This article, originally published in 2012 was updated and lightly expanded in 2020. You can find all our favorite pregnancy resources gathered in Moving Well During Pregnancy.
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*), and 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. 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 I don't think the best time to start squatting is Day 272. As in, Day 272: “Now’s the time to start working squats into your workout routine.”
Now’s the time? Workout routine?
Now I like exercising and I like to keep myself in strong physical shape, but yesterday's "workout routine" consisted of an hour-long nap about ninety minutes after I woke up which I followed up with a 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 over the place, but workout routine? Seriously? Makes me sleepy just thinking about hauling my 272-day pregnancy somewhere to work out.
I think exercising to prepare for delivery is great (it's kind of my thing), but I recommend starting way before 38.5 weeks. If you had your choice, the time best time to start squatting program is as far in advance as you can, for the same reasons that you don’t start your marathon training program a month before the big race. The body takes time to adapt to new loading patterns and develop necessary muscle, tissue length, strength, capillaries, etc.
Jumping right into squatting exercises this far into pregnancy isn’t ideal (read: isn't always safe) as it is likely that you’ve already got an additional 20 pounds on your body by 38 weeks. 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. New squatters tend to bear down quite a bit because their weight exceeds the strength in their muscles. Bearing down, a downward pressure, is common when you first start squatting, but it's not something you'd necessarily want to create at this point. Or at any point, really, but especially at this point in your pregnancy.
So what to do, if you find yourself realizing CRAP, I need to start squatting and I’m already super-duper-far into my pregnancy?
Start stretching. You can still make a ton of progress when it comes to reducing tension that affects birthing space and pelvic floor strength by doing the squat-prep exercises in You Don't Know Squat and You Still Don't Know Squat.
Try some supported squats. You can work on your hip and pelvis mobility by simply lowering your seat height. Start by sitting on something elevated (like a bolster or stack of pillows), but lower than your regular chair. Can you move more while just sitting there? Yes you can, you just have to adjust your sitting posture.
Adjust your feet so that your shins are vertical (I had to bring my heels back a bit), then roll your pelvis forward (don't lift your ribcage) to deepen the crease at the hips. This move is a simple untucking motion that increases the movement in the hips and pelvis, no straining required.
There are multiple benefits to a squat and each benefit occurs at a different phase of the motion. Getting down into a squat requires eccentric strength (force generation while lengthening), while resting in the lower position or "holding it" provides a nice stretch/lengthening phase. Coming up out of a squat can get your glutes and hamstrings contracting but in a different way than coming down. And, P.S., which muscles do the work depends on the angle of the shin bones.
To work your "get up out of a squat" muscles, stand up from your low seat WITHOUT STRAINING and WHILE KEEPING YOUR SHINS VERTICAL.
If you can't get up without shifting forward and HARUUMPPH-ing, then you need to elevate your hips with more pillows. Find the height from which you don't need to HARUUMPPH out of your squat or move your knees forward. This will keep you from creating excessive downward pressure while still building strength.
If you can't get up and down at all, remember that just sitting in a supported squat position with an untucked pelvis can be beneficial. You might be able to lower your bolstered height over time, too. And work on those squat prep moves and know you're making headway. Headway. Get it?
Is anyone else craving fresh orange juice?