(This post probably contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you through links shared on this website to help keep the information I provide free to you)
I am currently on my fourth pregnancy and the desire for a quick and easy labor and delivery is still very much on the forefront of my mind.
So I know that if you’re reading this, then it’s important to you too!
This article will teach you how to leverage the power of exercise during pregnancy to prepare you for a more manageable birth experience.
Exercise is one of the best ways to not only prepare your body for a faster labor and delivery but it can also help expedite postpartum recovery so you can better enjoy all those newborn snuggles.
As a mom of three (soon to be four), I learned the hard way that not preparing my body for labor made the pushing phase of labor even harder.
You wouldn’t run a 5k or a marathon without training for it, right?
Labor will be the longest marathon of our life so why not be better prepared for it.
These 22 simple exercise will help prepare your body and mind for labor by strengthening your core and pelvic floor muscles, improving flexibility, reducing back pain, and much more!
(Disclaimer: Although I am a certified prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist and personal trainer, I am not YOUR trainer. The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute of the information and advice you receive from a healthcare professional.)
Why is It Important to Exercise During Pregnancy?
The benefits of working out during pregnancy are profound!
From helping build smarter, more resilient babies to reducing your risk for pregnancy related complications, staying active during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do for both your pregnancy and labor.
It can also make a huge difference in not only how easy your labor and delivery go but also how well you will recover postpartum.
For example, specific exercises to prepare your body for labor can help you better handle contractions, relax and open your pelvic floor and strengthen your entire body, especially your core, for stronger and more efficient pushing.
All of these things combined are very important factors in how easy your labor and delivery go so it’s important to start taking them into account before they hit!
How Does Staying Active During Pregnancy Help your Ability to Handle Labor and Delivery?
You couldn’t run a marathon without training for it, right?
My first labor and delivery was 16 hours and I consider myself lucky for how quick it was.
To say I was exhausted is an understatement.
Exercise during pregnancy helps you to stay strong both physically and mentally so your body can handle whatever labor throws at it.
Exercising during pregnancy will help with labor by:
- Building Stamina
Exercising improves muscular endurance which is important during labor because your body has to be able to work for a longer period of time.
- Building Strength
Strength training, especially your core and pelvic floor, will help your body handle the demands of labor much more efficiently.
It will also help you hold your head and legs in the most comfortable position for you to push.
- Improve Your Body’s Ability To Handle Stress
Strength training helps build resiliency which is important for labor because you want your body to be able to handle the stress of contractions.
Keeping up with a light exercise routine while pregnant will help your body get used to stress so labor and delivery won’t feel as overwhelming.
- May Improve Your Mind’s Ability To Handle Pain
The same logic goes for your mind.
If you’re not mentally prepared to handle pain, labor and delivery is going to be harder on you mentally as well as physically.
Being able to stay strong will help both your body and mind get through both physical and emotional challenges that come with childbirth.
- Boosts Energy Levels
Exercises can greatly improve your energy levels as you move through your pregnancy.
Changes in energy levels will happen during the course of your pregnancy and exercise can help keep those changes at a minimum so you’re not dragging your whole body down with exhaustion.
Studies have also shown that working out regularly helps to reduce fatigue which is especially important during labor.
Does Exercise Really Help Induce Labor?
Studies show that there is no direct association between increased physical activity and going into active labor.
However, exercising DOES HELP your body prepare for an easier labor and delivery as well as postpartum recovery.
From personal experience with all three of my pregnancies, babies come when they are ready.
Having one baby who was a week late, I tried EVERYTHING to get her out.
In the end, she decided to come when she was ready.
While exercising during pregnancy will give you a better chance of a complication-free labor and delivery, it will probably not put you into labor unless your body is ready.
What Are Some Things I Should Avoid During Pregnancy That Can Cake My Labor More Difficult?
There are a lot of things you can do to help your body prepare for labor and delivery, but there are also some things that will work against you.
Not Exercising Enough
An important factor that works against many women during labor is the lack of exercise they do during pregnancy.
The more you can do in terms of light exercises, the better prepared your body will be for the physical challenges that come with childbirth.
Studies have shown that a lack of exercise not only makes it more difficult to go through labor and delivery but also has adverse effects on your mental health as well.
In order to keep your body strong and fit throughout pregnancy, you need to exercise regularly.
2. Gaining to Much Weight
One thing that will make labor more difficult is carrying too much weight, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.
