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: http://nutritiousmovement.com/2010/06/02/you-dont-know-squat/
- 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: http://nutritiousmovement.com/2010/06/22/what-a-waist/
- 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: http://www.restorativeexercise.com/2010/no-more-kegels 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.