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Exercises For A Great Birth Pregnancy (& Birth!)

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We are honored to share a guest post today from one of our newest board members, Katie Dudley.  Katie first became interested in natural birth as she prepared for the birth of her own child and attended our founder, Donna Ryan’s, birth class.  Our newest student manuals include her contributions in both exercise and nutrition.  They are nothing short of incredible and we are so proud and excited to have her on our team.  Today she shares three exercises (there are many, many more in the complete Birth Boot Camp class series!) to get you started in preparing for a great pregnancy and birth.  

One reason we chose Katie as the developer for our pregnancy fitness program is her trust in the female body and its inherent power. We too believe that women are capable of birth and that they are strong! There are many in the fitness industry who believe that pregnancy and birth are very harmful and damaging to women’s bodies and they need to be “put back together” afterwards. With proper exercises before, during and after pregnancy, in addition to phenomenal pregnancy nutrition, we don’t believe this to typically be true. 

As with any fitness program, seek approval from your physician before beginning, especially during pregnancy. These exercises are widely accepted as safe for pregnant women in general, but (as with everything relating to birth) there are exceptions. Be aware of your body and listen to it. Consult with your care provider if you have any questions.

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I always thought it was humorous when people would come up to me during the last couple of months of my pregnancy and say “Aren’t you ready for that baby to come out?” It was my first child! Of course I’m ready. They would then they would follow it up with “I’m sure you are so ready, you must be miserable!”

Being in the health and wellness industry, I find this sentiment is pervasive. In fact, my husband recently had a conversation with a pregnant couple urging us to get pregnant too so “we could be miserable together.”

As a personal trainer and fitness junkie, I don’t just love exercise and nutrition; I also believe that just as our bodies are strong and capable of fitness, women’s bodies are also strong and capable of an enjoyable pregnancy and birth.

Are there “uncomfortable” aspects to pregnancy at times? Yes. The possible months of nausea are not great, the swelling is pretty interesting, we all know about the weight gain aspects, the going to the bathroom throughout the night, being physically out of sorts and many other common pregnancy “symptoms”. Pregnancy is a multifaceted experience both wonderful and filled with unique challenges for each of us. A woman’s body goes through a lot of changes, but does it really have to be as physically uncomfortable as many women experience, let alone miserable? I say for many women, “No”.

I believe we can be proactive in combating many of these discomforts through proper exercise. That was my personal experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the experience of countless pregnant women I have worked with over the years. While I did experience months of nausea (not fun), other than that I felt great. I didn’t experience the aches and pains that other women talk about in their backs, hips and joints that I had anticipated before becoming pregnant. Pregnancy can be a joy! I felt good and I felt strong. I had a physical confidence with the extra 45 pounds I was carrying on my body and I really attribute that to being physically active before and during my pregnancy and eating nutrient dense foods.

I was on my feet 8-10 hours a day with clients and I focused most of my exercise on my postural health. Making sure my spine and my hips were supported by a strong core can be life changing.Many women complain of lower back pain during pregnancy. There are things we can do about this!

Most of that pain is caused by lordosis (rotated pelvis). Many other women also have SI Joint dysfunction, leg cramps, numbness and aching in the hips and legs. The majority of these ailments can be alleviated with appropriate physical activity, massage/myofascial release, chiropractic and stretching. By doing so, individuals create strength and balance in their alignment relieving a lot of unnecessary pressure on their frame. I’ve seen this myself through my own pregnancy and the many women I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years as well as others my colleagues have trained.

It’s a new physical world that we live in. Many of us spend our days sitting behind a desk or at a computer. Others are in the car for work or with their families. These positions can weaken and put strain on our bodies. We just do not have the physical demands as those generations that came before us. Our days are generally not spent foraging food, washing clothes by hand, and carrying water on our shoulders. Most of us have to make a point to get physical activity to strengthen our bodies. And that’s ok! We can do it!

