The Gathering Mama: Get Fit for Childbirth the Natural Way

Katy Santiago Bowman by Katy Santiago Bowman | April 29th, 2010 | 2 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness

pregnant woman streching on the grass

If you want to start a debate at the next party you go to, bring up birthing politics. Hospital or home birth? Drug-free or an epidural? Birthing tub or stirrups? And remember that not so long ago, there was only one option. It was called, “You’re doing this now, whether you want to or not.”

I have a strong, personal preference for natural, drug-free, non-hospitalized births. Scientific and statistical evidence supports that, if all goes well, this is the ultimate “healthy” experience for mother and child.

One of the biggest supporting arguments of natural and non-hospital births is that the birthing process is a instinctual and natural event, happening for hundreds of thousands of years without outside aid. This is true. But there are many additional things that gathering mothers were doing that prepared and strengthened the delivering muscles.

Looking back a hundred years, the birth-induced mortality rates (of both baby and mother) of non-industrialized civilizations were more favorable than rates of births happening in city areas. Medical journal articles from the 1800s reported these statistics even back then! The question then is why were women who lived in the larger, industrialized areas of London having a more difficult time birthing than women living in more remote areas? The populations without medical intervention fared better (less death and cranial deformity in babies and less death or injury in the mothers) than those with the advantages of surgeons, antibiotics and a more sterile environment. Why?

The answer back then, which is still quite relevant today, had to do with movement habits, specifically the quantity of walking done per day as well as the practice of squatting to use the restroom. The squatting action, preferably done since birth, creates a wide pelvic outlet (the space where the baby passes through). Starting from childhood, squatting to use the bathroom aids in the ideal ossification (bone shaping) of both the pelvic bones and the sacrum. The wider the outlet, the safer and easier the baby passes through. Squatting also lengthens the muscles of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and psoas. When these muscles are tight, they can actually reduce the movement of the pelvic bones and increase stress and pressure on the baby (and mama) during delivery. Back then and today still, the populations of people who move a lot (and I don’t mean just exercise an hour per day) have quicker, easier births.

If you want to go about a birthing process naturally, then you should add in the other “natural” processes that women have been doing for years like walking five to six miles per day (this doesn’t have to be done all at once) and restoring your muscles, joints and bones to their correct function for a fluid and safe birth. Needing to “train” for delivery does not mean that the birthing process is unnatural. It only suggests that the mother-to-be has let her birthing equipment adapt to unnatural living (sitting in chairs five to 10 hours per day, not stretching the bathrooming muscles of the pelvic floor and legs). The lifestyles that most of us live today lack whole-body endurance.

Whole-body endurance is your ability to walk long distances using the strength of the legs. Being able to support yourself with your leg weight will come in handy when needing to labor for an extended (but hopefully not too extended) amount of time. Cycling, aerobics, running and swimming won’t get you a stronger strength-to-weight ratio. The gathering mother needs to mimic her foremothers and keep up with the daily required walking to develop her birthing muscles to top form.

Delivery preparation

If you aren’t walking at all, begin with one mile. Increase your distance by half a mile every two to four weeks, until you hit five to six miles per day. Doing all your mileage at once will help you with endurance, but if you are feeling tired or sore, break your distance up over the course of a day.

Start your squatting program NOW. Hamstring and calf tension (both muscle groups down the back of the legs) tuck the tailbone and pelvis under, instantly impacting the size of your delivery space. FUNNY STORY: I made the mistake of trying to teach my pregnant sister this exercise while she was giving birth. I’m not going to write down what she said here.

Learn to squat

Holding onto a door knob will help you until your legs are strong enough (and loose enough) to hold you in this position for a minimum of one minute. A rolled towel or yoga mat under the heels will also make this exercise more easy to start. Work up to doing it with your heels on the ground!

Picture 17Picture 18

Note: The picture on the left shows a tucked tailbone and rounded spine, NOT the position you are trying to achieve. Also note how far forward the knees have moved. To really open the pelvic muscles, untuck your tailbone by sticking out your bottom (see picture on the right and note that the knees are over the ankles). This will get your pelvic bones in the right birthing position.

Not giving birth in this lifetime? This information still applies to anyone wanting to optimize low back, pelvic floor and digestive system health. If you haven’t fully flexed your knees and hips in some time, it’s best to start lying on your back, pulling your knees to your chest to warm up the joints. All over the world, 80-year-old people drop down into this squat like it’s no big deal because they have been doing it three times a day at minimum for a lifetime! It’s time to get started!

The more we prepare for delivery, the more successful the outcomes. The greater the success stories of natural birthing, the more it will be seen as a viable option. Make your birth a natural one by preparing … naturally!


  1. The ONLY way to go is natural. As a childbirth instructor I completely agree with this post. My 6 boys are all extremely healty, none were exposed to the unsafe and unatural drubs provided by dr’s and hospitals. One birth (last one) at home included my parents, children, the godfather, husband of course and my grandmother. You sure couldn’t do that at a hospital!

    The mother controls the birthing results through proper exercise and diet. Neither of these should be left in the doctors hands (let him make suggestions though).

    Learn more about having a “safe pregnancy” and childbirth @


    Judi | December 7th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. great to know the natural birth for first time mommies. Very inspiring post.

    natural child birth | November 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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