Could adding these healthy habits to your regimen in the final weeks of your pregnancy make labor easier to bear?

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Smiling Pregnant Woman Touching Belly
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Preparing for childbirth doesn't just mean hiring a doula and packing your hospital bag; it also means getting ready for what might be the most challenging physical task you've ever faced. Improve your odds of having an easier, shorter labor by incorporating these healthy habits during your third trimester.

1. Eat Dates

Women who ate dates daily during their ninth months were less likely than non-date eaters to need medication to start labor or to help it keep progressing, a new study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found. They were also more dilated upon arrival at the hospital and labored seven hours less. "Dates seem to have a compound that mimics the hormone oxytocin [which causes contractions]," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman Melinda Johnson, M.s., R.D. Enjoy six dates daily for best results. Have a sweet tooth? Try this date and nut candy

2. Get More Sleep

Women who slept fewer than six hours during the last month of pregnancy labored for 11 hours longer and had Cesarean sections four times more frequently than women who slept seven hours or more, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. To get comfortable, use body pillows, sleep in a recliner, or kick your partner out of bed, suggests Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleep Deprived No More: From Pregnancy to Early Motherhood (Da Capo Press). 

3. Strengthen Your Legs

Upright positions allow gravity to help move the baby along, which may shorten labor by an hour, an Australian study found. To stay vertical, you'll need strong legs. "The most important exercise for childbirth is squatting," says prenatal-exercise specialist Erin O'Brien, creator of The Complete Pregnancy Fitness DVD. Practice your squat by placing an exercise ball between your lower back and a wall. Walk your feet out as far as you can, rotate your toes and hips outward, then do three sets of 15 squats.