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a great place to start. These are a few of my favorite specific strengthening exercises for preparing the body for a comfortable pregnancy and a great birth.

bridging

-Bridging-

One of my favorite core exercises for everyone is bridging. Bridging is utilized to strengthen the glutes, hips, pelvic floor, and core. It is especially beneficial for individuals who spend a significant amount of time sitting. This particular exercise helps to lengthen those muscles that are contracted during sitting and help strengthen the muscles that are relaxed in that position. Women and men that sit often have weak glute muscles and have a difficult time activating them which can affect the knees and lower back.

Bridging is also advantageous for those that have an anterior rotated pelvis, by strengthening the hips to stay in a more neutral position.

~Simple directions~

1. Lie on back or stability ball with knees and feet straight and in line.

2. Tuck pelvis to neutral position, keeping shoulders relaxed and spine straight.

3. Squeeze glutes and pelvis up off floor keeping core tight and knees straight. Pause.

4. Slowly lower down to starting position and repeat.

*Try 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 3 times a week.

squatting

-Squatting-

Squatting is one of the most functional exercises people can do. Individuals use it almost every day whether bending down to grab something out of a cabinet or to sit on the floor. It not only supports movements in everyday life, but can also help women achieve an easier birth physically and support their bodies throughout the pregnancy. A squat strengthens the glutes, hips, core, feet, back, pelvic floor and the stabilizing muscles around knees. People with previous injuries are often afraid to squat, but when executed and practiced with proper form, squatting can actually help prevent an injury from recurring.

The squat pictured above is a deep birthing squat. Not all women will be able to perform this easily or with proper form the first time. Pay attention to your body and listen to it! Consult with your care provider if you have questions. More specific thoughts are also found in your student “Field Manual” and the videos in your class. The deep squat was once a natural and everyday movement for women, now we often need to “re-learn” it to prepare for birth. But be assured: squatting is an incredibly important position for pushing with the ability to shorten and speed the second stage of labor. You don’t want to learn it in the heat of birth.

Squatting isn’t a competition! Go to a comfortable depth for you. Keep your spine and pelvis neutral. Don’t push beyond what you are able.

~Simple directions~

1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes following knees.

2. Keep core and glutes tight, sit back straight and lower as if sitting in a chair with a neutral spine

3. Pause at bottom, keeping feet flat on floor.

4. Sitting up tall, keeping glutes contracted, press through heels and return slowly to starting

*Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.

quadruped

-Quadruped-

A perfect asymmetrical exercise for pregnancy, the quadruped helps to strengthen our core through an unstable position. By executing exercises in this manner, it allows for better control over the body by strengthening the stabilizing muscles. To keep the body in a neutral position when practicing an asymmetrical exercise requires better muscle recruitment. Over time this provides more support for the spine and more control over the body. This is an especially beneficial exercise for those combating sciatica or Diastasis Recti. (If your Diastasis Recti is known and severe this may not be the best position for you. This will often feel wrong for these particular women. We encourage all women to pay attention to their bodies.)

In addition, “all-fours” positions are fabulous for birthing and women left to their intuition often birth in this position. Many care providers notice that hands and knees positions can help in properly positioning a baby when done during pregnancy and even during the birth. They can also make labor more comfortable, particularly back labor. Practicing things like the quadruped or pelvic rocking can help prepare you in many ways. Exercises like this help strengthen your body so that you can function better in pregnancy and during your birth.

~Simple directions~

1. Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.

2. Activate core and glutes.

3. Keeping back and hips level, raise arm and opposite leg straight out. Relax shoulder.

5. Take your time, move slowly keeping core tight (draw belly button to spine) and glutes

6. Return to starting position and alternate sides.

*Important to keep spine straight and not twist or shift hips.

Pregnancy and birth are miraculous and under-appreciated times in our life. Opinions are pervasively negative regarding the functioning of our bodies during pregnancy. But knowledge, effort, and some labor can help prepare our bodies, ease the burdens placed on them, and help us enjoy the amazing moments of pregnancy and birth a little bit more.

