When you exercise, you’re essentially contracting and releasing muscles. Muscles are working together, all aided by our state of mind, hormones, training and general health. Sound familiar? The exact same thing is happening when you’re in labour – although let’s face it, the main difference is that we don’t normally encounter the same level of support in labour. If you’ve ever run a marathon you’ll be surrounded by hoards of people cheering you on shouting things like “You can do it! Keep going!”. You’re probably pretty uncomfortable after running for long periods of time but with all that support it’s no surprise that you find it in you to push yourself to your limits, your body listens, responds and your body keeps running.
When you’re in labour you’re more likely to hear things like “How much pain are you in? What pain relief would you like?”. If you heard that throughout your marathon I’m sure you wouldn’t be quite a likely to keep going with such gusto! So although parts of labour are similar to the mechanics of exercising, unless you have the mental support then there really isn’t much comparison. BUT, if you’re lucky enough to have a doula or birth partner who does offer you support (as they would learn to in any hypnobirthing class) then you can absolutely approach labour the same way we approach a physical challenge.
The muscles we focus on in labour are of course our uterine muscles – the longitudinal muscles that run vertically down the uterus work alongside our horizontal short muscles at the base of our uterus and help the cervix to dilate. Athletes will agree that the body needs to be relaxed in order to exercise properly and safely and it’s again the same in labour. With support in your labour and learning how to relax you can help your body to have a much more comfortable labour.
Breathing techniques, endorphin release, audio downloads and deepening exercises are all examples of how to help your body learn to relax and you should be offered all of them in your hypnobirthing class. All of these help to manage hormone levels as well as provide oxygen to muscles so they can work at their optimum level and offer you a much more comfortable labour. To see a visual of how uterine muscles work in labour take a look at the uterine section in Hypnobirthing At Home online hypnobirthing course.
If you’re able to exercise during pregnancy (to a safe level of course!) the good news is that new research by the Technical University of Madrid shows that it can also shorten the amount of time mothers spend in labour. Psychologically (as well as physically) it’s clear to see why women who are used to pushing themselves through exercise do the same in labour so this is no huge surprise. So, if you’ve never really got in to exercise before then it’s not too late to start now!