Exercise for a healthy pregnancy

There are many physical and mental benefits of an active pregnancy.

Even if you did no exercise before you got pregnant, it’s important to exercise now for a healthy pregnancy. Try to be active every day if you can. Even small things can make a difference, like walking to your local shops instead of driving or getting the bus.

Ideally, it’s good to aim for half an hour of activity every day but you don’t have to do it all at once. If you weren’t very active before you were pregnant, try to exercise safely.

Getting started

Download our pregnancy exercise guide.

You don’t have to be sporty to be active and you don’t need to join your local gym or exercise classes – just small changes in your daily routine can really help.

Begin with 15 minutes of non-stop activity three times a week. Increase this gradually to 30 minutes, 5 times a week. This can be as easy as going for a 30-minute walk.

If you can’t manage this much exercise, don’t worry – and don’t be put off. Any amount of activity is better than none.

If it helps, just think about being active every day rather than worrying about times and types of exercise. The main thing is to stay active as much as possible, doing things that make your heart beat faster.

Any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing counts. For example, you could try walking to the shops or climbing the stairs instead of using the lift at work.

Find an activity you enjoy

Making your exercise routine fun, or asking your partner or friend to join you, will help you stick with it.

Set yourself targets and reward your efforts. You could make an exercise goal plan to work out what you’re going to do, when, and how you’ll treat yourself afterwards.

If it helps, try stopping yourself from watching TV or checking your phone until after you’ve been for a walk or done a quick and easy pregnancy workout at home.

You don’t have to be exhausted by exercise to benefit from it. The goal is to build up to and keep a good level of fitness throughout your pregnancy.

Safe exercise in pregnancy

  • Check with your doctor or midwife if you plan to start a new form of exercise.
  • Always stop if something hurts, even if you’re used to being active.
  • If you join an exercise class that isn’t just for pregnant women, tell the teacher you’re pregnant so you can get the advice you need.
  • If you did a lot of exercise before you were pregnant, for example if you were a runner, you can keep it up as long as you feel comfortable.
  • Avoid overheating.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Make sure you can pass the ‘talk test’

What is the talk test?

The talk test is an easy way to tell if you’re doing the right amount of activity while pregnant and getting the most benefit from safe exercise.

  1. You should be doing enough to make you breathe deeply but you shouldn’t have to gasp for breath.
  2. If you can say a whole sentence before having to take a breath, you’re getting your activity level about right.
  3. If you can only say a few words between breaths, ease off a bit.

Find out more about when to stop exercising in pregnancy.

What exercise can I do in each trimester of pregnancy?

You can start exercising at any time during your pregnancy. Even if you’re used to being active, you’ll need to adapt your activities a bit as your bump gets bigger.

Find out what exercises are recommended during pregnancy.

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13 Tips to Help You Prepare for Childbirth and Labor

Ian Hooton/Getty Images

It often feels like life is moving faster and faster all the time, but in the delivery room, things are actually slowing down. A National Institutes of Health study found that childbirth for first-time moms now takes 2.6 hours longer than it did 50 years ago. To make that extra time in the delivery room less painful and more joyful, it helps to know how to make the hard work of having a baby more manageable. Starting today, here are 12 things you can do to make your birth experience that much easier.

1. Join a Class

Take a childbirth course and enroll as early as possible: Not only do classes fill up fast, but some, such as The Bradley Method courses, run 12 weeks, which means you need to start them in your second trimester.

Also, find out what your doctor’s philosophy is on Cesarean sections and epidurals versus drug-free ways of managing pain. Ask tough questions—and “stupid” ones, too— to learn about the different stages of labor so you know what to expect. “The better prepared you are, the more choices you have during labor,” says nurse practitioner Lynette Miya, M.N., R.N.P., of Torrance, Calif. “You don’t want to arrive at the hospital without any idea of what’s going to happen.” Once labor starts, no surprise is a good surprise.

  • RELATED: What to Expect in Childbirth Classes

2. Find Strength and Focus

“The most important thing women learn through yoga is how to focus,” says Carmela Cattuti, L.P.N., a Boston-based Kripalu certified instructor specializing in prenatal yoga certification training. “It also strengthens the entire body, increases flexibility, and gives you stamina. But what is possibly even more helpful is that it helps your mind relax.” This, in turn, leaves your body free to go about the business of birthing.

3. Nix Negativity

Some childbirth educators believe graphic images, catastrophic tales, and words of discouragement (“You’ll never be able to get that monster out without a C-section!”) can affect your subconscious and create a mental block during labor.

At best, negative thoughts make labor stressful; at worst, they’ll actually intensify pain. Change the channel on the TV, tune out or walk away when the subject matter makes you uncomfortable; also, shield yourself from scary labor Facebook threads by logging off.

4. Be Prepared

When you’re in the grip of labor, it’s too late to crack open that self-hypnosis book or locate a birthing ball. Preparation counts.

  • RELATED: The Truth About Labor Pain

Case in point: Squatting increases the size of the pelvic opening by about 28 percent. But if you wait until you’re in labor to try it for the first time, your squatting stamina won’t add up to, well, squat.

If you’re feeling fearful about labor and delivery, deal with your concerns at the beginning of your pregnancy, not the end, recommends Heather Kleber, a certified childbirth educator and doula in Littleton, Colo. “Think about what your fears are and work through them early,” she says.

5. Seek Support

Doulas are nonmedical professionals trained to provide emotional and physical support as well as information to women during pregnancy and labor. Studies have found that with a trained doula’s continuous support, labor times are shorter and the need for epidurals, C-sections, oxytocin for induction and forceps were decreased by about half. Another study concluded that women who received support through a hospital- based doula program were more likely to attempt breastfeeding. Check out DONA International ( to help you locate a certified doula in your area.

6. Have Tricks Up Your Sleeve

Learn several effective techniques to manage pain during childbirth, such as self-hypnosis, labor position changes, heat pack application, and different breathing methods. “If you don’t know what your options are, you don’t have any,” says Tracy Hartley, a certified doula and owner of B*E*S*T Doula Service in Los Angeles.