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Katie Dudley is responsible for the new and improved exercise and nutrition program in the Birth Boot Camp 10 week educational series.  This article is just a tiny taste of what she has created for our students. Her amazing program appears in our new online classes and our new work book for students (the “Field Guide) and includes myofascial release, stretching, exercises, postural support, nutritional awareness and charting and much more. You can find her at Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness in the Atlanta, GA area and weekly in your online classes!

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Should I Circumcise My Baby? Guest Post By Dr Adrienne Carmack, Urologist

We are honored today to share a guest post from Dr Adrienne Carmack, a board certified Urologist and mother of three who is also a strong voice in the growing tide of medical personnel questioning and challenging the common practice of routine infant circumcision. Dr Carmack has also recently published a book detailing her fascinating story as she questioned much that she had been taught when it came time to make decisions for her own family regarding parenting, birthing and breastfeeding. 

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Should I circumcise my baby?

When I began my training as a urologic surgeon in 2003, I believed, and repeated, the recommendations of national medical societies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics: circumcision is the parents’ choice because there are risks and benefits that are nearly equal. I remember saying that there were good reasons to do and to not do it, and that I would just leave the choice to my husband, since he was the one with a penis.

Well, that changed. I learned of female genital mutilation (FGM), frequently referred to as female circumcision. Some forms of FGM are very extreme, and not at all analogous to circumcision, such as removing the entire clitoris and most of the labia and suturing the vaginal opening closed. But there is a spectrum, with some cultures practicing FGM in a way that is like male circumcision, such as cutting the clitoral hood to make it bleed or removing some of the skin covering the clitoris.

When I learned of FGM, it really got me thinking about newborn male circumcision. By this time, I’d witnessed a handful of newborn circumcisions, and, anesthesia or not, it was not a pretty sight. The baby cried, there was blood, the penis swelled and was tender for days, many of the babies were brought back in by worried parents because of the amount of swelling and pain they seemed to be experiencing. And, I saw many, many baby boys who had to have surgery when they were older because their circumcisions had not healed well.

I began to do my own research on male circumcision. What I found has led me to believe that the guidelines by medical societies that say it’s the parents’ choice are frankly unethical and untruthful. The most basic tenet of medical practice, one which all doctors swear to before they are granted their degree, is “First, Do No Harm.” The truth is, circumcision is harmful. And, the purported benefits, which supposedly balance out or even outweigh the harm, are quite small.

The cited benefits for circumcision include reducing the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life, decreasing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and reducing the risk of penile cancer. All of these potential benefits are based on science which is highly debatable, and definitely not clear cut. I’m not going to go into the data here, but a quick Internet search will show you many potential flaws in this data.

Even if we assumed it were true, however, in the case of a healthy infant, none of these potential benefits justify harm. First, none of these diseases are going to happen absolutely to all intact infants. They are risks, and they are low. If the risk of UTI is 1%, that means 99 boys must be circumcised to prevent 1 boy from getting a UTI, which, for most babies, is not a major life-threatening illness. Sexually transmitted infections are far better prevented by use of barriers, abstinence, and careful selection of sexual partners. And penile cancer is effectively reduced by simple hygiene.

The risk for a circumcision being needed later is similarly inadequate to justify routine newborn circumcision. Most conditions that I see that require circumcision at a later date are due to manipulation by parents or physicians that is not necessary, or occur much later in life as a consequence of other medical problems that are poorly managed, such as diabetes. (We no longer remove appendixes when a patient is having unrelated surgery, even though the patient may develop appendicitis later. We respect that any surgery, as low risk as it may be, is still a big deal, and that the appendix probably has an unrecognized role.)

All of these risks are theoretical risks that could happen if circumcision is not performed. Let’s look at the real risks that do happen when the intervention of circumcision is undertaken—some very clear violations of First, Do No Harm ethics.

