Because We’re not Seahorses: Some Daily Exercises to Make Pregnancy a Little Easier.
The male seahorse is equipped with a pouch on the ventral, or front-facing, side of the tail. When mating, the female seahorse deposits up to 1,500 eggs in the male's pouch. The male carries the eggs for 9 to 45 days until the seahorses emerge fully developed, but very small. The young are then released into the water, and the male often mates again within hours or days during the breeding season.
Seahorses hey? Unfortunately our gestation process is a little longer, trickier and more female centred. Labour is also slightly more complicated in humans. My first labour was very long, after racing to the hospital and discovering that there were no midwives on staff qualified to deliver a breech baby I had an emergency C section. My second labour was protracted (for a week) and then my son was back to back (ideally the baby’s back lies against the abdominal wall. During both pregnancies I walked daily and went to my lovely pregnancy yoga classes but I still had my gymnastics and circus trained body that held my belly in and lifted my pelvic floor far too much, I had tight hip flexors, hamstrings and calves because of my dominant quads and anterior tilted pelvis. What I didn’t know then was that the length of ligaments and muscles around the mother’s pelvis and uterus influences the position of the baby. The baby accommodates the space it is given.
If I could do my pregnancies again - with the knowledge that I have now - these are the exercises that I would do every day.
1. Calf stretch and lunge against a wall
Your calves are working much harder now that they are propelling extra (and unevenly loaded) weight with each step they help you take. Stretch them out to feel the positive effects up the whole back line of your body. Your hip flexors take an increasing load as the weight of the baby pulls your belly forward.
Ikuko has one foot in front of the other, front knee bent rear leg straight, hands are gently pushing the wall. Her back heel raises and lowers as she visualises her calf muscles lengthening like chewing gum as the heel lowers to the floor.
She feels all of her toes on the floor and imagines a pendulum swinging from her tail bone, it swings back as the heel raises and forward as the heel lowers. She then bends her back knee raising the heel and repeats the gentle movements, this time bending and straightening the back knee, imagining the muscles of the thigh lengthening as the knee bends.
2. Slow motion walking / standing on one leg while tooth brushing.
When walking could you stop mid stride and balance on one leg or would you fall to the other leg? Practice standing on one leg when you brush your teeth to keep your lateral hip muscles and bottom strong to help keep your pelvis in the optimal position to hopefully avoid pelvic pain as the loads on the front of your body increase.
Ikuko is sending the hip of her supporting leg down while trying to spread her weight evenly through her foot and is thinking of feeling each of her toes touching the floor, then she is transferring her weight to the other leg. She starts on her less dominant side and spends more time on this leg to balance to her pelvis and give her (more mobile) sacroiliac joints a chance to work evenly.
3. Kitchen sink deep squat.
The great thing about squats is the way they strengthen your pelvic floor eccentrically as the body goes down and concentrically as the body goes up. They are a very functional way to train the bottom of the cylinder of our torso (which is made up of the diaphragm, abdominal wall, deep back muscles and the pelvic floor). The squat also assists in developing ankle, knee and hip mobility and is a very open position for your pelvis and is one of many positions that women labour in. To prepare your body for the stamina required for labour you could stay here for a while, slowly increase the time that you can spend in a squat. Sit on a low stool or some big books if you like for support.
Ikuko is sitting back as if on a chair, if she had a tail she would be wagging it, she is visualising her sit bones coming apart as she lowers and coming together as she comes up. Her shins are vertical and she is using the sink as a support to gently lower herself down and up again.
Squats can also be practiced in the toilet as squatting is the most efficient position for evacuation. To do this you can sit on the toilet with feet on two toilet rolls, a small stool or a squatty potty.
4. Chest opening stretch over a table
Pregnant women may get carpal tunnel which is a pain in the wrist or tingling in their fingers as a result of the median nerve that runs from neck getting trapped as their upper body’s weight shifts and their posture changes. A nice stretch to counteract this new forward rounding posture is to sit with the chair a little back from a table, rest one cheek down with your arms in a cactus position beside you, let the shoulders be supported by the table, turn your head.
Ikuko starts in a cactus or surrender shape and then draws her arms away from her body and then towards her body, she turns her head. Her shoulder blades are wide and feel supported, her spine is long her sit bones wide.
5. Ribcage circles
The ribcage expands up to 6 inches/ 15 cm in pregnancy, you need a very stretchy bra that lets this movement happen, you may also want to mobilise your ribs by doing seated rib circles, side bends and small thoracic rotations.
Ikuko is anchoring her sit bones into the chair, resting her hands on her knees and is circling and mobilising her ribs in a way that feels smooth and comfortable for her, she is imaging the muscles between her ribs expanding with each inhalation.
5. Seated cat stretch or legs on the sofa
As pregnancy progresses the tension on the hip flexors and lower back increases. A nice way to release this stretch and compression is to sit and curl over as much as your bump allows.
Ikuko sits with legs apart and lets her head hang heavy between her legs, she breathes into her lower back and imagines the muscles running up either side of her spine lengthening. She very slowly and carefully comes up to sit again.
This cat stretch can also be done on all fours, some people believe that it is a good way to get the baby into the right position during labour - don’t arch but return to neutral.
If this make you dizzy, you may prefer to lie in a legs on the sofa position and do gentle pelvic tilts to release the strain on the lower back.
That’s a few daily things to think about during your pregnancy. Good luck with everything. Now, back to seahorses - who are more romantic than you may have realised (thank you Wikipedia.)
Before breeding, seahorses may court for several days. Scientists believe the courtship behavior synchronizes the animals' movements and reproductive states so the male can receive the eggs when the female is ready to deposit them. During this time, they may change color, swim side by side holding tails or grip the same strand of sea grass with their tails, and wheel around in unison in what is known as a "predawn dance". They eventually engage in a "true courtship dance" lasting about 8 hours, during which the male pumps water through the egg pouch on his trunk which expands and opens to display its emptiness. When the female’s eggs reach maturity, she and her mate let go of any anchors and drift upward snout-to-snout, out of the seagrass, often spiraling as they rise. They interact for about 6 minutes, reminiscent of courtship. The female then swims away until the next morning, and the male returns to sucking up food through his snout. The female inserts her ovipositor into the male’s brood pouch and deposits dozens to thousands of eggs. As the female releases her eggs, her body slims while his swells. Both animals then sink back into the seagrass and she swims away.