Training for the (Pregnancy) Marathon

Labor and delivery are truly a marathon. I think most people can appreciate this, but I don’t think people realize just how true this is. It requires a large amount of preparation, both mentally and physically. In my opinion, women are expected to enter this marathon largely unprepared and without the proper training. They aren’t given the necessary tools for their race readily and regularly.

The mind body connection
Delivering a child is as much of a mental game than anything else. It’s a painful and exhausting process that has no definite finish line. Will baby be here in an hour? 5? 36?!? There’s really no telling. Additionally, if you’re planning a hospital birth, you may be deprived of simple comforts of home and certain birthing positions and luxuries. It’s overwhelming to say the least. I don’t say this to scare you or deter you from conceiving or having a hospital birth. It’s a beautiful process beyond worth the effort. But that’s not to say that you don’t need to consider these things and prepare mentally. “I can do hard things” will be your new mantra.

There exists a powerful mind-body connection. If you tell yourself you cannot do something, that it’s too painful, or you’re not strong enough, etc., this is going to hinder your abilities. Your body will tense in ways that will make everything more difficult and more drawn out. If you have a positive outlook, and a can-do attitude, you’re going to help ease your body into the process. Think of your body as a willing, eager child. If you were to ever suggest to a child that they cannot do something, that they’re not strong enough, or smart enough, and so on, they’re going to get discouraged. Their malleable mind will, in turn, believe that they are what you say they are. They won’t be as inclined to go out and train for that marathon, or apply for that college when they grow up as if you, say, inspired them from a young age to explore all that their body and mind is capable of. So treat your body with kindness, and don’t allow your mind to restrict its abilities.

You will experience pain, this is a given. However, it’s pain with a purpose. Your body isn’t being harmed, and this is a natural process that so many women have gone through and survived before. Plus, in the end, you’re going to receive the most magical gift of all time. So prepare your mind. Prepare a place in there where you can go and try to not think of the pain as pain, but as a sensation that you’re experiencing that is necessary to bring your child into the world and into your arms. Meditation and abdominal breathing will be your best friend. Start practicing well before delivery. When the time comes, you will have so much to focus on. If you practice slowing your mind and breathing well before, you will have plenty of practice controlling your mind so that you can allow your body to relax a little more than it would have otherwise, and ease labor as a result.

As said before, there’s no telling how long you’ll be in labor. There are many muscles involved in this process and they must be engaged for a prolonged period of time. These muscles include but are not limited to: legs (glutes, hamstrings, quads), abdomen (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominus), and uterus (we can’t really train this one). More than likely, none of these muscles are accustomed to this sort of endurance. Thankfully, there are ways to train your body for this fateful day. Prepare these muscles by increasing their endurance and strength before and during pregnancy with regular exercise.

Another reason to train is to help decrease your risk of complications after pregnancy. For example, diastasis recti is a condition in which your abdominal muscles separate. This can have an effect on the way your abdomen looks, but more importantly it has implications in the way you move and function. Your abdominal muscles do more than give you that six pack. They’re a part of your core which needs to be functioning properly for the rest of your body to function properly.

Don’t do it alone
Surround yourself with those that love and care about you. This includes family and friends but also those that are educated on the subject. Doulas and midwives, and even moms that have given birth before and understand the process, are all incredible resources and good people to lean on. Start the conversation. Develop a support system. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.

Childbirth is truly a beautiful experience that shouldn’t be feared. So much of the message being sent to women is that childbirth is scary and hard, but there is so much more that is being left out of the story of this miracle we have the capacity for.