Knowing that effective means of pain relief are available can help lessen your anxiety. Talk with your doctor beforehand about medication and other options and include your intentions in your birth plan.

7. Get Up

Upright positions, such as standing, walking, kneeling, slow dancing, sitting, and squatting, allow gravity to help move the baby down and out.

“Sometimes, getting the baby into the pelvis is like fitting a key into a lock,” Hartley says. “You need to do a little jiggling. Rocking back and forth on your hands and knees may help to get the baby into position.”

8. Set the Scene

For most women, a dark and quiet environment is ideal during labor, so ask your nurse or partner to dim the lights and minimize noise. Little touches make a difference: a favorite pillow, pair of socks , or soothing scent.

  • RELATED: 8 Ways to Make the Delivery Room Feel More Like Home

Many hospitals also offer alternative delivery rooms that look more like your mom’s house than a maternity ward. “Our birthing-center rooms have queen-size beds, regular curtains, even area rugs,” says June Egee, R.N., coordinator of the birthing center at Women and Infants Hospital, in Providence. Even if you end up with a standard hospital room, make sure to give it a personal touch. Take along a picture from home, or make a playlist. (Many women find that listening to soft music with a steady beat helps them count through their contractions.)

9. Relax

“The more at ease a woman is, the better able she is to deal with the challenges of labor,” says Melody Cook, a certified prenatal and postpartum massage therapist in Richardson, Texas. “She’s also going to think more calmly and clearly.”

One of the latest techniques for staying calm during childbirth is HypnoBirthing, in which mothers-to-be learn how to put themselves into a deeply relaxed state. A study by the University of Florida, in Gainsville, found that women trained in self-hypnosis were better able to manage their anxiety and discomfort and had fewer complications and shorter hospital stays than other women.

Not sure you want to go quite that far? Try visualization. “I encourage my patients to picture a field of flowers or think about holding their baby in their arms,” says Linda Given Welch, director of nurse-midwifery at Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. Feel free to improvise. That’s what Kathy Chia, of New York City, did. “My husband helped me visualize the contractions by describing the graph peaks on the monitor. I closed my eyes and imagined myself cycling up a huge mountain, reaching the top, and then coming back down.”

10. Be a Water Baby

The warmth and weightlessness of a bath can be soothing throughout your labor, so if you have access to a warm tub, take the plunge. (Be sure to get your doctor or midwife’s green light before doing so; there’s a risk of infection if your water has broken.)

If a soak isn’t possible, try taking a shower.

11. Try Massage

Added pressure might seem like the last thing you’d want during labor. But touch can help ease a woman’s tense body. “Massage releases endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals,” says Cook. A neck or foot rub can do wonders to take a woman’s mind off her contractions. Or have your partner or birthing coach apply counterpressure with these three techniques.

Tailbone press. With each contraction, your partner presses on your tailbone with the heel of his hand or a tennis ball.

Back caress. Your partner lightly runs his fingertips over your shoulders and down your back.

Pelvis press. While standing behind you, your partner puts his hands on your hips and pulls back on them firmly with each contraction (you tell him when). This maneuver can also help open the pelvis slightly to make room for your baby.

  • RELATED: 25 Things to Do Before You Deliver

12. Stay True to Yourself

Labor transforms you, but it won’t make you suddenly love lime Jell-O, New Age music, or the sight of your in-laws as you breathe through a contraction. People may push all kinds of suggestions on you during labor; listen but don’t feel you have to go along with them.

It’s your body, your baby and your labor, so stick to your guns. Consider it practice for when your baby is a teenager.

13. Share Your Fears

Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor that you’re afraid; just talking about it may help, and she may have ideas about how to reduce your anxiety. If your physician doesn’t seem to listen or lacks compassion, consider finding a new doctor.

  • By Gayle Sato and Jennifer Cody Epstein

Parents Magazine

It may seem like your pregnancy will go on forever, but you’ll get to meet your new baby before you know it. In the meantime, take advantage of the long wait to prepare as best you can for the changes ahead. A little advance planning now will make it easier to relax and enjoy your pregnancy as your due date nears.

Here are some helpful ways to prepare for your baby’s arrival:

Learn about the birth process

The prospect of giving birth can be daunting, and you may be tempted to put it all out of your mind until it happens. But Glade Curtis, obstetrician and coauthor of Your Pregnancy Week by Week, advises against this strategy. “In my experience, women who learn about birth ahead of time are more active participants in their own birth process, which leads to better outcomes,” he says.

Consider taking a birth class to learn about the stages of labor, options for pain management, breathing techniques, and medical equipment that may be used during your delivery. It’s a good idea to start looking into classes midway through your pregnancy to make sure you can get into one you like – and have time to take it!

You can also learn about different ways of giving birth by watching videos of actual deliveries, including natural birth, water birth, birth with an epidural, delivery by c-section, and more.

Once you’ve done your research, you might want to list your preferences in a birth plan. But keep in mind that being well informed and armed with a birth plan doesn’t mean your labor and delivery will go exactly as planned.

“There are so many twists and turns that labor can take, and no one can predict how it will go,” says Dianne Randall, a childbirth and lactation educator at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns in San Diego.

Learn about your options for labor, birth, and after, and make your wishes clear.

Find a doctor for your baby

You may want to start looking for a pediatrician or family doctor for your baby midway through your pregnancy. That may seem early, but you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to find a physician who will be a good fit for your family – and who is taking new patients and accepts your insurance.

Talk to your health insurance provider to find out how to add your baby to your policy, and see which local doctors are covered. Make sure you understand how your insurance plan works, especially regarding your benefits for labor, delivery, and maternity care.

Get on the same page as your partner

Just as it’s important talk about how your partner can help you during labor, be sure to discuss what you’ll need from each other during the newborn period. Differing expectations can create big conflicts, so try to work this out ahead of time as best you can.

Don’t assume that your partner knows how much your new baby will turn your lives upside down. Talk about how you’ll divide baby and household duties. And educate your partner about less obvious things, like how to support you in breastfeeding.

