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Habits for a Better Pregnancy and an Easier Birth

By Lindsay McCoy

I know what it’s like to feel exhausted, achy, and out-of-sorts in your own body during pregnancy. Trust me, I’ve been there! I used to never leave home without a vomit bag. 

Here’s the deal; Pregnancy isn’t easy! Studies show us that the energy expenditure of pregnancy is akin to running a 40-week marathon. They found that the highest metabolic rate humans can handle is 2.5 times their resting metabolic rate. During pregnancy, we function at 2.2 times our resting metabolic rate… for months! So the first piece is to give yourself a little grace and know that you are doing a lot just growing that human being. 

It’s entirely possible to stack the cards in your favor for a more comfortable pregnancy, easier birth, and smoother postnatal recovery.

This article is not an opportunity to have another thing to stress about. It is an opportunity to connect more deeply with your body, to tune inward, and to use this time to actually learn what “listening to your body” even means. Our society tells us that symptoms like back pain and incontinence are just “par for the course” of pregnancy. A lot of dysfunction has become normalized, and the solutions we get are spot treatments that rarely address the root cause of the issue. To me, that is like picking dandelions; issues (like dandelions) are just going to keep popping up until we really get to the root. While not everything about this journey is within our control, much of it is, and I am here to help you take control of the controllables! I like to call it “stacking the cards in your favor.” 

I have found in my own pregnancy journeys and supporting thousands of expecting families that it’s entirely possible to stack the cards in your favor for a more comfortable pregnancy, easier birth, and smoother postnatal recovery. In fact, it’s a beautiful time to connect with yourself more deeply as you move through this life-changing experience to parenthood. 

With a few simple movement tweaks and mindfulness hacks, you can begin to feel more comfortable again, starting today. Sounds like a dream? I’ll show you how.

Functional Support That Every Pregnancy Needs 

No one’s talking about this in the birth community. But if you want to feel good in your body while pregnant, and minimize or even avoid aches like pregnancy back pain, this topic is critically important. So, let’s talk about the key to a comfortable pregnancy; something we call “functional movement.” 

Your daily movement habits can directly impact the way you feel during pregnancy. 

Now, of course, you’ve probably heard plenty of recommendations for soothing pregnancy-related pain like doing yoga, stretching before bed, or buying fancy prenatal pillows. But we’re guessing that you rarely hear about how to avoid the pain or discomfort in the first place. 

You don’t need to spend hours in the gym before you start feeling better. You can make these simple at-home tweaks, and start feeling the difference immediately.

The truth is, the body adapts to how you use it throughout the days, months, and years, not just to your time spent in the gym or getting bodywork (though those things can be great support!). You can learn how to put away laundry, play with your toddlers, and unload the dishwasher in a more functional way to support your body as you move through this big physiological feat of pregnancy! 

Think about pregnancy (and really, life) like a big group project for your body (mind and spirit). Have you ever been part of an unbalanced group project; one where some members are underworking and other members are overworking? What do you do? Do you tell that overworking member to relax? If a part of your body is overworked, maybe you stretch, release, or massage it. This is amazing and can be very helpful! But what do you think will happen soon after, if you haven’t also gotten the under-workers of the group doing their job? That overworked part is just going to go right back to overworking. When we are not balanced, parts of our body are doing too much, and some parts are not doing enough. This is when we often see dysfunction occur. 

Our body adapts to what we ask it to do most of the time. How do we tend to spend our time? Sitting in a desk chair, driving in the car, wearing heeled shoes, or maybe if you’re me with baby number 4, jutting our hip to the side to hold that (heavy!) toddler while putting away toys in the living room. No wonder pregnancy back pain is common! 

Fortunately, simple shifts can make a really profound difference in helping our body’s “group project” become more balanced, leading to improved function and comfort. With a few small tweaks, you can start to move more functionally, and start to feel stronger, more comfortable, and more resilient. 

Even better news: You don’t need to spend hours in the gym before you start feeling better. You can make these simple at-home tweaks, and start feeling the difference immediately. Work smarter, not harder, with functional movement. 

Here’s How You Can Practice Functional Movement in Your Daily Activities 

Many people, when they come to me for a prenatal assessment, are dealing with painful symptoms of misalignment and compensation, like constant pregnancy back pain, round ligament pain, and core or pelvic floor weakness. When they put these simple habits into practice, they often experience massive relief within a few days. So, don’t discount the power of small, smart adjustments. 

Habit 1: Getting Out of a Chair

Did you know that the way you’re sitting and standing might be contributing to your pelvic floor weakness? Most people get out of their chair using a combination of bringing their knees in front of their ankles and momentum. 

However, this movement is the perfect opportunity to use your glutes and lengthen your pelvic floor. Bonus: Lengthening the pelvic floor is an important factor in easier vaginal births! 

