Many pregnant women spend a lot of time looking for ways to stay comfortable and fit, and to prepare their bodies for labor. Squatting is an age-old activity that can achieve all three goals. You only need a sturdy chair or table, and the position is generally considered safe for women at any stage of pregnancy. However, because every woman and every pregnancy carries different risks, check with your doctor before undertaking these, or any, exercises.
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General Benefits of Squatting
As your belly grows, you may suffer from a number of pregnancy-related discomforts. Some of these can be relieved through squatting. Squatting stretches the lower back and may relieve any pressure or aches there. In addition, because your body’s alignment is thrown out of whack as your center of gravity shifts and body changes shape, squatting can help realign the body and alleviate symptoms of constipation. Squatting instead of sitting can also help reduce pressure on your pelvic floor, which may come as a welcome relief in those later months.
Benefits for Labor
Squatting is one of the most natural positions for childbirth. The position widens the pelvic openings, improves oxygen supply to the baby, and relaxes the perineal muscles, thus decreasing the risk of tears during the pushing stage, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website, which is produced by pediatricians. Unlike birthing while lying flat on your back, squatting allows gravity to help the baby move through the birth canal and gives your baby a straight path through a more spacious passage. If you practice squatting exercises during your pregnancy, the relevant muscles will be stretched and primed, and you’ll able to better take advantage of the benefits of squatting during labor.
If you’re out of shape or unaccustomed to squatting, you may want to try the partial squat exercise before moving on to the full squat. To do the partial squat, the website "3 Fat Chicks" recommends standing behind a heavy chair with both hands firmly placed upon its back. Keeping your abdominal muscles tight and shoulders relaxed, slowly lower your tailbone toward the floor, as if you were about to sit. Stop at the midway point between the floor and your standing height and hold the position for a count of 10. Then rise slowly to the original position, lifting your bottom first and then bringing the rest of your body into alignment. Repeat in one or two sets of 10 repetitions. As it begins to get easier to hold the position, increase the holding time to 15 seconds, eventually working your way up to holding the squat for 60 seconds.
When you can effortlessly hold the squat position for 60 seconds, try doing a full squat, in which case you would do the same exercise, but you would lower your tailbone as close to the floor as is comfortable.
With your doctor’s approval, you can do these exercises on a daily basis. You may also want to incorporate squatting into your daily life by using squatting moves to pick up items that have fallen on the floor, or reaching for things on low shelves. The more you squat, the more used you’ll be to assuming the position during labor.
Squatting can put strain on the ligaments surrounding your knees. These ligaments are already loosened due to the preponderance of the hormones elastin and relaxin in the pregnant body. The Pregnancy Today website warns that stretched ligaments may not snap back the way muscles do, and thus squatting may put the joint at higher risk for injury. Discuss any concerns about this with your doctor and proceed with the exercises with caution.