8 Exercises That Can Help Induce Labor, According to a Fitness Specialist and OB/GYN
At 2 years old, my nephew is nothing but adorable. But when he was ten days past his original mid-June due date, my sister had some other choice words to describe him. She loved being pregnant, but towards the end of her third trimester, she couldn’t wait to get things moving (and meet her firstborn son). Like many moms, her due date came and went without a contraction in sight. And though that extra time is totally normal, it can feel like your baby will never come. Luckily, there are safe and effective ways to help naturally induce labor—exercise being one of them.
Now, before we dive in, there’s something you should know. “There aren’t any exercises that have been shown to cause women to go into labor if your body wasn’t already starting the process,” explains Dr. Heather Irobunda, MD and board-certified OB/GYN based in New York City. It can, however, help prepare your body for what’s to come. “Usually, exercises help your body transition from the early labor process into more of an active labor process.” Basically, that means it can help encourage labor by properly adjusting the baby’s positioning as well as improving the mother’s alignment by “causing more weight to be placed on the cervix, which increases the cues to the body and, more specifically, the uterus.” Light cardio, like walking, is one way to help progress this process along. If you feel comfortable, she also suggests engaging in some low-impact movements like squats and lunges. You can also sit and roll around on an exercise ball to help open up your hips and “allow for the baby to sit lower in the pelvis, helping the body know that it’s time for labor.”
We know what you’re thinking...but is it safe? The answer is yes. In fact, it’s safe to do exercise in general while pregnant, “as long as [the movements] are not more strenuous than your level of fitness prior to the start of your pregnancy,” Dr. Irobunda says. Your second trimester is no time to start training for your first marathon, and the final trimester is no time to try a new Zumba class. Stick to the low-impact movements your body is used to and always make sure you’re in an environment where you can safely engage in these exercises. Having a workout buddy is a good idea, too. “Make sure you have someone nearby if you need help moving around,” she cautions. “If it’s not possible to have someone present while you’re exercising, make sure your phone is handy in case you need help.” And before you even purchase that big bouncy exercise ball, always discuss any labor and delivery plans with your doctor. Exercise might not be recommended for women with certain medical conditions or high-risk pregnancies.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, here are eight OB/GYN approved exercises to try now, all provided by Brooke Cates, a pre and post-natal exercise specialist as well as the founder of The Bloom Method and Studio Bloom. When moving through these exercises, she suggests focusing on two main things: opening and softening. “Releasing tension in the womb space (your core and pelvic floor) while creating movement and strength in the lower body and pelvis region can provide support to a soon-to-be birthing woman.”
1. Quadruped Deep Diaphragmatic Breaths
* Diaphragmatic breath work and core muscle relaxation practices help to soften and connect to your pelvic floor.
In an all-fours position with your shoulders stacked on top of your wrists and knees directly below your hips, begin to breathe in and out through your nose. As you extend each breath as long as possible, start to increase your breathing rate, shifting the movement into your diaphragm. As you inhale, let your ribcage expand along with your belly. At the same time, try to consciously lengthen your pelvic floor with each new breath. On your exhale, reverse the movements, keeping your body light and loose. Nothing should feel forced and no muscles should be actively engaged. The focus here is on your breath, allowing it to create space and lengthen.
2. Quadruped Pelvic Tilts
In an all-fours position with your shoulders stacked on top of your wrists and knees directly below your hips, begin to open and close the pelvis by tucking your hip bones into your ribcage on your exhale and then releasing your tailbone to the sky on your inhale. For an advanced version of this exercise, you can try a co-contraction of your deep core and pelvic floor as you tuck paired with a gentle lengthening of the muscles as you open.
3. Quadruped Rocks
In an all-fours position with your shoulders stacked on top of your wrists and knees directly below your hips, begin to rock your hips back and forth inviting an even deeper hip and pelvis opening to take place. Inhale as the hips drive back towards your heels (only go as your body allows) and exhale as you come back to the starting position.
4. Squats With a Hold
*Squatting can help open the pelvis and signal to the body that it’s time to prepare for birth. Sitting in a supported deep squat and tapping into your core and pelvic floor connection can be extremely helpful during labor as well.
Begin in a standard squat stance with your feet about hip-width apart and toes angled away from your body. Lower down into a squat with your butt driving down and back. From here, press up through your heels to return to the starting position, keeping a slight bend in your knees the whole time. Once you feel comfortable with this movement, try incorporating a 15 to 30-second hold at the lowest point of your squat. This will add an additional layer of hip opening as well as pelvic floor relaxation. While here, engage in diaphragmatic breathing to center your focus on your core.
5. Deep Birthing Style Squats With a Hold
Begin in a wide squat stance with your feet wider than hip-distance apart. Lower down into a deep squat with your butt driving down and back. Find your lowest position (if you’re comfortable resting your butt on your calves, go for it). From here, press up through your heels to return to the starting position, keeping a slight bend in your knees the whole time. Once you feel comfortable with this movement, try incorporating a 15 to 30-second hold at the lowest point of your squat. This will add an additional layer of hip opening as well as pelvic floor relaxation. While here, engage in diaphragmatic breathing to center your focus on your core.
6. Hip Rolls On a Birthing Ball
*Pelvic movements on a birthing or stability ball can help support the physical prep for baby’s arrival and the body’s readiness for birth. This exercise can be done on any exercise ball or by kneeling with your butt lifted up off your feet.
Find a comfortable seated position on a birthing or stability ball. Start by moving your hips in a circular motion, beginning in one direction then switching to the opposite. This range of motion will be different for everyone. Allow it to be short and shallow or deep and wide depending on what feels best.
7. Supine Happy Baby With Breath Work
*Place a couple of pillows beneath your upper back and shoulders to help relieve any unwanted pressure.
Lie down on your back (or propped up if your body needs it) and open your legs into a happy baby pose with your legs lifted and feet wide. Grab onto your feet, ankles or calves (whatever feels more comfortable) and allow your body to sink into this position. Finding your diaphragmatic breath, feel free to stay here or gently rock side to side.
8. Supported Deep Birthing Style Squat With Breath Work
*Add support here by sitting on a few yoga blocks or by placing your back up against a wall or couch.
Begin in a deep birthing style squat with your legs wide, butt down, chest up and both feet planted firmly on the ground. If your heels are lifted when in this position, place a rolled-up towel or yoga mat beneath them. Bring your hands to heart’s center and gently press your elbows into the insides of your knees to create resistance. Find your diaphragmatic breath and let it guide you through this hold.
*The Bloom Method’s Studio Bloom is a virtual fitness studio designed to educate and empower expecting and postpartum women with safe and effective workouts. If you’re interested in trying more, use code PUREWOW50 to get 50 percent off your first month.