6 Exercises to Help Induce Labor
At 39 weeks, you’ve reached what’s officially considered a full term pregnancy—and you’re probably more than ready to meet your baby. But even with your due date around the corner, there’s really no telling when baby will decide to make their grand entrance. Which is why many moms-to-be, eager to put pregnancy behind them, try to take things into their own hands and help move labor along. One tactic? Trying out certain exercises to induce labor.
But do they really work? They can, experts say, but only if your body is actually getting ready for labor. “The fact is that if a woman’s cervix isn’t ripe–meaning soft and ready for dilation—then no exercise in the world will induce her into labor!” says Kathy Fray, a midwife and maternity consultant in Auckland, New Zealand. In other words, if your body isn’t starting to gear up for labor on its own, doing squats and forward bends aren’t going to jumpstart contractions. “However, if your cervix is beautifully ripe and soft and stretchy, then exercises might tip you into commencing contractions.”
Read on to learn which exercises you can try out to help induce labor naturally.
While you may want baby to come, and stat, you don’t want baby to come too soon. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the risk of adverse outcomes is lowest if baby is born between 39 and 41 weeks gestation.
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first before trying out any exercises to help induce labor. But generally speaking, unless you’re dealing with a complicated pregnancy, gentle exercise and breathing techniques shouldn’t send you into preterm labor if you try some moves out ahead of time. In fact, you may want to even test out some techniques while you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, says Jess Jennings, MS, founder of Ma Yoga for Pregnancy, Motherhood & Beyond in Los Angeles, which also offers online prenatal yoga and birth prep classes. “Your body is practicing,” she explains. “It’s a wonderful time for you to practice too.”
Jennings suggests finding a breathing rhythm during Braxton Hicks contractions while stretching back through your hips and swaying. If you get energy flowing through your hips as the contractions build up, she says, you’ll have the inner resources to pull through once the real labor contractions set in.
Still, even in a healthy pregnancy, exercises that help induce labor might not feel comfortable. Always listen to your body and stop or take breaks as needed.
Curious to learn which exercises might help move labor along? Read on for six options that experts recommend.
Some exercises may encourage labor to start, while others can help move early labor along once those initial contractions have started. Either way, “it’s about focusing on exercises that will calm your central nervous system,” says Melissa Green, a labor support doula, founder and prenatal exercise specialist at Just like Om, a yoga and pilates studio in New York City. “If you’re trying to induce labor, don’t elevate your heart rate or cause stress on the body. This can prevent labor, or even reverse it.” The reason: When your heart rate goes up, your body reacts with a fight-or-flight response. And to give birth, you obviously want openness in your pelvic area, not Spanx-like tightness.
In addition to finding a slow, rhythmic breath, start moving in a way that grounds you and the baby, Green adds. Exercises that relax the pelvic floor as well as open up hips are ideal in helping move labor to the next phase.
It’s also good to simply move about, especially when you’re trying to coax early labor into the next phase. “Lying flat on the bed does not help mild latent labor establish into strong active labor,” Fray says. “Women need to mobilize. Being upright increases the pressure of the fetal head on the cervix, making the contractions more effective.”
Ready to get moving? Here are six possible exercises to help induce labor.
When you breathe normally, you generally contract the abdominals on the exhale—but if you’re trying to induce labor, you want to engage your core and diaphragm as you inhale through the nose, and “try to hug the baby with your abdominal muscles,” Green says. Take a moment to hold your breath, then exhale slowly through the mouth. You should feel relaxed on the exhale, imagining baby pushing down. Practice breathing like this until you can feel the pelvic floor muscles relax. This style of breathing can be done on an exercise ball, in child’s pose and in a supported squat.
In Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), this type of grounding breathing is associated with apana vayu, a life force that flows downward. “A long, full exhale brings our energy down out of your head into the lower body,” Jennings says. “It prepares the body for birth in so many ways.”
Doing certain prenatal yoga poses to induce labor, like butterfly pose, can be particularly helpful as your body transitions to the main event. Sit on the floor with knees wide and the soles of your feet together. You can place your hands under your knees for support. As you inhale, sit up tall so your lower back has a natural curve (like Cow Pose) and expand your chest forward and up. As you exhale, drop your chin down, lean back and round your back (like Cat Pose). Repeat this move five to 10 times, or as long as it feels good. “Both of these movements are important for pushing,” Jennings says. “When you find the natural curve of the lower back, you can access more power as you bear down.”
Supported Forward Bend
Find something sturdy that you can hold on to, like a wall, kitchen counter or stair banister. Place your legs parallel to each other, hip-width apart. Hold on to your support, bend your knees and stretch your hips back, pressing the tops of your thighs back as well. “Stick your butt out to make space in the pelvis,” Jennings says. “That’s where baby needs the most space to make their exit.” Do this as long as it feels good, moving your hips side to side, taking long, deep breaths as you lengthen your spine and expand the back of your pelvis.
Supported squats help strengthen the glutes and legs, stretch the pelvic floor and encourage baby to move down. Stretching the pelvic floor helps your body relax, says Green, who recommends spending up to five minutes a day doing squats once baby is in the head down position. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to set your stopwatch—you can break up the five minutes into several intervals throughout the day.) “The full squat position (called malasana in yoga) helps baby engage deeper into the pelvis,” she says.
To start, put your back against a wall. (Consider placing an exercise ball between your back and the wall, which you can lean against to relieve pressure from the lower back.) Place your feet about shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing out slightly. Bend your knees and descend as low as you’re comfortable, exhaling on the way down. While working on these squats to induce labor, keep your knees pointing out as you slowly return to starting position on the inhale.
Exercise Ball Bounce
Gently bouncing on an exercise ball to induce labor not only encourages baby to move down and in turn assist with cervix dilation, but it can also soothe baby, Green says. Sit on the exercise ball, with your legs wide apart, and move your hips up and down. The movement encourages the pelvic floor to contract and relax naturally. Gentle bouncing also allows the spine to decompress, making a little more space between the vertebrae, which can relieve tension in the low back. Bounce for a few minutes throughout the day.
If you want to help move early labor along, this could be a good exercise to induce active labor. Place your arms around the neck of your partner or labor support person and let yourself lean on them and relax. Sway your hips side to side. (This is a great time to fire up that playlist for labor and delivery!) Swaying the hips invites the open feeling you want in your pelvis, Jennings says. This simple movement can help you find a natural rhythm and support the downward flow of energy that you want throughout birth. What’s more, if you’re doing this move with your partner, connecting with someone you love releases oxytocin, a natural hormone that’s said to help you stay calm and better cope with pain.
Kathy Fray, is a midwife and maternity consultant in Auckland, New Zealand, with over a decade of experience helping to birth babies. She is also the author of several parenting books, including Oh Baby: Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored and Oh Growh Up: Toddlers to Preteens Decoded, and founder of the International Integrated Maternity Healthcare Organization.
Jess Jennings, MS, ERYT, RYPT, is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Ma Yoga for Pregnancy, Motherhood & Beyond, a yoga center in Los Angeles that offers prenatal yoga and mom and baby yoga classes, as well as online prenatal yoga and birth prep classes.
Melissa Green is a labor support doula and postpartum corrective exercise specialist, a E-RYT and YACEP certified yoga teacher and founder of Just like Om, a yoga and pilates studio in New York City.
Top Photo Model Credit: Mo’ Mommies
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