Studies have shown that being overweight during pregnancy increases your risk of induction of labor, caesarean section, pre-term labor and macrosomia (babies born larger than normal) .
Carrying extra weight may also lead to injuries if you attempt any kind of physical activity while pregnant such as walking up stairs or lifting heavy objects.
3. Neglecting Weight Training
Many moms fear strength training during pregnancy and think it can put too much strain on their bodies or hurt their baby.
However, strength training during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do to reduce aches and pains as well as withstand the physical demands of labor.
Weight training also helps improve your ability to handle stress during labor, improves your energy levels and keeps fatigue at bay.
4. Avoiding Pregnancy Core Exercises
Many moms think core training during pregnancy is a no-go and avoid it all together.
However, a strong core is essential for an easier labor and delivery as well as postpartum recovery.
It’s important to include core exercises throughout your pregnancy to better prepare your body for physical challenges that come with labor and delivery.
If you aren’t sure which core exercises are best for pregnancy, then this article is a guide to help get you started about what will be most beneficial in helping you have the easiest birth possible.
5. Not Stretching Enough
Tight muscles can make it difficult for your baby to get into a good position for labor.
It can also help make it less painful for you to get in and out of bed, bend down or pick up objects so you’re able to more easily do the things you need to do throughout the day.
Is It Safe To Use Exercise To Induce Labor?
While most studies show that exercise itself probably won’t induce labor, you should always discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
Inducing labor naturally should always be something you speak to your healthcare provider about to make sure you it is safe for you and your pregnancy.
When To Avoid Exercise To Induce Labor?
For most expecting moms, exercising during their entire pregnancy is safe and even encouraged.
Studies show that prenatal exercise may reduce your risk of medical interventions such as a cesarean delivery as well as lower your risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
However, some women may need to avoid exercising during pregnancy.
Your doctor may advise you to avoid exercise if you:
- have been prescribed bed rest
- have a history of premature delivery
- have preterm contractions
- have pregnancy induced high blood pressure
- have an incompetent cervix
- have any any condition involving the cervix
22 The Best Exercises For An Easier Labor and Delivery
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, here are 22 exercises to help prepare your body for an easier (and hopefully quicker) labor and delivery.
Aerobic exercise will keep your heart healthy and improve overall blood circulation.
Studies show that exercise also increases blood flow to the placenta which helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
The most basic and effective form of exercise to prepare for labor is walking.
While the verdict is still out whether walking will induce labor, it will definitely help build the strength and endurance your body needs to make it through labor.
For an added challenge, you can try adding in hills, stairs or intervals to make it more intense.
Swimming is another great low impact prenatal exercise to keep your body strong to prepare for labor.
The water will help take the weight off your joints and make it easier for you to move around without over-stressing your body.
3. Stair Climbing
Fun fact: my second baby was 3 days overdue and I climbed 4010 steps on the stair climber hoping to get her to come out.
She still waited two days to make her appearance but I have no doubt that climbing those stairs up until the day I delivered helped with my six hour labor with her.
So climb stairs as often as you can without tiring yourself out!
You’ll be engaging your pelvic floor muscles, core and improving your endurance for the big day.
Spinning classes may not be easy while pregnant, but it’s a great way to build endurance and have fun doing it.
You can adjust the intensity of your workout by how fast or slow you choose to go.
5. Interval Training
Interval training is my absolute favorite method of exercise, even during pregnancy.
It helps build strength, endurance and mental toughness.
In the Natural Birth Prep Course I took, she reminds us that we can doing anything for 10-20 seconds.
This is about the peak of a contraction when it is most painful.
(by the way, every mom should take this course to help prepare them for a natural birth. You won’t regret it!)
Interval training can help teach your body to do something hard for 20 seconds so you are more mentally prepared during pregnancy.
Here is everything you need to know about interval training during pregnancy.
Pelvic Floor and Hips
Releasing tight pelvic floor and hip muscles can help the baby engage in your pelvis for labor.
6. Butterfly Stretch
- Start on the floor and bend your legs so that the bottom of your feet meet together in front of your groin.
- Keeping your back straight, hold the bottoms of your feet together with your hands and rest your elbows on your knees.
- Allow your knees to fall toward the ground. You can place gentle pressure on your inner thigh muscles to increase the stretch.
- Keeping your back straight, you can also lean slightly forward toward the floor for a deeper stretch but avoid rocking.
- You should feel this stretch in your groin and it will help to stretch the pelvic floor.
