When I was a young midwife, an aboriginal woman told me an elder had said, “The longer you walk, the shorter your labour.” Now most people are aware of the importance of upright positions and walking as a way to speed up labour – during labour – but this adage was referring to the benefits of walking prenatallyas a way to prepare for birth. As I observed, these women would go on to have beautiful labours and births, and that after seeing consistent results I began to heed this advice and recommend maintaining or increasing exercise to all my clients. Now, I assert that it is the single most important piece of advice that impacts a woman’s birth.
“The longer you walk, the shorter your labour.”
Pregnancy is often regarded as an opportunity to make healthy changes in our lifestyles. Motivated by the health of their unborn babies, women will often make big changes to their diets and habits like quitting smoking, drinking and even consuming caffeine. They often will eat better foods and take prenatal vitamins. And although exercise if often recommended, it is rarely given the emphasis it deserves – epsecially given the benefits both prenatally and for birth. I believe this is in part due to lack of information and education from care providers but also reflects the challenges pregnancy poses in incorporating a new routine into a mother’s life. Not fully appreciating the benefits, it is easy to let exercise slide.
Exercise Regularly Throughout Pregnancy
Routine exercise takes a real commitment. And pregnancy can pose challenges for even the most motivated women! Exercise can be derailed by common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and varicose veins, with women prioritising comfort over the long-term benefits. However, exercise has been shown to alleviate these common symptoms. Women who exercise regularly report reduced nausea, better sleep, more regular bowel movements, and the added benefits of increasing endorphins and reducing stress and anxiety!
Regular exercise – even as little as walking 30 minutes 3 times a week – also has huge benefits for your pregnancy. There is increasing evidence about the importance of exercise in reducing the risk of gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes are at risk of having larger babies with an abnormal distribution of weight around the chest – making them much more difficult to deliver. Benefits also include controlling overall weight gain as well as reducing blood pressure.
Labour is Like A Marathon
But let’s get back to my assertion that “The longer you walk, the shorter your labour.” The experience of labour is often compared to a marathon in terms of its physical and emotional demands. As an endurance race, marathoners describe reaching the edges of their personal limits. Birthing women also describe reaching their personal limits, but birth is a marathon that is not optional!
I often remind women that most people don’t gain 30 lbs and suddenly get off the couch and say “I am going to run that marathon I have always wanted to do today.” They would TRAIN for this event! Regular exercise, especially when you are tired and are tempted to put it off, provides the physical and mental training that makes births go smoother!