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How to prepare to push in labour

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Jojo Bierlein-Lodewyk
Pelvic health physical therapist

There are a lot of different strategies, exercises and analogies out there to help you prepare to push that baby out once and for all. But for me, it all starts with a knowledge of how your body will push (because it knows, don’t you worry) and how to work with those muscles as best you can.

For starters, your labour pushes do not come from the pelvic muscles. Internally, your body is automatically contracting your uterus in a top-down fashion to push your baby out. And just over top of that, your transverse abdominis (TA) muscle wraps around your torso like a corset. This TA muscle essentially squeezes around your uterus like your hand squeezing a tube of toothpaste to move your baby down and out.

What does this mean for you? Simply put, don’t hold your breath. Your active participation labour pushes are most effective when you’re exhaling, as this will help contract your TA muscle and relax your pelvic floor muscles. When you hold your breath, you close off your throat and increase abdominal pressure. I will admit, this strategy can help increase the downward force into the pelvis and get the baby out, but you’re actually more likely to experience pelvic organ prolapse in doing so. Your uterus is already contracting from the top down - so you don’t need to bear down while holding your breath as well. Trust me, you’ll be protecting your pelvic health long term!

Wondering how on earth to keep breathing? One of my favourite exercises is TA breathing. Mainly because you don’t have to find time to do it - you can simply incorporate it into your day and you’ll be helping your body prepare for labour. How great is that?! Here’s how to practise:

  1. Take a breath in, filling your belly.
  2. Exhale gently as if you’re blowing bubbles. At the same time, pull your belly button towards your backbone like you’re buttoning some tight trousers. Keep the motion smooth and slow.
  3. Once you get this down while sitting or standing, try integrating it into daily tasks like getting out of bed or picking up your other child.

It’s okay if you don’t get the hang of it the first time - it takes time and can feel almost opposite of how you’re used to breathing. The more you practise it, the more comfortable it should get and the more automatic it will become.

There are also some simple exercises that you can do daily while pregnant to find, get comfortable with, and strengthen your TA muscle in preparation for labour:

  • Humming
  • Whistling
  • Gargling

If you can, while doing each of these tasks, think about slowly drawing your belly button in. This combination of breathing and contracting will translate right into your labour pushing!

When you’re in those moments of active labor pushing, you won’t want to have to think too hard about how to breathe or push. So utilising these techniques throughout your pregnancy will help them become automatic and easy to tap into when it matters most!