Dancing for Pregnancy and Birth

When you hear the term “belly dancing,” you might imagine a seductive dance performed by scantily clad women in flowing outfits for the pleasure of men. But the roots of these traditional dances are far removed from this purpose.

Across time and cultures, young women at puberty learned about birth through dance (as well as by observing other women labor!). The practiced movements of the birth dances would then be used naturally during the woman’s own labor and birth for mom’s comfort and baby’s progress.

Women are meant to stay active during labor – research shows that movement helps open the pelvis and move the baby down. When allowed to find their own comfort during labor, women typically sway, squat, shift, and dance. If a laboring mom relaxes into her birth dance, her muscles (and her emotions) are loose and open, allowing birth to happen.

Labor is itself depicted in the progression of the movements of belly dancing. Labor starts with the woman as relaxed as possible. Then contractions become more intense – longer, stronger and closer together – until, at the climax, the woman is unaware of the outside world and the baby is born. So too with belly dancing – the dance starts relaxed and the dancer isolates muscles one at a time, moving in tempo. The dance builds, much as the contractions do, and finally at the crescendo of the dance, the dancer is lost in movement and music.

Renowned author and childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger once wrote, “A Bedouin Arab girl learns a pelvic dance during the puberty…and will belly dance, when she is in labour. The belly dance represents the power of women to produce life.” The benefits of dancing and using your womanly power include:

  • Improved posture, flexibility, balance and co-ordination: As your belly grows, you may become less-than-graceful. Your center of gravity is changed, pulling your lower back forward. Your body is releasing hormones that relax your ligaments, which may make your pelvis (and everything else) ache. Many of the movements of belly dancing – such as hip rolls, circles and figure-8s – are useful for relieving back and pelvic pain during pregnancy and labor. Those movements may even help baby move into a favorable position for birth when used during labor.
  • Maintaining general fitness: Doctors recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily during pregnancy. The non-jarring, non-contact nature of belly dancing fits the bill. In addition, through its connection with deep abdominal muscles, belly dancing helps to maintain the pelvic floor. Try belly dancing instead of doing Kegels! Belly dancing also improves physical endurance, which will be necessary during labor.
  • Better breathing: The movements of belly dancing integrate different types of breathing. Labor requires changes from lower abdominal breathing to chest breathing to panting – and if you’re already used to these changes in dance, you’ll be more prepared in labor.
  • Relaxation: Tension is released when you move your wrists, shoulders, ankles, hips, and spine in circles, all movements familiar to those who practice belly dancing.
  • Improved focus: When belly dancing, you often focus on moving only one body part in isolation. This focus can be especially helpful during contractions and when pushing your baby into the world.

As with any exercise program, check with your healthcare provider before you begin to be sure there are no reasons you should avoid certain movements. Avoid back bends and sudden movements, as well as any exercises on your back after the first trimester. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position to avoid strain. Start with a warm up and end with a cool down. Avoid overheating, and stay hydrated before, during and after exercise. If you develop pain, bleeding, shortness of breath, headache, faintness, nausea, contractions, or fluid leakage from the vagina, stop exercising and check with your healthcare provider.

Learning belly dancing while you’re pregnant can be a fun way to meet other pregnant moms while you prepare for birth. Check with your healthcare provider or childbirth class instructor to see if there are any prenatal belly dancing classes in your area. Or consider online videos or DVDs that will allow you to learn in the comfort of your own home.

Have you danced for birth?

Written by Michelle, childbirth instructor, lactation consultant, and mother to 4 busy kids

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.

Childbirth Comfort Measures: Use all of your senses

Imagine trying to be intimate with your partner in a bright, sterile room with strangers walking in and out. How do you think that might go? Now imagine intimacy in a warm, candlelit bedroom with the door locked. Which scenario is more likely to lead to the best outcome? The same aspects can affect your birth.

One of the most significant factors in your labor and birth is how you react to your environment. Experts in childbirth know when a laboring woman feels safe, secure, private and relaxed, she will progress well toward birth. But a mom who feels threatened will release hormones that can slow labor.

Privacy and safety are the keys for creating an environment conducive to birth. What will it take to make you feel protected, comfortable, supported and relaxed? As you write your birth plan, imagine how you can use all of your senses to create an atmosphere that will help you to feel these attributes, so your body can do the work it needs to do to birth your baby.

Sight: Women do best during childbirth with dim lights, which create a sense of seclusion. Consider the room you are laboring in: do you need to close the blinds or turn the lights off to achieve the privacy you need? In addition, having something to focus your attention visually can help you maintain your attention during contractions, or even in between. Make it something that creates a sense of serenity for you – a piece of artwork, a photograph of your favorite vacation spot, a sonogram picture, a labyrinth or maze, etc.

Smell: Did you ever notice how connected your olfaction is to your emotions? Scents may remind you of certain people or situations – both positive and negative. And when you catch a whiff, you may have a very physical reaction – changes in breathing, heart rate, hormone production, etc. Aromatherapy can reduce anxiety, boost energy, and reduce pain. And there are no side effects that could affect your baby or your labor. What are your favorite scents? Are there ones that relax you, like lavender? Or others that energize you? Will the antiseptic hospital smells bother you? Will you need to find a way to mask them?

Hearing: If you are in the hospital, the sounds of staff coming and going in the hallway, as well as announcements on the public address system, can be distracting. How can you minimize these? If you’re at home, will there be noises from outside that will intrude on your ability to relax? Music, headphones, and closed doors all help to block unwanted noise. If you’re planning to use music to help you through labor, remember that it doesn’t all need to be slow and relaxing. You may have points in your labor where you want something fast and energizing.

Taste: While this may not have to do directly with a secure, private setting, you may want to have gum or candy on hand throughout labor. These will keep you from getting a dry mouth, which can be distracting. Staying hydrated is extremely important, too. Your favorite soothing tea might serve the purpose – keeping you relaxed and keeping all of your muscles (including your uterus) working well.

Touch: Massage, gentle stroking, even a hand lightly on your shoulder – all can ground you and help you feel safe in the unknowns of childbirth. Skin is your largest organ, and all of those nerve fibers underneath can provide a direct route to pain management during labor. Remember to add some type of lubrication for any massage (maybe your favorite scented oil or lotion) so that you’re not bothered by friction (which can work against your labor progress!). Water – whether raining down on you in the shower or surrounding you in a bath – can also provide tactile stimulation that will help you relax (and the tub or shower can be very private!).

Keep in mind one method won’t work for your entire labor, so have a “goody bag” of supplies, or at least a mental list of methods, to try. Create a setting that feels good – in which you feel protected and secure – so you can relax and ease your baby into the world. Plan your childbirth comfort measures with all of your senses in mind.

Written by Michelle, childbirth educator, lactation consultant, and mother to 4 busy kids

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.