The "house" of Baby
There's a lot of focus in antenatal education about what happens in birth, what pain relief options are available, perhaps a few things that birth companion can do to support us, but rarely are we taught much about our internal structures that provide baby's housing, and more importantly, what we can do to create balance for an easier birth- for both ourselves and baby.
I'm going to walk through a few different areas of baby's housing and some things you can do to help you and baby now, to ensure an easier birth. Simple things in the way you stand, where your pelvis sits and the interaction with your pelvic floor can all help prepare you physically for an easier birth.
If your womb and other internal structures are baby's home and furnishings, think of your pelvis as the foundations- it provides the necessary support for everything built on it. Super important we get this sorted, to help everything else. Your pelvis inlet supports baby, the outlet provides baby's birth path- both share important roles. It's all about balance and alignment.
Check in on your posture- does your pelvis sit in neutral position without an anterior or prosterior tilt? Are you NOT clenching your glutes? (compensating for weakness through our core we can clench our glutes to help keep us upright)
If the pelvis is in a neutral position in standing and sitting positions, it helps the soft tissues do their job in providing support and stabilizing. If you're not in a neutral pelvis or don't know what that is, try rolling your tailbone under, into a prosterior position, then tilt your tailbone out so your pelvis is in an anterior position. You will need to find the "middle ground" between the two positions. In a seated position, this will be high on your sitz bones - the boney structures you can feel in your bum/ glute muscles.
The Pelvic Floor
Our pelvic floor is a stabilizing muscle. I have no idea who decided to call it a floor. It actually is more like a hammock, that helps support our internal organs and works together with other muscles to stabilize us. It stretches front to back and side to side of our pelvis.
The pelvic floor stretches like a parachute between the pubic bone, the tailbone at the back and side to side of our pelvis. A woman's pelvic floor muscles support her womb (uterus), bladder, and bowel (colon). During pregnancy these muscles have additional pressure due to the growing and expanding uterus. And they stretch around baby during vaginal birth. Pelvic floor weakness is increased by poor posture, and incorrect loading on our core, as it puts downward pressure on our pelvic floor. For those who need to strengthen your pelvic floor- it is no longer recommended to do Kegel's in isolation. There needs to be strengthening of the glutes and deep tummy muscles (the ones that often separate in pregnancy) and this needs to include postural alignment. Not every woman has pelvic floor weakness- some women have a very tight pelvic floor- and need gentle stretching and learn how to release and relax for birthing day. When we exhale, our pelvic floor should contract up- think about when you blow a balloon up, does your PF bulge out or tighten upwards? What other factors contribute to weakness? Our TVAs (transverse abs) stretch and have poor engagement during pregnancy to make room for baby. We have an internal pressure that needs to be maintained for effective pelvic floor strength and control and when this pressure is affected through poor posture, incorrect breathing patterns and bulging on our TVAs, this then puts downward pressure on our pelvic floor. These TVAs naturally weaken during pregnancy, and we also have tummy muscle separation (where the connective tissue of our "6 pack muscles" pr recti abdominus weakens), so a on gently engaging them can help support our core. As your inhale, you should have side, back and front rib expansion and breath down to your pelvic floor. This isn't loading your PF, but helping your internal pressure and retraining your pelvic floor to strengthen as you exhale and allow it to contract up.
Lunges, squats, glute bridges and similar asanas in yoga, along with proper engagement and loading are a good activity to strengthen your pelvic floor. Stop if your form becomes compromised. Simple breathing techniques, , relaxation (meditation and mindfulness), stretching and some release work can help tight pelvic floor.
Feet and ankles
Your feet help your alignment more than your realise! Your toes should point forward and should be straight in front of your knees, not face inwards or outwards. Imbalances in your feet can cause hip pain due to the muscular imbalances from poor foot posture. Pelvic floor imbalance will also follow. Correction and mindfulness is essential- both during pregnancy and postnatally. If your arches collapse in, your hips will ache and your pelvic floor will have instability. Our pelvic floor is a stabilizing muscle and we need to make sure we have stability throughout the rest of our body too. Without alignment and balance through our whole body system, we can't balance the pelvic floor in isolation., as those muscles on the outside of your hips attempt to pull your ankle arches up, back into neutral position.
Balance across our feet in yoga asanas helps strengthen and align our ankles, and helps our pelvic floor. What does pelvic floor have to do with our ankles and vice versa?!? Every movement (or lack of!) is involved in a kinetic chain in our body- think domino effect. What asanas can help? Tadasana- the Mountain Pose. Remember the foundation of standing postures is balance across the 4 points of your feet! Vksasana- Tree Pose for strengthening ankles and balancing. What else can you do? Day to day, being mindful of how you carry your weight on your feet. Check in on the 4 points on each of your feet, ensuring your ankles aren't collapsing in.
Check out my online Yoga for Birth course (4 weeks of yoga asanas for pregnancy, antenatal education and online support).