First, WHY should we prepare our body for VBAC?
You may have heard it said that "we were made to birth." And I do agree with that statement. Our bodies are incredible and were made for birth! But, we live in an artificial environment. Our bodies do not move the way that they were intended to move. We have outsourced the work of our muscles and we aren't moving in the variety or frequency that we really were designed to. Because of this, it's really essential both for minimizing pain and also for an easier birthing, to change our movement habits to stack the cards in our favor. Does this mean that everyone who "prepares their body" will have a successful VBAC? No. Does this mean if someone has a cesarean that it was their fault? Absolutely not! Does this mean that everyone who has a vaginal birth doesn't need this *exact same stuff*?! No, no no! I am simply giving you a tool that will both help baby to find optimal positioning for birth, and also help your pelvis to be at the optimal function for the birthing process. These same principles can apply to all pregnant moms!
2. Sit less and use variety with your resting positions. Research is showing us that sitting for prolonged periods of time has an impact on long-term health and longevity. Additionally, it weakens the birth muscles and decreases birth space. If you are chair sitting, make sure you sit with a neutral pelvis (see above) and take breaks to stand, walk, and stretch every 15-20 minutes. Consider a dynamic work station that alternates between standing, sitting (in a variety of positions, if possible!), walking and stretching throughout the day. Try sitting on the floor more often than in a chair, if possible.
2. Weight Back in your heels. Now that you have neutral pelvis, it's time to get your weight back where it should go. Pregnancy and baby carrying tends to shift our weight forward. Not because it SHOULD, but because we let it. We outsource the work our posterior (back of the) leg muscles. This not only puts a lot of strain on our core (diastasis recti anyone?), but it also turns off the muscles that should be holding us up all day. These are also muscles that support the pelvis.
3. Feet hip distance. This helps to use the lateral (outside) hip muscles that support the pelvis. Women often stand with their feet much closer together than hip distance. Additionally, when we walk we tend to allow our feet to swing in quite a bit! Check out your foot prints if you walk through snow (rain? sand?) and see if your foot prints are actually hip distance apart. Chances are, when your foot hits the ground it is closer than hip distance. If we can think about bringing our feet back to hip distance and keeping our feet "in their own train tracks" while walking we can increase the strength of the lateral hips (I have done several blog posts on lateral hip strength. Check out THIS ONE as to why lateral hip strength is important for pregnancy pain)
4. Relax the belly. We spend a lot of our lives sucking our belly in. Whether for vanity sake, stress, or because we think it's proper core engagement. Note: It's not proper core engagement and even if it was, we should not be engaging our core all day. I added stress to the list because I personally notice that when I'm stressed out that my core sucks in more! It's amazing how these habits sneak in! So take a deep breath and then RELAX your belly away from your spine. Notice if you are sucking it in and then be like Elsa and LET IT GO! This will help with the 2nd stage (pushing) of birth because it's releasing all the intra-abdominal pressure that has been built up from all the sucking in that we then have to push against whether to go to the bathroom, or to push out something much cuter, but less frequent- a baby! Check out this video of me explaining it (I was pregnant in the video, too!)
2. Double Calf Stretch
Does your pelvis even move? It should! When you bend over to pick something up (toys, dishes, laundry.... story of my life) do you do it by flexing your lumbar spine, or do you do it by allowing your pelvis to move? This one is going to help with pelvic mobility and also with all the muscles down the backside of the legs- hamstrings and calves. Only go as far as you can go until your pelvis stops moving and your lumbar spine (low back curve) starts flattening. This and the single legged calf stretch are HUGELY important and are prep work for squatting..
3. Psoas Release This exercise feels like you're doing nothing. Because you are. Except, you're not. You're allowing the resting tension of your psoas muscle to relax. This muscle deserves many of it's own blog posts. Here is one I did a while ago.
First, find a bolster or supportive cushion (or sleeping bag rolled up in a sack- get creative if you have to!). Next, sit up tall with your feet in front of you and feel your hamstrings touching the floor. When you lay back into a bolstered position, you only want to go as far as you can go without your hamstrings popping up off the floor. If, after you're down in this position, you can drive a matchbox car under your hamstrings, then you need to bolster yourself higher. It's not unusual for me to need to double bolster people! Position the bolster so that the back of your ribs is NOT on the bolster so that it is just under your shoulders. Put a rolled up blanket or half dome under your head so you don't feel like your head is uncomfortably flopping back. As you rest here, allow the back of your rib cage to relax down towards the ground. When you start, you may notice your ribs thrusting way up towards the sky. But as you continue to relax here (great place to watch a movie! I just introduced Star Wars to my kids in this position last week!) notice the tension in your psoas releasing by the back of the rib cage coming down towards the floor.
4. Hamstring Strap Stretch I am a big fan of doing this stretch in the psoas release position. It protects the core because it is allowing the ribs to relax down and it helps us to not go past our boundaries because if we do, the opposite hamstring will lift off the floor. After getting in your psoas release position, bring a strap just underneath your toes. Slowly lift the leg up, but stop if the opposite hamstring lifts off the ground, because this is showing that your pelvis is beginning to tuck to compensate for being at the end of your hamstrings range of motion. Relax the toes towards your body. No barbie feet! Try to avoid the mindset of "the more I feel this stretch the better it is." You may feel more of a stretch if you were to pull you hamstring way up towards your face, but it's not going to help you any more than just being *where you actually are.*
5. Inner Thigh Stretch
Working on movement and alignment not only helps to prepare for birth, it also helps ease pregnancy pain and helps with a smoother and easier postpartum recovery. And don't get me started on pelvic floor and really... whole body health! The great thing about this work (or maybe not so great thing depending on how you look at it) is that everything affects everything. So a byproduct of working on alignment for you birth is that you're going to start helping that wonky knee. That annoying foot pain. That digestive stuff. It's all connected! Our body is not a bunch of parts working in isolation, so we can't fix or help anything in isolation. We must look at everything in relation to everything else.
PS- taking photos with a bunch of our kids is kinda chaotic. I might have to do a PART 2 with more.. They were totally at their limit. You probably are after this super long post too. Don't blame ya!