You can also make life easier by hashing out some big decisions now, like what to name your baby, whether to circumcise, how you’ll feed your baby, and whether to have a religious ceremony (such as a baptism or baby naming).

Talk to veteran moms

There are all kinds of things about new motherhood that, for whatever reason, sometimes remain taboo subjects – leaking pee, the baby blues, and diminished sex drive, just to name a few.

You won’t have the same experience as your friends, but finding out about certain things ahead of time can reduce the shock factor. So ask your mom friends for the real deal.

“For example, there’s a myth that bonding should happen right away. That’s not true for everyone,” says Patricia O’Laughlin, a marriage and family therapist at Center for the Psychology of Women in Los Angeles. “Finding honest people who are willing to share their experiences can help you adjust your expectations.”

But if a friend starts rambling on about her third cousin’s rare-but-terrifying labor complication, gently put a stop to it and ask for some helpful suggestions on diaper brands instead. Try the BabyCenter birth clubs for great advice from women in all stages of pregnancy and childrearing.

Prepare older siblings – and pets

The new baby may rock your older children’s world even more than yours. Fortunately, your family has several months to get used to the idea, and there are things you can do to set the stage for a new brother or sister.

Many parents use a baby doll to help their child understand what’s coming. Older toddlers or preschoolers enjoy the pretend play, and when they see you diapering or feeding the new baby later, it will seem familiar.

Some hospitals have sibling classes, where older kids can learn about babies – why they cry, how to keep them safe, and why they sleep so much. “Kids really love this. It makes them feel part of the family,” says childbirth educator Randall.

As your due date approaches, make sure you’ve lined up someone to care for your children during the birth and afterward.

Pets also benefit from special pre-baby preparation. Local trainers may offer classes, or you can turn to books, articles, or videos for tips on getting your pet used to the new baby. And consider whether you’ll need to make arrangements with a pet sitter or dog walker for when you’re away from home.

Line up help for after the birth

In those first postpartum weeks, extra help is essential. “Moms who get help will be better equipped to help their babies, which is infinitely more valuable than trying to be some superhero mom who does it all herself,” says O’Laughlin.

If you’re lucky enough to have a relative who can help you, consider having a sit-down before the baby arrives to discuss specifics. “Talking about it ahead of time can save a lot of headaches,” says Randall. Grandma may to want swoop in and take care of that cute bundle of joy, but Randall says it’s more important for the parents to figure out baby care together.

So where does that leave the grandmas? “They should focus on the nest rather than the baby,” she says. “This means laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and errands.”

Of course, not all potential helpers will be open to this. But many genuinely want to help you in the best way possible and will appreciate hearing exactly what you need.

You can also hire help, such as a postpartum doula, night nanny, or cleaning service. “I’m a clean freak, so I saved up for months and paid for a cleaning service to come in every week for the first eight weeks following my baby’s birth. It was wonderful,” says mom Ali Bergstrom.

Another service to consider: babysitting for your older children so you can rest. “Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety or depression for some people, so it’s crucial to get sleep when you can,” says O’Laughlin.

A well-timed babysitter can ensure you get a precious hour to snooze. “I arranged to have family and friends take the older kids to the park and the zoo and out for pizza,” says Bergstrom. “They really enjoyed these special outings.”

Know what to do when labor starts

Long before the first contractions hit, you’ll want a firm plan in place about who to call, where to go, and when to leave.

Your healthcare provider should give you a clear set of guidelines on what to do when you go into labor, like when to call and when to head for the hospital or birth center (or when to call the midwife if you’re planning a home birth). Decide who will accompany you, and have a few back-ups just in case.

Plan the route you’ll take ahead of time, including where to park and which entrance to use when it’s time to check yourself in. You can get a handle on these logistics by taking a tour of your hospital or birth center. On the tour, you’ll also learn about basic policies and see the labor rooms and nursery.

If you can, register ahead of time to get the paperwork out of the way. That way when labor rolls around, you’ll be able to bypass the bureaucracy and breeze right in.

Decide who will attend the birth

This is a very personal decision. Some moms like a full room, including their partner, a doula, a friend or two, their mom, and their mother-in-law present to witness the miracle of birth and provide support. (If you fall into this category, check with the hospital or birthing center to see how many people are allowed.)

Others prefer as few people present as possible. Give some thought to what you want, so that there are no misunderstandings, unwelcome observers, or offended grandmothers.

It can also be helpful to designate a “family spokesperson” ahead of time – that is, someone who can send emails and make phone calls (or spread the news on social networking sites) to let everyone know when your baby arrives.

Finally, remember that labor can be exhausting, and visitors popping by unannounced during your recovery may not make for the most restful experience. Mary Lou Light, mother and baby nurse, recommends limiting the number of visitors. And if it starts to get overwhelming, ask a nurse to act as bouncer.

“I’ve seen many moms who want to sleep or breastfeed, but they feel impolite asking the visitors to leave. We nurses do it for them,” says Light.

Pack your bag

The last thing you’ll want to worry about when labor starts is whether you have a toothbrush packed. Ease your mind by getting your bag together a few weeks before your due date. Make a comprehensive packing list for the hospital or birth center or, if you know you’re having a c-section, a more specific c-section list.

In addition to the essentials, think about personal items that can make your hospital stay more comfortable. “I bought nice slippers so I could feel good walking around the hospital, and I also brought my own pillow,” says Rachel Scott, who has eight children.

Stock up on the essentials (but don’t go overboard)

A new baby requires an installed car seat, diapers, wipes, some clothing, and a safe place to sleep. Add bottles if you’re bottle feeding, formula if you’re formula feeding, and nursing bras and pads if you’re breastfeeding (though some nursing moms do just fine without them).

Don’t feel pressured to have every baby product you’ll ever need ready to go. You can wait on some items, and getting preoccupied with having all the right stuff can detract from more important emotional preparation. Talk to mom friends or other BabyCenter moms about which items they really found useful, and don’t worry about the rest.

