If you're interested in reading more on ideas presented in the article below, I suggest reading Diastasis Recti. If you'd like movement instruction via video, start with Nutritious Movement for a Healthy Pelvis.
When I was fifteen or sixteen I remember babysitting for someone who had a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting. I read the whole thing that night, and felt that I memorized all the necessary parts although it was pretty clear after reading it that I would never be actually having a baby because it all seemed pretty gross. And dangerous. Very dangerous. And very gross.
Then I fell in love with birth and then I had a baby and then I got pregnant again (should have memorized more of those book *details*) when I decided to download the “What to Expect” App for my phone. Why? Because it seems that when you’re pregnant for the second time and have a 6-month old, you have a hard time remembering the answers to questions like “how far along are you”, “when’s your due date” and “did you take a shower today.” So, I got the app.
I should have known there was a problem when, on the same day it told me my baby was the size of an orange, it also gave an advertisement for orange juice:
I never really looked at the app beyond the “you are this pregnant” and “your baby is the size of this fruit” page. Until yesterday, when I decided to read through the 290 daily tips of "stuff to do" to get ready for delivery. Oh. Mah. Gawwwwwd. For the sake of my health, I’ll refrain from going through them one at a time, but seriously dude. This is the information that people have going into labor? They weren’t all horrible, but that’s about all I can say.
My favorite was Day 272, a page titled “Squat Exercises." Evidently, doing squat exercises can aid in labor because it increases the pelvic opening. Word. But here’s the thing. Evidently the time to begin them is on Day 272. “Now’s the time to start working squats into your workout routine.”
Now’s the time? Workout routine?
Can I just say that I like to keep myself in a whole-lotta physical shape, but yesterday's "workout routine" consisted an hour-long nap about 90 minutes after I woke up and a follow-up three-hour nap in the afternoon. Yes, I took a walk to the post-office and got up and down off the floor (not as easy as you'd imagine) about a billion times and carried my 30-pounder all about the place, but workout routine? Seriously? Makes me sleepy just thinking about hauling my 272-day pregnancy somewhere to work out.
I’m also all about prepping throughout a pregnancy especially for delivery (it's kind of my thang), but I hate to say that 38.5 weeks is NOT the time to start your squatting program for the same reasons that you don’t start your marathon training program a month before the big race. There is an appropriate time for the body to adapt to new loading patterns and develop the necessary muscle, tissue length, strength, capillaries, etc.
In addition to it not being enough time, jumping right into squatting exercises this far into pregnancy isn’t that smart (read: safe). By 38 weeks it is likely that you’ve already got an additional 30+ pounds on your body. In the same way you wouldn’t wear a 30-pound weight vest to your first day at the gym, you don’t want to start pregnancy-prep exercises AFTER the extra mass is there, but rather do them AS the mass is coming on. Which ensures that the ligaments that hold your pelvic organs and stabilize your joints (pelvis, hips, and knees) are always supported by the muscles in that area. And probably most importantly, new squatters tend to bear down quite a bit because their weight exceeds the strength in their muscles and this downward pressure is not something you want to create at this point. Or at any point, really, but especially at this point in your pregnancy because of the heaviness of the uterus on the ligaments that support it.
It’s all very basic exercise physiology/strength training science which tends to be forgotten by those prescribing exercise.
So, what if you find yourself realizing CRAP! I need to start squatting and I’m already super-duper-far into my pregnancy? You can still make a ton of progress when it comes to birthing space and pelvic floor strength by doing squat-prep work like the lower leg and hip opening stretches here (click). There is also a lot of benefit to sitting on something elevated (like a bolster or stack of pillows) keeping your shins vertical, while rolling your pelvis forward -- no supporting (or straining) needed.
This is me (this morning) sitting on my BOSU with a slouching spine and tucked pelvis (boo):
This is just a simple untuck (do this motion at the pelvis and not by thrusting the ribs forward):
If you can get up from your low seat WITHOUT STRAINING and WHILE KEEPING YOUR SHINS VERTICAL, then go for it.
If you need to elevate your hips with more pillows, then do it -- until you find the height at which you don't need to HARUUMPPH out of your squat or move your knees forward.
(Can you please get off of my pillows so I can finish taking these pictures so I can get to my midwife appointment so I can get home to eat lunch so I can finish this blog post? Please?)
But remember, just sitting in a supported squat position with an untucked pelvis is good too -- no need to up and down it like a crazy person.
There are multiple benefits to a squat and each benefit occurs at a different phase of the motion. Getting down into it requires eccentric strength (force generation while lengthening), while resting in the lower position or "holding it" provides a nice stretch/lengthening phase, and coming up out of it also generates strength (force) but in a different way than coming down. And, P.S., which muscles do the work depends on the angle of the shin bones.
The entire squat is certainly necessary at some point, but should it not be the best time for you (read: 272 days into your pregnancy) to begin a squatting program, at least reap some of the streeeetch benefits. You can do this safely and know that you're making headway.
Headway. Get it?????
Is anyone else craving fresh orange juice?
(For more on birthing space, i.e. "headway" and how pelvic floor tension and glute mechanics affect the size of the obstetrical conjugate during delivery, I'll be lecturing at the Midwifery Today conference April, 2013! Come and take some courses with me!)