- Note: You can also do this butterfly stretch in a reclined position on the floor with a pillow providing some elevation and support under your back.
- Hold for about 20-30 seconds the rest and repeat.
7. Frog stretch
- Start on your hands and knees in a table top position. Make sure your hands are aligned under your shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Take a deep inhale and on the exhale, slowly move your knees out to the side until you feel a deep stretch in your groin area.
- Flex your ankles so that your inner feet, ankles and knees are in contact with the ground. You may need a thick blanket or yoga mat under you if this hurts your joints.
- You can stay in an upright position or slowly lower down onto your forearms for a deeper stretch.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds while focusing on deep breathing.
- To come out of the pose, slowly slide your knees closer together and return to your hands and knees.
- You may go from this pose right into child’s pose!
8. Childs Pose
- Carefully kneel onto the ground with your knees bent and shins on the ground underneath you. Your knees should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- On an exhale, slowly lower your torso toward the ground between your knees.
- You may reach your arms out in front of you or rest them at your sides.
- Relax your shoulders towards the ground and with each breath, focus on relaxing more deeply.
- Hold this position for at least 30-45 seconds but longer if it feels good for your and your body.
9. Deep Squat With Rocking
- Start with your feet wider that hip width apart and slowly bend your knees to lower down into a deep squat. You may place a yoga block or pillow under you for more support if needed.
- Place your elbows inside your knees with your hands together. This will help to drive your knees out and deepen the stretch in your groin and pelvic floor.
- Hold this position at the bottom for about 10-15 seconds while focusing on diaphragmatic breathing.
- Slowly begin rocking back and forth from left to right to add an even greater stretch and mobility.
- Make sure you are not holding your breath and are consciously breathing through the movement.
- If needed, you can use the back of a chair for more support.
- Complete about 10-12 rocks and then return to the center and slowly return to standing.
- Complete 3 sets.
8. Downward Dog to Spiderman Stretch
Downward dog helps to stretch the back of the body including ankles, hamstrings, calves and the spine.
This combined with the hip opening spider-man stretch really helps open the hips and back body.
- Begin in a table top position.
- Exhale and push your hips up and back while straightening your legs as much as possible.
- Keep your arms straight while focusing on keeping your shoulder and neck relaxed and your shoulders away from your ears.
- On an inhale, carefully step your right foot forward and to the outside of your right hand.
- Lower your back knee and forearms to the ground for more support. Keep your core engaged to prevent your lower back from arching.
- For a deeper hip opener, you can gently press your hand against your right knee and press it outward.
- Hold here for 20-30 seconds then slowly return to the downward dog position.
- Repeat on the left side.
- Complete 5 reps each side.
9. Adductor Rocks
- Sit on the floor in a kneeling position with your shins flat on the ground.
- Slowly extend one leg out straight to the side and place your foot flat on the ground with the foot rotated straight.
- Place both hands on the ground in front of you and keeping your spine straight and long, slowly push your hips back toward your heel while keeping your extended foot flat on the ground.
- Perform 8-10 rocks on each side.
- Complete 2-3 sets.
10. Happy Baby
This is my favorite stretch to help relieve tight pelvic floor muscles, opening your hips, stretching hamstrings and inner thigh.
- Begin by carefully getting onto your back. You may place a pillow under your head and upper back if you need extra support.
- Bring your knees toward your chest while flexing your feet with the soles are facing the ceiling.
- Wrap your first two fingers around your big toes and gently pull your feet down, leading with your elbows toward the floor.
- Focus on keeping your feel flat and let your back relax down and into the floor but without too much force. Try to avoid allowing your tailbone to rise away from the floor.
- Hold this position which focusing on deep breathing. With each breath, try to relax more.
- Hold for about 30-40 seconds or however long feels good for your body then slowly release.
- Complete 3-4 sets.
11. Lateral Band Walks
Lateral band walks help to strengthen the glute muscles which often get very weak during pregnancy due to posture changes.
Choose a loop band with a light to medium resistance or whatever is appropriate for your fitness level.
- Place a loop band around your legs, just above your knees. Be sure to hold onto something if you feel off balance.
- Place your feet shoulder width apart, engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees and lower into a half squat position and slightly lean forward.
- Initiate the movement by slightly shifting your weight over one leg and pressing off that foot to step laterally with the other foot.
- Continue this lateral side stepping for 10-12 reps then repeat in the other direction.
- Focus on keeping your core engage to keep you hips level and your back straight.
- Complete 3 sets each leg.
