Q. Can I train for labor?
A. Giving birth is a bit like running a marathon: The better prepared you are physically, the easier it is to make it to the finish line. Studies show that women who are in good physical shape before delivery have shorter labors and need fewer interventions such as forceps delivery, vacuum delivery, and cesarean delivery. According to their own reports, fit women feel emotionally better prepared for labor than women who are less fit.
Fitness makes a difference in several ways. Ample aerobic capacity helps you endure the physical demands of labor and delivery. Good flexibility makes it easier for you to labor in different positions. Strong muscles come in handy when it's time to push the baby out. Having an athlete's mind-set can help too: Some women athletes say the experience of competing in sports prepares them for the rigors of labor. You don't have to be a jock though: Even daily walking counts and will make a difference in your fitness.
Physical fitness doesn't guarantee a short, easy labor. Other factors play a part. For example, a woman who is well rested before delivery will have more stamina than one who is exhausted.
If you have been exercising throughout your pregnancy, keep at it, provided your doctor approves. If you've been sedentary so far, talk with your doctor about whether you can begin a gentle walking program or take a prenatal exercise class.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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