A topic I would love to see discussed widely is the role of fitness in pregnancy--and its documented effects on childbirth. These include shorter labors and a potential reduction in the need for inductions, pain medication, and cesareans, according to researchers such as Dr. James Clapp III, and reported in publications such as Fit Pregnancy magazine. Whether women start their pregnancies already active, sedentary, slim, or plus-size, incorporating exercise has been proven beneficial. Looking back at my own pregnancy, I believe regular salsa dancing helped my baby descend into a low, well-aligned position in my pelvis at 30 weeks, where she remained until delivery. Recently, I have been excited to discover the work of doula and former professional dancer Stephanie Larson, founder of Dancing for Birth™, who describes the potential for dance movements involving the pelvis to improve birth outcomes (see article below). While fitness does not always guarantee a problem-free delivery, I believe pregnant women would benefit from guidance from their healthcare providers to make these types of exercises a priority.
"Women can learn how to harness gravity and move their bodies during labor for more satisfying births," says Stephanie Larson, the founder of Dancing For Birth™ who trains instructors in her method around the world. DFB instructors teach weekly classes for pregnant and postpartum women in their communities. Instructors come from varied backgrounds, such as doulas, midwives, nurses, and childbirth educators; dance, yoga and fitness teachers; massage therapists; moms and birth enthusiasts.
“Women’s bodies are not designed for birthing on our backs, which prevents the pelvis from opening fully and gravity from helping the birth process,” says Larson, who feels that the norms (such as back-lying) and routine interventions which characterize many hospital births are not evidence-based and are hindering instead of helping birthing women. “We are mammals after all. Can you imagine trying to coax an elephant to give birth on her back with her legs up in the air? Our maternal instincts tell us to move during labor and plant our feet on the floor when it’s time to push. One way to improve women’s birth experiences is to shift the paradigm from horizontal to vertical birth positions,” says Larson.
As reported in Evidence-Based Maternity Care by Sakala and Corry (Milbank Memorial Fund, 2008) “many other nations are doing a better job with measures such as perinatal, neonatal, and maternal mortality, low birth weight, and cesarean rates. Nonetheless, per capita health expenditures for the United States far exceed those of all other nations.” The report includes the use of upright birthing positions as a proven, cost-effective, low-intervention practice that is widely underused.
Dancing For Birth™ classes teach a “language of movement” specially designed for women in any stage of pregnancy or who are planning to conceive, and for postpartum women wearing their babies in soft slings. Though the movements are inspired by ancient dance forms like belly dance (which was created by/for birthing women) and African dance, the 90-minute weekly classes combine fitness with childbirth preparation skills such as optimal fetal positioning. Women often come to class for fun and exercise, and find that they gain more than they expected to. “I gained great moves to help me feel good, and birthing positions and knowledge of what I can do to help me through labor,” said pregnant participant Melanie Eng.
“The first step to a satisfying birth,” says Larson, “is to listen to your baby via your body—and move accordingly. For many women this means laboring and birthing actively, in a forward-leaning vertical position, out of bed.” By moving instinctively, using gravity and positioning to their advantage, women can temporarily enlarge the dimensions of their pelvis for the baby's passage, help their babies rotate and descend, help reduce unnecessary interventions and enjoy natural pain relief.
Stereotypes lead women to believe that they should take to the bed when they become pregnant, but according to Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by Dr. James Clapp III, for healthy women exercising during pregnancy is safe and has many benefits for mom and baby too: “At five years old, the offspring of the women who exercised during pregnancy scored much higher on tests of general intelligence and oral language skills.”
Larson founded Dancing For Birth™ in 2000, when she realized that her lifelong dance experience which had helped her give birth naturally was a benefit to her birth doula and childbirth education clients as well. Now, classes are available on four continents and are continuing to expand. For more information email info@DancingForBirth.com or call toll-free, 866-643-4824.