Many people argue that circumcision is not harmful. Many grown men say they don’t remember it and their penises work fine (although many are also speaking out sharing the opposite experience). Many people tell stories of circumcisions they don’t believe were traumatic, that their baby boys “tolerated” well, or “slept through.”

If you’re considering circumcising your boy, the first step you should take is to watch a video of a routine newborn circumcision. There are plenty on YouTube. Watch one, and then say that it’s not harmful. It hurts and it is a terrible thing to expose a new baby to when born.

Most potential circumcision complications are uncommon, just as are the diseases which circumcision is proposed to lessen, but they do occur. Babies die from circumcisions, babies bleed and have to be taken to surgery, babies get infections, babies have too much skin removed, babies have too little skin removed and develop scarring that has to be surgically corrected later on, babies suffer pain during and after the circumcision, babies have damaged urethras, and some babies have even lost their entire penis.

More importantly, the reason for “First, Do No Harm” is that we are creating potential problems where none exist. We are also intervening with nature. The foreskin is present for a reason. It has been proven to be full of nerve endings and is widely recognized as an important erogenous part of the penis, just like the clitoris is an important part of the female genitalia. (See “Male circumcision decreases penile sensitivity as measured in a large cohort” published by Bronselaer et al in BJU International in 2013.)

The foreskin is not just a piece of skin; it is a highly developed anatomic sensory organ. It also protects the head of the penis and the urethral opening, both very sensitive tissues that are best kept covered until the child is able to retract his foreskin himself. (He does not need his mother’s or his doctor’s help to do this.)

Remember that a healthy foreskin is just that. There is no need to remove it any more than there is a need to remove a healthy appendix (even though the child might suffer appendicitis later, might have to have surgery later, might even die from the appendicitis). The foreskin has important roles and is there for many reasons.

Circumcision is traumatic, and this cannot be denied. If you are considering circumcision, please, watch some videos, read stories by grown men who had “uncomplicated” circumcisions and are not happy, and reconsider taking actions that are painful and that interfere with nature when there is no problem to begin with.

Dr Carmack's recently published book.
Dr Carmack’s recently published book.

Adrienne Carmack, M.D. is a board-certified urologic surgeon, a practicing physician, and a natural birth and breastfeeding advocate. During her urologic training, she discovered that US medical studies on circumcision are profoundly flawed.

Driven to learn the truth, Adrienne reviewed international medical research first on circumcision and then on natural birth and breastfeeding. She realized that most American birth practices are founded, not on fact-based science, but on current cultural norms.

Adrienne believes that all parents have a right to know the medical facts around birth rights, which she defines as the rights of mothers and children to experience safe, natural births free of unnecessary interventions.

As a doctor, she supports medical intervention when it is appropriate and necessary. However, she has made it her life’s work to free parents and children from the unnecessary medicalization of normal life events.

Adrienne completed her urology residency at the University of Miami in 2007, surgery internship at Vanderbilt in 2003, and medical school at Texas A&M in 2002. She is on the Board of Medical Advisers of Intact America and is a member of Doctors Opposing Circumcision.

She is the mother of two girls and a boy, all of whom were born outside of a hospital and breastfed and none of whom were circumcised.

You can find her book, “Reclaiming My Birth Rights” HERE.

More info about circumcision from our instructors:

Basic Facts About Circumcision by Rachael Hope (Washington State)

If My Girls Had Been Boys by Dani Long (Germany)

Circumcision Regrets by Cori Gentry (Salinas, CA)

And an Interview with Dr Carmack

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New and Updated Online Childbirth Classes

Yes, you heard that right: we have completely updated our online classes! We loved the original birth classes featuring Donna Ryan, but felt it was time to mix things up. Our online childbirth classes are not just a few handouts that you print off yourself with some articles to read, they are literally HOURS of streaming video with a beautiful workbook included. By the time you are done, you will feel as though you know your instructors! Read more

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