Did you know there’s a powerful way to prepare your mind and body for labor and get a great work-out at the same time?
In today’s guest post, my friend and fellow birth enthusiast, Wells Thomas, tells us how…
For many first time moms, trying to imagine what labor pain will be like can be a point of anxiety. What will it feel like? Will it be horrible like my friend’s mom told me? Will I need to go for the medication? Will I be able to handle the pain?
As I faced these anxieties before my first birth, I wish I had known one simple little fact. A fact that could have cut through all the anxiety that I felt around the potential pain of labor and childbirth:
That labor pain is not an emergency.
In “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” Ina May describes labor pain in this way:
“When you are injured and feel pain, its message is ‘Run away!’ or ‘Fight! You are being damaged.’ This is survival information. The pain of labor and birth has an entirely different message. It says, ‘Relax your pelvic muscles. Let go. Surrender. Go with the flow. Don’t fight this. It’s bigger than you.’…
Yet many women react to labor pain in the same way they react to the kind of pain they experience when wounded. …They don’t know that a change of position, of attitude, of atmosphere in the birth room, and a host of other factors can utterly change the inner sensations of labor.” (pp. 161-162)
I knew this going into my second birth, and it made me much more confident.
But what if we could train our brain before our very first labor?
This feeling is the feeling of muscles working hard.
This pain is not because I’m injured.
This pain or sensation is effective for bringing my baby down.
There actually is a simple way to practice handling what labor feels like: High-intensity workouts.
Before my fifth pregnancy, I started doing high intensity interval workouts (HIIT workouts). I had never been successful at regularly incorporating exercise into my routine, but knew the importance of working out for energy and long-term health.
When I heard about HIIT workouts, I realized this could be my ticket. I could find them for free on youtube, they generally required no equipment, and they were over in twenty minutes, which was key for my life as a busy mom (and one who does not love exercise)! Continuing to do them throughout my fifth pregnancy, I realized that HIIT workouts actually are very good for prepping ourselves to face labor.
A HIIT workout is like labor in several ways:
1. It is intense.
Particularly in the 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off Tabata style, when you are in your working interval, it takes everything you have to keep working as hard as you can. It takes all your focus and energy.
2. It comes in intervals.
After your working interval, you get a rest. It is the same with a contraction. In normal labor, the pain or intensity is not unrelenting. You will get rest periods to breathe, to relax, to regroup.
3. It is a “working” pain, not an emergency signal.
The pain of a high intensity workout is similar to that of labor in that it is not emergency pain; it is muscular. Your system is having pressure put on it in a certain way, but it is not being damaged.
4. Your mindset makes a difference in how much you can do.
When I am working out, it helps me so much to have music on, and to have no interruptions from my children or the phone. Also, it helps me to get my head in the right space: I can do this. This is making me stronger. I am making progress. Only a few more minutes. I can handle it. In the same way, your labor environment being distraction-free (as much as possible) is so crucial, and keeping your thoughts away from negativity is a game changer.
5. It has a really good result.
Just as a workout is making you fitter, stronger, healthier, happier, and better able to think clearly, a normal labor has a good result. One of the most beautiful results of work that exists on the planet: a new human. Your baby. Knowing this baby is coming makes the work of labor seem comparatively easy. It is kind of like how keeping our mind on heaven makes the current troubles of our life seem small.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (Romans 8:18)
I recommend HIIT workouts if you are wanting to strengthen your mind and body toward the labor experience.
DO be careful though, and modify the exercises for your physical abilities, and for your front-loaded body! I was doing burpees (which involves a sort of horizontal jumping) right up until the end, and… I had back problems after my baby was born. (Thankfully they were soon taken care of.)
Other than that, grab a mat, grab your laptop, grab some water, and practice for your labor today!
Don’t be afraid. Get ready. You’ve got this.
If you have other great HIIT workouts you enjoy, share them in the comment section below!
* Wells Thomas is a writer and childbirth enthusiast who loves to connect with and encourage other mothers. She is the author of “Empowered Birth: Becoming Fearless in Labor” and “31 Life Words for Mothers.” She lives in Virginia with her husband and five children.