As you reach the end of your pregnancy, you might start to focus on preparing for labor. Walking, on a treadmill or around your neighborhood, is a popular recommendation for starting labor. In women with a normal pregnancy and no history of preterm labor, spending time on the treadmill can help prepare your body for birth, but it won't start the labor process until your body is ready. Never try any at-home labor induction method before asking your doctor's advice – and consult your doctor if you experience contractions before 37 weeks.
Walking can help move labor along in women experiencing contractions, but not yet in labor, according to registered nurse Lisa Rodriguez and Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, of the Dr. Spock website. The side-to-side motion of walking helps bring your baby into a good position for birth. The pressure of the baby's head against your cervix can cause your body to produce oxytocin, one of the hormones responsible for starting labor. In women with an effaced cervix, the pressure can cause dilation. In women without any signs of labor, walking can irritate the uterus and cause some contractions, but these usually go away as soon as you stop moving.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends brisk walking as a safe form of exercise for your entire pregnancy. It provides a safe, full-body workout that is easy on your joints and muscles. Walking indoors on a treadmill can help you avoid overheating on hot, sunny days. The surface of a treadmill is more forgiving than concrete or asphalt, which can minimize strain on your knees and ankles.
Women with risk factors for preterm labor, including a history of preterm birth or a pattern or preterm contractions, should consult their doctors before walking long distances or lengths of time during late pregnancy. Even women with a normal pregnancy should pay attention to their body's signals to avoid overdoing it. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience dizziness, breathlessness, vaginal bleeding, leaking of fluids from the vagina or heart palpitations.
Even if walking on a treadmill doesn't get your labor moving, Greenfield and Rodriguez recommend it as a good way to get some exercise during late pregnancy. Although you are likely anxious to meet your new arrival, Greenfield and Rodriguez advise against doing anything to speed along labor prior to 40 weeks. Due dates can sometimes be off by as many as three to four weeks, and delivering too early can endanger your baby's health.