One final idea: Stock up on household must-haves before the birth to avoid trips to the store afterward. Pantry staples, frozen food, toiletries, medicine, toilet paper, shampoo – even extra pairs of underwear – often come in very handy when you first bring your baby home.

5 exercises and techniques to train for childbirth

You wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it. Childbirth should be the same way. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery is just as taxing – or more! – on the body.

You’re busy – working, maybe caring for other children, spending time with friends and family, living life. Where will you find the time to squeeze in extra exercise? Unlike a marathon, you don’t need to spend hours on end training. Practicing a few simple exercises and techniques can help relieve pain and discomfort and prepare your body to bring a child into the world.

Like runners have coaches, you don’t have to train alone. A physical therapist can help you remain more comfortable during pregnancy and labor, as well as prevent potential health issues down the line. Learn about the role physical therapists play in pregnancy and postpartum care, as well as five exercises and techniques you can practice to get your body ready for labor and delivery.

How can physical therapy help during pregnancy?

“I never would have thought about seeing a physical therapist.” Pregnant and postpartum women tell us this all the time.
The American Physical Therapy Association has published a Section on Women’s Health for nearly 40 years. Originally, it focused solely on the care of women before, during, and after pregnancy. While its scope has expanded over the years, helping pregnant and postpartum women remains a cornerstone.
If you think physical therapists only help patients recover from injury or surgery, you’re not alone. While rehabilitation is part of our job, we also focus on injury prevention. As the healthcare industry begins to emphasize wellness more, doctors and patients are becoming more aware of what we can offer during and after pregnancy.
Our team at the University Hospital Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on pelvic health. Along with treating male and female bowel problems, bladder dysfunction, and sexual health issues, we also are passionate about working with women during pregnancy and postpartum.
We can help you:

  • Learn to push during delivery
  • Lengthen pelvic muscles and soften tissue
  • Practice getting into labor positions
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Prevent or treat urinary incontinence
  • Relieve back pain
  • Relieve pain during sexual intercourse

When should I see a physical therapist during pregnancy?

Pain isn’t normal, and this doesn’t change just because you’re pregnant. While your body will change drastically during pregnancy, it doesn’t mean you need to feel uncomfortable or live with pain for 40 weeks or more.
We typically see patients after they have developed pain. Ideally, though, we would like to see you right after the first trimester to start pelvic floor exercises. These keep your pelvis strong and prevent incontinence or prolapse, in which organs such as the uterus fall down or slip out of place. You may have read in a magazine how to do Kegel exercises, but most women don’t do them correctly. We can make sure you are performing them effectively.
Over the course of the pregnancy, we will work with you on proper body mechanics. As your uterus grows, your center of gravity will shift, and your posture and coordination will change. Some muscles will become tight while others will loosen and weaken. We’ll teach you exercises and yoga poses that will strengthen and relax muscles and help you remain comfortable and injury-free.
About five weeks before your due date, we can train you and your partner to do perineal massage. This method relaxes and softens the perineum, the area between the vagina and rectum. It can decrease the likelihood of tearing during delivery.
You may think you know how to push, but you’re likely doing it wrong. We can teach you to push properly so you get the action you’re looking for without holding your breath.
We’ll also work on labor positions so you can get into and out of them comfortably. There is so much going on during labor that you won’t have time to think. By practicing a few things beforehand, they’ll become automatic.
Check with your insurance company about whether you have physical therapy benefits and if they cover wellness visits as well as injury rehabilitation.
Like all health fields, physical therapists specialize in certain areas. When looking for a physical therapist, a few questions to ask include:

  • Have you been trained specifically to treat pregnant or postpartum patients?
  • Do you do internal work if necessary? This includes intravaginal or intrarectal manual therapy treatment of the pelvic floor muscles, connective tissues, scar tissue, etc.

4 Labor Exercises to Help Ease Labor

First comes pregnancy. Then comes the research. You can prepare for labor by reading books, listening to birth stories from other moms, and working with your doctor or midwife to come up with your own birth plan.

But wait; there’s more you can do! By incorporating exercise into your routine during pregnancy you can build stamina and strengthen key muscles. And that will serve you well once those contractions start up. Here are four preparing-for-labor exercises to try with your doctor’s approval.

1. Labor exercise: Kegels

Why they help: While Kegels can be beneficial for all women, they’re especially important during pregnancy. These exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles—the muscles that support your uterus, bowel, and bladder. They’ll be busy during labor, especially when it comes time to push.

How to: To identify where the pelvic floor muscles are located, pretend you have to urinate and then cut it short. That movement tightens the pelvic floor muscles. To do a Kegel, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold for 10 seconds before releasing. Make sure that your stomach muscles are relaxed and that you’re breathing normally. Try to do 10 to 15 reps, two to three times a day.

2. Labor exercise: Squats

Why they help: Squatting can widen your pelvic opening, giving your baby a smoother exit during labor. By practicing squats now, you’ll find it easier on the big day. Bonus: Squats can also help with lower back pain while you’re pregnant, so they’re a win-win labor exercise.

How to: Stand up straight with your back against a wall and legs shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees and slide down the wall, going as low as you comfortably can. Hold for five seconds, then slide back up. Repeat, working up to 10 reps. You can place a fitness ball between your back and the wall to make sliding a little easier.

3. Labor exercise: Pelvic tilts

Why they help: Pelvic tilts strengthen your abdominal and pelvic muscles and minimize back pain once you’re in labor.

How to: You can do pelvic tilts on the floor or while standing, whichever is most comfortable for you.

  • For the floor version: Get on your hands and knees, keeping your head level with your back. Pull your stomach in, pushing up with your back like you’re making a camel hump. Then, push your pelvis forward, tucking in your behind. Hold it for a few seconds and then relax, without letting your stomach muscles sag. Repeat three to five times, building up to 10 reps.
  • For the standing version: Place your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Then, with your hands on your hips, push your pelvis forward, tucking in your behind. Hold, relax, and repeat three to five times, building up to 10 reps.