12. Seated Pigeon Stretch
Tight glute muscles can contribute to a tight pelvic floor, making it difficult for your pelvic floor to relax during labor.
Stretching the glute muscles can help release and relax the pelvic floor.
- Start by sitting in a sturdy chair.
- Place your left ankle on tip of your right thigh, just above your knee. You can rest your hands on your shins.
- Keeping your core slightly engaged and spine straight, lean slightly forward to deepen the stretch. You should feel a tight stretch in deep in your left glute muscle.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds then repeat on the right leg.
- Complete 3 sets on each leg
13. 90/90 Stretch
- Begin on the floor with one leg bent in front of your body in a 90-degree angle with the knee resting on the ground.
- Now do the same position with the opposite leg behind you so that both legs now form a 90-degree angle. Make sure your back knee is in line with your hip, and your ankle should be neutral.
- Sit up straight and slowly bend at your hips to bring your chest toward your front knee, keeping your upper body squared with your mat.
- If you lack flexibility in your hips (like myself) you can place a yoga block or pillow under your hands or under your bent knee for more support.
- To switch legs, simply rotate your legs and body to the other side and assume the same position on the opposite leg.
- Hold each side for 20-30 seconds.
- Complete 3-5 sets each side.
14. Hip Rolls On Birthing Ball
- Begin by sitting comfortably on a stability ball with your legs slightly wider than hip width apart.
- Slowly move your hips in a large circular motion. The range of motion may differ for everyone but the idea is to help open up the pelvic floor.
- Repeat the same movement in the opposite directly.
- Complete for 30 -40 seconds each side.
- This can be done several times throughout the day to help open the pelvis.
15. Bouncing on a Stability Ball
Gently bouncing on an exercises ball can help position your babies head in birth canal.
- Begin by sitting comfortably on a stability ball with your legs slightly wider than hip width apart.
- Simply bounce up and down gently with your hands either resting on your thighs or belly.
- Focus on keeping your back straight and focusing on diaphragmatic breathing to help relax the pelvic floor.
- This can be done as often as needed during the the last week or two before your due date to help open the pelvis.
Squats help to strengthen your hips and core while opening the plevis.
Core Strength Exercises For Pushing
Core exercises are the best exercises to prepare for labor.
After all, these are the muscles that initiate pushing!
17. Pelvic Tilt
This is one the most important foundational exercises of core strength both during pregnancy and postpartum recovery as well.
- Lie on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. If laying on your back is uncomfortable, you can sit on a stability ball.
- In this neutral position, you will likely notice your lower back slightly arched.
- On an exhale, engage your core, lift your pelvic floor and imagine you are trying to make your back flat against that ground or straighten the arch in your back.
- Stay here for a few breaths, keeping your core engaged.
- On the inhale, return to your neutral position.
- Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
- Start on your hands and knees in a table top position.
- On an inhale, allow your belly to relax and drop toward the ground. Keep your shoulders drawing down your back and away from your ears with your gaze slightly looking up.
- Slowly exhale and engage your abdominal muscles as you press your hands into the floor to round or arch your back.
- Continue alternating the cat/cow position with your breath, arching on the exhale and relaxing on the inhale.
- Repeat 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
19. Bird Dogs
This exercise is very deceiving in it’s core strengthening benefits!
- Begin on your hands and knees in a table top position.
- Engage your core by imagining lifting your pelvic floor and hugging your baby.
- Practice lifting one are and reaching it out in front of you without losing core engagement.
- If you can do this, then progress the exercises by lifting your right leg and left arm an inch or two off the ground.
- If you are able to do this without losing core engagement or shifting of the hips, then move to the full exercise by fully extending one arm and the opposite leg.
- Your body should form one straight line and your hips should be squared to the floor.
- If you notice any sagging in your back, then slightly lower your leg and only lift it as high as you can before your back sags.
- Engaging the glute of the extended leg will help keep your hips level. Focus on using your core to prevent excess motion in your hips.
- Breath and hold for 5 seconds then slowly switch sides. Focusing on relaxing the core and pelvic floor on the inhale and engaging on the exhale.
- Relax and Repeat on the opposite side.
20. Side Planks
Side planks strengthen your oblique muscles which help during the pushing phase of labor.
- Begin on your right side with your legs extend and stacked on top of each other.
- Your right elbow should be directly under your shoulder. Your left arm can be resting on top of your right side or bent with your hand on your hip.
- Inhale and on the exhale, engage your core by hugging your baby and lift your hips and knees off the floor.
