, and speedier deliveries.2 In a similar way, although potentially a little bit more challenging for some birthing women, is climbing stairs. Upright positions and plenty of movement ideally will be part of a pregnant woman’s laboring plan.
Numerous articles we own already for our fitness and wellness can double up as handy laboring tools. A variety of movements and positions will be beneficial to birthing women, and potentially have positive impact in her experience delivering her baby.
- Ondeck M, Healthy birth practice #2: walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor. J Perinat Educ. 2014;23(4):188-93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235058/
- Lawrence A, Lewis L, Hofmeyr GJ, Styles C, Maternal positions and mobility during first stage labour, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Aug 20;(8):CD003934. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003934.pub3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23959763
- Gruber KJ, Cupito SH, Dobson CF. Impact of doulas on healthy birth outcomes. J Perinat Educ. 2013;22(1):49-58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3647727/
- Clarke JG, Simon RE, Shackling and Separation: Motherhood in Prison, AMA Journal of Ethics, Virtual Mentor. 2013;15(9):779-785. 10.1001/virtualmentor.2013.15.9.pfor2-1309. https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/shackling-and-separation-motherhood-prison/2013-09