4. Labor exercise: Prenatal yoga

Why it helps: Researchers have found that pregnant women who did yoga during their pregnancy reported feeling more comfortable during labor. Even after your baby is born, yoga is full of exercises that can help ease tension.

How to: If you’re unsure how to get started, find a studio near you. If you’re taking a regular yoga class instead of prenatal, let your instructor know you’re pregnant so you can participate with pregnancy modifications.

Those are four preparing-for-labor exercises to help you get ready for the big day. Give ‘em a whirl and see how you feel. Curious about other ways you can prep for birth? We’ve compiled some additional tips to help you be as prepared as possible.

Are you past your due date, but seem to have a stubborn baby who just doesn’t want to come out? Are you hoping to naturally stimulate labor so you won’t have to be induced with medication?

As you get closer to or past your due date, you may be wondering if you should be trying to induce labor or if it’s best to let your baby come on their own. While most babies come out when they are ready, others need a little extra help to get things moving, so mom can avoid a medical induction that may lead to a cascade of interventions.

In this post, we’ll discuss when it’s okay to try to induce labor, who shouldn’t use exercise to stimulate labor, and 8 effective exercises that can help naturally induce labor.

When Is it Okay to Try to Induce Labor?

It’s always best to speak with your obstetrician or midwife before trying to induce labor, but generally speaking, between 39 to 41 weeks gestation is the optimal time to try to encourage labor to start. Babies born during this period are considered full-term and have the best possible health outcomes (1).

If you try to induce labor too early, your baby could have issues with breastfeeding, jaundice, or even breathing problems. Babies who go to 39 to 40 weeks gestation have also been shown to have better brain development than those born before this period.

However, if you have not given birth by 42 weeks, your care provider will monitor you more closely and discuss possible medical interventions. There are some risks that begin to increase at this point, such as harder labor, placenta deterioration, fetal distress, decreased amount of amniotic fluid, and in rare cases, stillbirth (2).

Most care providers and ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology) recommend at least offering induction and doing a biophysical profile and nonstress test at 41 weeks (3).

Editor’s Note:

Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

There are also some cases where you might be facing an early medical induction due to other risk factors, but you may want to try some natural methods first. Remember: Natural induction methods may be a good option for you to try first, but again, it’s always best to discuss your options with your care provider.

Who Shouldn’t Use Exercise to Induce Labor?

Regular exercise is safe for the majority of pregnant women. However, there are some instances where exercises may not be the safest option for trying to induce labor.

If you have any of the following conditions, it’s best to speak with your care provider before performing any exercise.

  • Prescribed bed rest.
  • Pre-eclampsia.
  • Severely high or low amniotic fluid.
  • Placenta previa, or any other condition involving the placenta.
  • History of premature labor.
  • Gestational hypertension.
  • Short cervix.

8 Activities to Naturally Induce Labor

If you’re at or past your due date, you may want to try some of these 8 activities to help get things moving and avoid a medical induction.

1. Walking

A simple walk keeps your body healthy and can even help jump-start labor. It has also been shown to help speed up slow labors. This low-impact exercise promotes uterine contractions, particularly with women who haven’t been as active during their pregnancy.

By taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, you can help your cervix to dilate and your baby to drop further into your pelvis. If nothing else, it’s a pleasant distraction that will help relax your body and your mind.

So if you’re impatiently awaiting your baby’s arrival, try hitting the trail, strolling the mall, or simply walking around your house.

2. Climbing Stairs

Walking up the stairs will naturally angle your body at about 40 to 45 degrees, which encourages your baby to move lower into your pelvis.

Skipping a step opens the pelvis more, allowing your baby to descend even further down, putting gentle pressure on your cervix, encouraging it to thin and dilate — which is the exact cycle of events required for labor to occur.

Find a flight of stairs and head up and down them a few times.

Use Your Head As Well As Your Legs

Be sure to hold onto the handrail or have your partner help you for safety purposes.

3. Squats

Squats are a great exercise to routinely do throughout your entire pregnancy, as they help you prepare for labor and maintain your strength in your legs, hips, and pelvic floor.

Squats allow gravity to help open your pelvis, giving your baby more room to descend further into the birth canal, which helps kick-start labor. They have also been shown to reduce labor times (4).

So, whenever you need to bend over to pick something up, squat instead!

To do squats properly, make sure you are standing straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart. As you gently squat down, keep your back straight and be sure your knees aren’t protruding.

Try to hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before using your legs to lift yourself back up to the standing position.

4. Lunges

Lunges can help prepare your body for the natural birth you’ve always dreamed of. Doing lunges daily will help warm up your hips and open your pelvis, allowing more room for your baby to rotate and descend.

To do a lunge, stand with your feet together, then take a giant step forward and drop your back knee to the ground. Your front knee should be inline with your front ankle, your back knee should be dropped below your back ankle, and your spine should be straight.

Try to hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds or until you feel a burning sensation and then push back up.

This may be a difficult exercise to perform toward the end of pregnancy, so don’t be afraid to ask your partner or your doula for some assistance.

5. Birthing Ball

Get off that couch and sit on your birthing ball! Birthing balls, also known as exercise balls, are an excellent tool to help prepare your body for baby and naturally induce labor.

By sitting on your birthing ball with wide legs, you will help increase blood flow to your uterus, placenta, and baby. You’ll also open your pelvic outlet, encourage baby’s descent, and help get your baby into the correct position.

Birthing balls have also been shown to help create easier and faster births, and better postpartum recoveries (5).

There are many useful exercises you can do with your birthing ball, but some of the most useful ones for stimulating labor include bouncing, leaning, circular hip rotations, and rocking back and forth. Circular hip rotations help open your pelvis to your babe’s head, tuck his or her little chin, and turn the baby to the perfect position

6. Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilts are one of the simplest and most useful exercises to induce labor naturally. They keep the pelvic joints loose and are an excellent way to help get your baby into the optimal birthing position.

There are several different ways to do pelvic tilts, but the safest way during pregnancy is to do them on your hands and knees. These are also commonly known as the cat-cow stretch in yoga practices.