- Your body should be in a straight line without and sagging to the front or back.
- If this is too challenging, you can bend your knees or bend the bottom knee while keeping the top leg straight.
- Hold for 30-40 seconds, lowering your body and resetting as needed during the interval.
- Avoid rolling forward or allowing your hips to sag.
- Complete 3 sets on each side.
Breathing and Relaxation Exercises During Labor
Breath work is one of the most important exercises both during pregnancy and labor.
During pregnancy, breathing patterns change as the baby grows and takes up more space.
Proper breathing is important during labor because it can help to reduce pain and increase relaxation which is need to help open the pelvic floor.
21. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most important exercises both during pregnancy and postpartum.
Proper breathing techniques are important for helping to regulate intra-abdominal, preventing excess stress on the pelvic floor and Linea Alba.
Unregulated intra-abdominal pressure can lead to things such as diastasis recti, hernias, chronic back pain, pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence.
- Start on your back or you can do this sitting on a chair or stability ball.
- Place one hand on your rib cage and the other on your low belly.
- Close your eyes and as you inhale, focus on softening your belly and pelvic floor. You should feel as if your pelvic floor in lowering.
- On the exhale, imagine you are lifting your pelvic floor and bringing it toward your navel.
- On the inhale, imagine lifting and engaging the pelvic floor and transverse abdominals.
- This should not be and exaggerated movement but something that becomes completely unconscious over time.
22. Exercise Ball Lean
This is a great position to help relieve some pressure off your lower back and teaches your body to relax the belly.
It can also help further relax your pelvic floor as you focus on breath work.
- Sit on your knees with an exercise ball in front of your body.
- Simply rest your upper body and arms on top of the ball and relax into the ball, allowing your belly to fall to the floor.
- Focus on deep breathing and learning to let your body relax.
- This is a great position during labor as well, especially if you have back labor.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About The Best Exercises To Prepare for Labor
When Should I Start Exercising To Prepare My Body For Labor?
Right away! You should start preparing both mentally and physically as soon as possible.
However, always speak with you healthcare provider before starting any prenatal exercise routine but the sooner you start these exercises, the better!
What About Kegels?
Contrary to popular belief, Kegel exercises are NOT the holy grail of pelvic floor strengthening.
And to most people fail to perform their Kegel exercises correctly in the first place making them completely ineffective.
Pelvic floor and core strengthening requires much more than just doing your daily Kegels.
When Can I Start Exercising After a Normal Delivery?
Doctors will typically tell you to wait 6-8 weeks to begin exercising after pregnancy.
However, the 6-8 week wait period just means you are medically cleared to exercise and DOES NOT mean your body is physically strong enough to begin strenuous exercise.
Make sure you take the time to heal your body correctly after pregnancy to avoid complications later on such as incontinence, chronic back pain, pelvic pain, pain with sex and a belly pooch that won’t go away.
Final Thoughts on Exercises to Prepare for Labor
It is important to stay active and take care of your body throughout the nine months so you’ll have the stamina to handle labor and delivery without feeling worn out.
The exercises that we’ve covered in this article should help get you started thinking about how you can leverage the power of exercise during pregnancy for a more manageable birth experience.
If all of this sounds intimidating or overwhelming and you want help applying these exercises, I’ve created this free four week labor prep exercise guide to help prepare your body for a positive birth experience.
FACT CHECKStruggles of a Fit Mom uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within it’s articles. Read my editorial process to learn more about how I fact-check and keep my content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Effects of Exercise During Pregnancy. (2021). American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/is-it-safe/exercise-during-pregnancy-2/
- The course of labor after endurance exercise during pregnancy. (2020). PubMed.Gov. Published. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32707830/
- Clapp, J., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Addicus Books.
- Melzer K, Schutz Y, Boulvain M, Kayser B. Physical activity and pregnancy: cardiovascular adaptations, recommendations and pregnancy outcomes. Sports Med. 2010;40(6):493-507. doi:10.2165/11532290-000000000-00000
- N Fox, S Gelber, S Chasen. Physical And Sexual Activity During Pregnancy Are Not Associated With The Onset Of Labor And Mode Of Delivery In Low Risk Term Nulliparous Women. The Internet Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2006 Volume 8 Number 1
- Yazdani, Shahla et al. “Effect of maternal body mass index on pregnancy outcome and newborn weight.” BMC research notes vol. 5 34. 17 Jan. 2012, doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-34
Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.