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Squatting in Pregnancy

I am often asked by the women I work with "is there anything I can be doing now to prepare for birth?". My number one answer is always this: SQUATS! I also highly recommend practising breathing, visualisation, relaxation and yoga regularly, but if you do nothing else, do squats!

Why do I bang on about squatting so much? Well, if you think about humans historically, before the invention of chairs and toilets, we squatted. A LOT. We would squat around the fire to cook and chat, we would squat by the creek to wash our clothes and hands. We would squat to cuddle and comfort our children and to gather berries from bushes. And we would squat to wee and poo. If you think about modern humans in western/rich society, we barely ever squat. I know I don't! We use toilets to poo and chairs to sit and travel, and because squatting is not natural anymore most of us bend over to pick things up instead of squatting. We don't squat anymore because we have forgotten how, and it can affect our whole life, including our birth experiences.

What does squatting actually do? In short, it opens the pelvis and strengthens and lengthens the pelvic floor. Everyone knows we want a strong pelvic floor, but most people haven't heard about the importance of lengthening the pelvic floor. It is important for our whole physical structure! When we only sit or stand and seldom squat, our pelvic floor muscles shorten over time and can become very tight, which can cause things like back ache and poor posture, but it can also make it more difficult for a baby to pass through the birth canal. I have witnessed midwives upon doing a vaginal examination exclaim something along the lines of “wow, that’s a very tight pelvic floor!” and this can cause a prolonged labour and pushing phase.

What happens if you don’t squat? Well, I can’t really answer that for you individually. Not every woman who squats will have a fast labour, and not every woman who doesn’t squat will have a long labour. But it is my personal belief that regularly doing squats or adopting a squatting position will help your labour to be shorter and easier than it would have been if you didn’t. Did you have a 24 hour labour even after plenty of squatting? Who is to say it wouldn’t have been 36 hours without? And these are the exception. Before I learned about the benefits of squatting, I attended some births that lasted for days with little progress even though the mum was in an undisturbed home environment. Since I have started encouraging women to squat regularly in pregnancy, I have seen more and more exceptionally short and easy labours, even with first time mums and even in stressful hospital settings. It could be coincidence, yes. But my research would indicate that squatting really plays a part.

Senior Course Facilitator Star Despres from Bliss Baby Yoga expresses that “Squats are amazing for opening the pelvis, creating space as the baby grows and help in preparation for birth. They also help maintain strength and resilience and can even be used as mental preparation to cope with the intensity of contractions.” Also, according to Avni Trivedi who is an osteopath and doula, “In a squatting position, the muscles relax and you’re allowing the sacrum to have free movement so the baby can move down, with gravity playing a role too.” 

It kind of makes sense.

If you look at history, it is widely believed that childbirth was much, much easier in Neanderthal and Hunter/Gatherer societies than it is for modern day women. There are definitely many reason why this might be the case such as changes in diet, over-medicalisation of birth and the evolution of the human structure over time (is this from less squatting too though??). However it stands to reason that one of the reasons is likely to be the loss of squatting as a common practice. The invention of the chair and toilet were part of the beginning of modernisation of society and from that time squatting, particularly among wealthy society, all but disappeared.  

Just to clarify, I am not saying that squatting WILL make your labour easy and short, or that not squatting will do the opposite. I had a one-hour labour after doing zero squats! But the evidence is there to show that it is helpful, beneficial and could definitely have a positive impact on your birth experience. After all, why would famous midwife Ina May Gaskin have said “Squat 300 times a day, you're going to give birth quickly" unless she had seen it, believed it and had good reason to recommend it? I know 300 seems like a LOT, but if you break it up throughout the day into smaller chunks and eat the proverbial elephant one bite at a time, it is much more manageable. And even if you don’t do 300, any is better than none. Personally I recommend doing as many squats as you possibly can each day, as well as adopting a squatting position whenever you can, for example while watching TV, texting or eating lunch. For information on how to squat properly, visit this website




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