You will lift your lower back toward the ceiling, hold it for 5 to 10 seconds, and then straighten your back. You can do about 30 to 40 of these per day (6).

7. Butterfly Stretch

Remember that butterfly stretch you did during your gym class warm-ups? This classic stretching position increases flexibility in your pelvic joints, which can aid in inducing labor naturally.

To do this stretch, sit up straight on the floor — it may be helpful to sit with your back against a wall. Place the soles of your feet together, and gently press your knees toward the ground with your hands or elbows.

Remain in this position for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 5 to 10 times. This will stretch the muscles in your back, hips, pelvis, and inner thighs, preparing your body for a successful labor and delivery.

8. Sex

Having sex is what got you into this situation, and it may help get you out of it as well!

Doing the deed not only burns calories, but is also a great way to help stimulate labor. Orgasm prompts the release of oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract.

It also creates the release of prostaglandins, which are natural hormone-like substances that soften the cervix and potentially cause dilation. Prostaglandins have also been found to be present in semen (7).

You should avoid this method if your water has already broke, as it will increase your risk of infection.

Getting Baby into the “Sweet Spot”

When baby is overdue, you may be racking your brain to try to figure out what else you can do. Some believe that babies don’t come until they are engaged in your pelvis and positioned properly.

By getting chiropractic care throughout pregnancy, you improve your chances of getting baby into the pelvis before labor. There are exercises that many birth workers use to help baby into a suitable position for birth (source). Some of these exercises include:

  • Hands and knees position: Alternating between the yoga poses cat and cow, where you arch your spine and sway your back.
  • Inversions: Turning upside down in forward leaning inversion may help reposition baby. If you are going to try this, be careful- pregnant woman can be off balance! Place your knees on an elevated surface, like a couch, and your arms on the ground.
  • Belly lift: Lift your belly and flatten your back. This works particularly well during any contractions that you may be experiencing.
  • Rebozo: The Rebozo is a long swath of handwoven fabric from Mexican culture that is six feet by two feet. It can be used in pregnancy and labor to relax the muscles around the pelvis to give the baby space to turn. Some women choose to tie it tightly around the hips and support the belly.
  • Hip circles and figure 8s: Moving your hips in large circles and figure 8s can help finagle baby into a better place.

Get Moving

If you’re past due and trying to get things moving, then you need to start moving.

But remember, while exercise can be quite useful for opening the pelvis and getting baby into a good position, try not to overdo it, as you’ll need plenty of energy for when you’re in labor.

Did you try to induce your labor naturally? What methods worked for you?

Last Updated on November 7, 2019

Exercises during pregnancy are good not only to keep you and your baby healthy but also to prepare the body for the rigours of labour. Regular exercising readies the muscles and ligaments in the pelvis to go through delivery with lesser effort. Prenatal exercises also help to position the baby optimally for childbirth.

Exercises to Induce Labour Naturally

Here are 9 exercises that will help induce labour and get your body ready for the baby:

1. Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilts are great for strengthening the pelvic muscles and prepping them for labour. It is one of the best exercises to help induce labour naturally and can be started early on during pregnancy. Begin by lying down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Flatten your back against the floor and slowly lift and push the pelvis up. Hold it in this position for about 10 seconds and release slowly. Exercise twice a day for 10 minutes for pelvic strength.

A variation of the pelvic tilts is called the angry cat or the cat/cow stretch. It is to be done on all fours, facing the ground. It helps in easing back pain during pregnancy while strengthening the abdominal muscles.

2. Squatting

Squatting is one of the most natural movements of the body and is among the safest exercises that can be performed during pregnancy. It builds strength in various muscles in the thighs, the lower back and the abdomen while opening up the pelvis. Squats can be performed throughout a healthy pregnancy – doing them is thought to help orient the baby into position for delivery.

Stand with your feet slightly wider apart than your hips, and toes pointing forward. If you need support or stability, hold the back of a chair placed in front of you. Keeping your back straight, go down as though you’re about to sit on a chair. You can either do a full squat- go down all the way – or a half squat where your lower lack doesn’t go below your knees. Hold this position for 5 or 10 seconds, take a deep breath and exhale as you rise back up.

3. Exercise Ball

An exercise ball is a fun addition to your workout routine, and it can double as a chair if you’re a working mom. Sit at the centre of the ball with your feet flat on the ground, and knees bent. Use your feet to roll back and forth, or just bounce up and down gently on the exercise ball. Rolling on the ball and gentle bouncing are some good exercises to induce labour at 38 weeks as the bouncing motion can help position the baby for a natural birth. However, you should take extreme care with this exercise because balancing can be tough during the last few weeks of pregnancy, and there is a risk of falling if not done with help.

4. Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises activate the pelvic floor muscles that support pelvic organs such as the bladder, urethra, vagina, uterus, small intestines, and rectum. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and gaining good control over them can help during the pushing stage of labour. It is said that by voluntarily relaxing them, you can ease the birthing process.

To find your pelvic floor muscles, tighten the muscles around your vagina and like you interrupt the flow of urine when you pee. However, do not try this while you’re actually passing urine as that can prove to be harmful. If you can do this without constricting the muscles of your thighs, hips and buttocks, you’ve located the pelvic floor muscles. Once you learn how to isolate and control them, practice slow contractions. Contract the pelvic floor muscles tighter for a count of five seconds, hold for five seconds, and release to a count of five. Practice this 10 or 15 times a day.

5. Butterfly Pose

The butterfly pose is a simple exercise that opens up your pelvis and builds flexibility and strength in the surrounding muscles, including the back and thigh. The butterfly pose is easy and can be done from the moment you’re pregnant until the time you deliver.

Sit on the floor and put the soles of your feet together. Pulse your legs up and down like the wings of a butterfly and feel the muscles in your thigh stretch. Maintain a pace and range of motion that feels comfortable to you. A variant of butterflies involves sitting in the same position and gently pushing the knees down to the floor using your elbows and feeling the stretch in your inner thigh muscles.

