According to Ina May Gaskin, “Squat 300 times a day and you are going to give birth quicker.” Wow. That is a heck of a lot of daily squatting. Arguably an impossible lot. I’m actually sitting here contemplating that right now. I think, maybe, that you might give birth quicker, but you might not be able to stand. So, there’s that to consider.
Still, though, squats are kind of amazing. If downward dog is the quintessential yoga pose, a squat would be the one chosen to represent the prenatal yoga faction. It opens the hips, releases the lower back, can release tension in the pelvic floor, tones the legs. When I lived in Asia, squatting was commonplace. People waited for the bus, cooked food, read books, chatted with a neighbor, all while squatting. Here in the United States, squats are typically only done in a gym setting, with the focus less on the amount of time you are able to maintain a squatting position, and more emphasis placed on the strength that the repetition of a squat develops. Creating strength is great, and strength is certainly necessary for childbirth. But, becoming more comfortable holding a squatting position and practicing it regularly can help not only in preparation for labor, but can also address some common complaints of pregnancy (It’s likely a good practice for your partner as well. And, yes, I’m thinking of my husband and, in particular, his tight calves and lower back).
To start, stand with your feet parallel to one another, about shoulder distance apart. If balance is an issue for you, have a chair or something stable in front of you and, as you bend your knees, grab a hold of the chair to support you as you lower down. If your heels comfortably reach the floor, great. If it’s difficult, or impossible, to lower your heels to the ground, place a rolled up blanket underneath of your heels to bring the ground closer to you, and offer some support, so that your squat requires less effort to balance. If you’re further along in pregnancy, or would just prefer to have more support for the pelvic floor, placing a block (or two or three) or a bolster underneath your sitting bones can be helpful in providing that. Bring your palms together at the center of your chest, and, if possible, press your upper arms or elbows into your inner legs. Even as your arms are working to open the inner thighs away from one another, resist that opening by pressing your inner thighs back into your arms. This resistance will help to create a stronger base of support for your lower back, as well as assisting in further strengthening the inner thighs, and broadening the center of the chest.
And then, hang out for a bit. Breathe while you’re there.
Squatting has been shown to increase the diameter of pelvic outlet by 20 – 30%, a shift that could definitely be an asset in childbirth. It can be helpful in relieving both constipation and urinary incontinence, two issues that are, unfortunately commonplace, especially toward the end of pregnancy. Squatting helps to release the puborectalis muscle which, in turn, can help aid in elimination. Conversely, it also helps to strengthen some of the muscles of the pelvic floor, which can become more lax as you advance in your pregnancy. Ideally, it could both help you go to the bathroom, and help you NOT go to the bathroom.
Lower back pain is also a common complaint during pregnancy, and in our western culture. Squatting helps to lengthen the lower back and strengthen the gluteal muscles, which assist in stabilizing the sacroiliac joint, an area that can be especially problematic during pregnancy. The hormone relaxin doesn’t discriminate, so stabilizing and strengthening the muscles around joints that are particularly prone to slipping (like the sacroiliac joint) is particularly important during pregnancy.
Later in pregnancy, squats can help encourage your baby to settle deeper in your pelvis. For this reason, if your baby is breech, holding a squat for more than a few breaths isn’t recommended. Other contraindications include placenta previa and pubic symphysis dysfunction, or, as usual, if it just doesn’t feel good.
Maybe I’ll write my next post while squatting.