In our birth prep protocol inside the Body Ready Prenatal program, one of our main goals is to create a strong and yielding-for-childbirth pelvic floor. And how you get in and out of a chair is a great opportunity to create that space and strength. 

To rise: Keep your knees on top of your ankles, lean forward, and send your hips behind you as you rise to stand. If this is too difficult, use a little bit of momentum until it becomes easier. It’s harder than it looks! 

To sit: Reach your upper body forward for counterbalance as you reach your hips behind you. Notice if you have the tendency to “fall” after a certain point. This can often be traced back to tension in the hamstring. 

Habit 2: Picking Things Up 

If you added up the time you spent unloading the dishwasher, pulling clothes out of the laundry, and picking up toys from the floor, you might start to feel like you spend all day bending over and standing back up. A lot of us tend to do these tasks by rounding the spine rather than hinging at the hips. This movement “blind spot” may contribute to pregnancy back pain and additionally, less birth space in the pelvis for the baby to come through. 

While rounding the spine isn’t evil and shouldn’t be villainized, the problem lies in the fact that we tend to only move this way, missing a huge opportunity to create length in the back of the body that helps create more “birth space” in the pelvis. If you have to bend over anyway, you might as well use it as an opportunity for a more functional hip hinge movement! Instead of rounding-and-tucking, practice untucking the hips, maintaining length of the spine, and hinging at the hips. This will feel foreign at first, but it’s the best way to promote a strong core and pelvic floor. Plus, picking things up like this will build the muscles in your legs and glutes. These muscles are key to pelvic stability, and with a stable pelvis comes less pelvic pain for you. Our prenatal program gives you all the information you need for a pain-free pregnancy. 

Habit 3: Sitting Posture 

If you’ve experienced hip pain, pregnancy back pain, or pelvic floor dysfunction (and even if you haven’t), your seated posture is an easy place to start. Finding a neutral pelvis while sitting is extremely beneficial for pelvic floor health and making space in your pelvis for your baby, which will help the birthing process. 

When we unconsciously tuck our pelvis all day long, it can create a lot of tension in the pelvic floor. And we want that floor to be nice and supple so that a baby can pass through with ease. Instead of forcing yourself into a neutral pelvic position, use a bolster to adjust your sitz bones up higher and gently relax into a more neutral pelvis. It should never be forced, but relaxed into. 

Also, if you spend much of the day sitting, try to mix up your resting positions. Can you sit on the floor on a bolster? Or adjust your leg position? Note: Try to minimize crossing your legs, as this can put torsion on the pelvis, which may contribute to pelvic pain and asymmetry, which can encourage baby to find a less optimal position. The best position is your next one. So, mix it up! 

Now I know you might now, be stressing about how you’re going to binge your next Netflix show at the end of the day when you’re exhausted. I’ve got you. No, I don’t expect you to sit in neutral pelvis through three episodes of your favorite show. But instead of tucking the pelvis and leaning back, what would it feel like to find a side lying position? Restful, yet a little more functional. 

Habit 4: Consider Your Shoe Selection

Remember how I mentioned that your body adapts to how you use it, over time? Another thing our body does is compensate based on what we ask it to do. When we wear what is known as a positive heel shoe (anytime the heel is higher than the toe box), our body must adapt to keep us upright. Parts of the body (such as the hip flexors) get overworked and other parts (like the all-important glutes) get underworked. 

With heeled shoes, the muscles along the back of the legs that promote pelvic mobility become shortened, and there is a lot of added pressure on the abdominal muscles (which already are separating to accommodate the pregnancy—let’s not give them added strain, ok?!). This is not a balanced group project! If your body has been wearing heels for years, make sure you slowly transition to a more minimal shoe. There are a lot of resources out there to help support this transition, and we are here to help. 

One Last Recommendation For You

Feeling overwhelmed? I get it. Being creative about how you use your body takes some thought and intention. 

However, once you make a habit out of caring for your body (and your baby) this way, it becomes second nature. Soon, you’ll find your body getting strong and able just by moving a little bit differently. And the beautiful thing about all of this is that the same stuff that tends to make pregnancy more comfortable, birth more easeful, and recovery smoother is also the same stuff that helps our core, pelvic floor, and whole body become more functional and resilient for life. I don’t know about you, but I want to feel good in my body for many, many years to come and functional movement is a big part of that for me. 

As always, I don’t recommend trying to make huge changes all at once. Go slow and make small tweaks here and there, adding in new things every few weeks. Practice varying your movements—from which hip you carry your groceries on to which hip you carry your baby on. 

The power of these small changes will multiply, impacting your core, pelvic floor, and whole body function, supporting an easier birthing process! For more tips and support throughout your pregnancy journey, check out our different targeted programs for each stage of your journey into parenthood.