6. Lunges

Lunges are effective in warming up the hips and opening them up to let the baby rotate and descend. They can be used to induce labour naturally. Stand with both the legs together and take one big step forward. Descend your lower back while pivoting on the front knee while you feel the muscles in your back and hind leg stretch. For added safety and balance, push up against a wall while you do it. Alternate the legs and repeat the exercise about 10 times with each leg.

7. Stair Climbing

Climbing stairs requires you to use all your lower back and leg muscles. The stretching and movement of the hips help orient the baby’s head down towards the birth canal. Stair climbing is a wonderful way of inducing labour naturally as it prepares the body for the physical exertion of labour. It also presses on the cervix, prompting it to dilate and open up the pelvic region.

8. Walking

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that walking has tons of benefits for your body during pregnancy – this low impact aerobic exercise is a perfect way to induce labour naturally. It is believed that walking helps the baby descend into the lower part of the uterus, and also stimulates the cervix to dilate and get ready for labour. Walking is also known to be helpful in stimulating uterine contractions in women who were advised bed rest during pregnancy.

9. Back Stretches

Back stretches are among the best exercises for labour pain reduction as they help relieve muscle tightness during labour. The following exercise stretches the muscles along the spine, shoulders and the back of your legs. It can also be tried whenever you feel a tension in the back.

Facing a wall, bend forward pivoting at the hips, so your upper body makes a 90-degree angle with your legs. The back should be flat and the legs straight or slightly bent. Now, place your hands on the wall at the shoulder level. Relax your head while you look down, keeping it at the level of your arms. Push your hands into the wall as you lean back from the hips until you feel a stretch in your back and the muscles in the back of your legs. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and return your hips to a neutral position.

Precautions to Take When Doing Exercise to Induce Labour

Exercising to induce labour is good for both you and the baby. However, since it is a sensitive time, there are some simple precautions that will go a long way. Here are a few things to take care of when doing exercises to induce labour:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after your exercise. Be sure to keep hydrating yourself.
  • Make sure to wear a bra that supports your breasts completely and keeps you comfortable.
  • Keep yourself moving constantly. This does not mean that you don’t sit and take rest; it means that you should try avoiding laying on your back or sitting all the time, as it can cause your muscles to stiffen. Constantly moving your legs, arms, and the rest of your body every now and then will also help with your exercise.

Regular exercises throughout pregnancy help prepare your body for a natural birth. They are also a wonderful way to induce labour naturally while keeping you warmed up for the stresses of childbirth. So, don’t hesitate to keep yourself active and watch your birthing process go smoothly!

Resources and References: ACOG

Also Read:

Easy Ways to Induce Labour
Exercises to Avoid during Pregnancy

Inducing Labor: The Facts About Exercise, Sex, and Medical Intervention

It’s not uncommon for doctors to induce labor to get child delivery started. Some parents who are past their due date may even research how to induce labor at home before they even reach the hospital. And there are many ways to get contractions started, including exercises to induce labor, sex to induce labor, a technique known as “membrane stripping”, and even some medications.

Advances in medical science have made inducing labor relatively straightforward, but letting nature run its course is generally preferred. Still, parents have options when it comes to kickstarting the mother’s body into contractions. And it can be pretty fun, too.


Non-medical Methods for Inducing Labor

Most mothers will attest that the simple act of walking seems like a workout unto itself. It turns out it is, and expecting mothers needn’t enroll in CrossFit to stimulate their bodies. If they’re at or beyond the due date and want to move things along, light to moderate exercise can help. And for a pregnant woman, simply taking a walk is moderate exercise.

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“Women walk all the time, but during the third trimester, sometimes a lot of walking can cause contractions and kick someone into labor,” says Dr. Tamika Auguste, COG Fellow and OB/GYN at MedStar Health in Washington, DC.

Many people tell mothers that eating spicy food or consuming castor oil will help kickstart labor. Those, according to Auguste, are simply “old wives tales.” While they likely won’t help matters they won’t hurt mothers either. At the very least they offer an excuse to dine on Thai food. However, the “daddy method” (sex, basically) is different. Often lumped into the old wives category there’s some debate as to whether third-trimester intercourse makes a difference. Auguste says that sex, can, in fact, help kickstart the birth process. And it’s totally safe. At the very least, it’s light to moderate exercise.

“Some say lots of intercourse … There’s actually really good science behind it,” says Auguste. “With intercourse natural prostaglandins (which help induce labor) are released from the uterus, and that can cause contractions to start.”


Medical Methods for Inducing Labor

There are a number of reasons a mother might want to induce: discomfort, the desire for her OB/GYN to be there for the birth (kids create scheduling conflicts before they’re even born), an extremely late child. Thankfully, parents can plan ahead, making inducing labor into something of a contingency plan.

“When the topic of induction comes up, have a good conversation with your healthcare provider about your desires and what the doctor recommends and come up with a plan together,” says Auguste. “When people do that, the induction process is less scary.”

Case in point: membrane stripping, in which the doctor inserts a finger into the cervix and performs a “sweep” to separate the uterus and the amniotic sack, releasing those induction-sparking prostaglandins. It’s an uncomfortable-yet-routine natural solution doctors will often use on a “ripened” cervix to get contractions going.


Medical induction is also an option, and it’s all relatively straightforward. If a cervix is “ripe” — prime for the beginning of dilation — doctors could administer an IV of Pitocin, the most commonly known induction drug. It is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin. But doctors can administer other prostaglandin drugs such as misoprostol in order to initiate ripening of the cervix and get it ready for contractions.

It’s all very fascinating, and very routine stuff, but not something the partner of an expectant mother has a ton of say in. To be a good partner and assist in the quest to induce labor in lieu of elective induction, get ready to take some leisurely strolls.

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If you’re interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Move Your DNA, Expanded Edition. If you’d like movement instruction via video, start with Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis.

So, you’d like to run a marathon, you say? Great. To do that, the laws of specificity state that to improve performance at a task, you must train correctly, using the muscles you’ll need for the event. Swimming, while keeping you “fit”, isn’t going to help much. Cycling, while keeping you “fit”, isn’t going to help much. You must do with your body, what you’d like it to do. If you want to run a marathon, you’re going to need to do quite a bit of running for the best outcome.

So, am I hearing you correctly, that you’d like a natural delivery? Well then, following the science of physiological adaptation, you must train your body specifically. We need to train for delivery because, while birthing is absolutely a natural event, we have become, it seems, un-natural women. I know, I know. You eat organic food. You take yoga classes and wear Birkenstocks. You even drive a hybrid car or maybe take the bus every now and then. Maybe. And while these are all very eco-friendly things to do, they are for the most part, completely foreign to our animal counter-part, which makes them, completely unnatural.

Natural, in its broadest definition, means “in accordance with nature”. Well, the last time I checked, nature wasn’t busy designing toilets, or chairs, cars, or shoes. Nature doesn’t exercise four or five times per week. Nature doesn’t exercise at all, but rather moves continuously throughout the day. Nature doesn’t eat foods not available to the location or season, even if they are nutritious. Nature also doesn’t secrete stress hormone while commuting from one part of the forest to the other, affect metabolism regulation with a flick of a thermostat, or take anti-inflammatory medications at the drop of a “my back is sore”. We have, within a few thousand years, completely reduced our ability to be “natural”, yet we still partake in these amazing, natural processes of digestion, sensory input, elimination, growth, and of course, birth.

The first thing to understand is, while pregnancy may seem like an unnatural position for your body to be in, it is quite natural actually. What makes it feel so awkward and possibly uncomfortable is the extreme loading done on an unbalanced, rickety frame. I once bought a cool table from the Goodwill, even though it didn’t balance quite evenly. It wasn’t that big of a deal in the store, but once I brought it home and tried to put stuff on it, the lack of stability became more of a functional issue. It’s the same thing with all of you out there with chronic low back and pelvic pain, feet that are flattening, birthing canals that are narrow, and abdominals that are splitting (diastasis recti). These are not issues of pregnancy, but issues of pregnancy on an unstable frame. A woman who wears her pelvis out in front of her (see Mind Your Pelvis for a good visual) is not a Stable Table, if you know what I mean. Loading her up with 25, 45, or 65 pounds is going to increase the effects of this mis-placed weight and make pregnancy more difficult than it needs to be – way more difficult than it is for other animals.

You’ve come with all the equipment needed for a successful, natural birth – a movable sacrum, a strong transverse muscular system that runs in series with the uterus, and thick thigh muscles that support the entire weight of the torso. But, guess what? Poor alignment, especially the forward thrust of the pelvis, turns all of these things off. The sacrum becomes jammed up and the more mal-aligned the body, the weaker the abdominals. Thrusting your hips forward also pushes your belly contents right through the wall of the abdomen. Another Fun Fact: Diastasis Recti has nothing to do with pregnancy. It happens in men and women who habitually thrust their hips and have extra stuff in the midsection. Beer or baby belly, it doesn’t matter. You want to avoid it? Stop shoving your guts through your abdomen. Stop thrusting your hips and wearing shoes with heels. If you want stronger leg, thigh, and hip muscles you have to walk…a lot, like animals do. You have to squat often, like animals do. If you want to have an optimal natural delivery, you should train with a natural pregnancy.

There are many pregnancy “myths” that have permeated their way into our cultural understanding of birth. This mis-information makes obtaining the correct birthing mechanics more difficult. In graduate school I wrote a paper outlining all of the research on what we *think* are birthing truths. My favorite study was on the pregnancy waddle. You’ve all seen a TV show from the 50s that showed Mom-to-Be in a flowery pregnancy frock with her hands on her back, belly shoved forward, struggling to get up off the couch and walk to the kitchen to get some pickles and ice cream (which I discovered is pretty awesome, by the way…) Well, that walk isn’t a natural occurrence with pregnancy, but the walk of someone who doesn’t have the strength to carry the additional weight. My grandpa walked like that too, if I recall. Yes, your midsection is growing, but if you were in the correct alignment, the glutes, hamstrings, and transverse abdominals should also be growing equal in strength, to keep you walking perfectly upright and not so much like a staggering sailor.

My paper also called for this information to be taught to birthing professionals, fitness professionals, nurses, and doctors, to pass on to moms-to-be, to optimize their mechanical ability to birth easily at home. General pre-natal fitness has very little to do with real birthing mechanics, as required by the laws of specificity. It’s kind of like swimming to train for a 25-mile hike. The swimming isn’t bad for you, but isn’t the best program design.

Some training tips:

  • Get to know the geometry of the body. I’ll continue to post which markers to look for.
  • Get out of positive-heeled shoes. It will make all the difference in the world!
  • Squat, a few times every day. See Squat Blog:
  • If your body is already too damaged to squat, follow the more basic, non-squat exercises until you are strong enough to handle the full range of motion.
  • Walk, walk, walk. Work up to 5 miles a day, if possible, broken up throughout the day if needed.
  • Minimize sitting in chairs and change up your sitting postures often.
  • Find your Transverse Abdominals and see if you can fire them. See TVA Blog:
  • Stop tucking your pelvis, right now. In fact, stick your butt out while you’re reading this.

Midwives: What if you could help prepare your mommy’s mechanics? Moms, Midwives and Every Woman is invited to take this course that will walk you through the exercises you need to know for optimal delivery, pelvic floor health, and knee, hip, & low back longevity. Now offering 1.95 CEUs to midwives. Read more about the course here: Please note: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ATTEND THE LIVE COURSE! You can watch and follow the course on your own time frame, in your own time zone! Course is six 45-min lecture sessions (recorded and ready to watch as soon as you register) and Four Exercise Classes and Lecture sessions (75-minutes) with Q and A, to follow along for thirty days. Regular course is $99. With discount, $89. UPDATE: This course from 2007 is no longer available. Please check out these pregnancy and pelvic floor reference pages.

And, for those of you who want to see some serious natural birthing going on, check out this elephant birth.

Exercises during third trimester of pregnancy for normal delivery

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