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Mother’s Advocate knows the importance of maintaining movement during labor. This week’s lively guest blogger, Micky Jones, takes it one step further (and makes it fun!), as she gives a whole new meaning to “belly” dancing.

“Dance with the one who brought you and you can’t go wrong … ” — Shania Twain

I have a shirt with little stick figure pregnant ladies on it that says, “Stomp, Squat, Stand, Sit! Get Active — A Doula can help!”

Every time I wear the shirt, I hear all types of comments from moms, other doulas, and even complete strangers. I often think of it as a little dose of childbirth education on a T-shirt. To go one step further, I think the shirt should have those same little stick figures on the back and say, “Rock, March, Shimmy, Dance! Moving those hips can help!”

Upright positions and movement are a surefire way to get baby out — so many books and the sheer law of gravity prove that these things are always on a laboring mother’s side. Adding dance to a repertoire of walking, lunging, rocking in a chair or rolling on a birth ball is like adding a little magic to the birthing experience.

Anyone who has ever had the privilege of observing a woman in labor has probably seen some type of spontaneous “dancing,” such as the mom and partner slow dancing — mom standing and swaying while draped over her partner. So who’s to say that hip-shaking salsa, pelvis-tilting belly dance and hip-opening African dance can’t inspire movement during and between contractions? What if a woman could prepare for birth using movements that are fun, sensual, and create a connection with her body and baby? These exact movements have the power to encourage her baby to descend and rotate through her body, resulting in an easier (and very likely faster) birth.

Why use the beauty and wisdom of dance to birth?

Doula, physical therapist, author and co-founder of DONA International, Penny Simkin, explains in her book, “The Birth Partner,” the three characteristics that are shared by most women who cope well with the discomfort and unknown length of labor: Relaxation, Rhythm and Ritual. The 3 Rs, as coined by Penny, can be explained as the ability “to relax during or between contractions” and “finding and using meaningful, rhythmic activities repeated with every contraction.” Dancing is a relaxing, inhibitions-releasing activity for many (Am I the only one who used to go dancing with friends on Friday night after a stressful week?), and it is nothing if not a rhythmic activity.

Many traditional dances use grounded steps that include hip movement — back and forth, side-to-side, and around in circles. These movements create asymmetry of the pelvis, which leads to a more usable space for baby to maneuver down the birth canal. Moving in ways inspired by these traditional dances also helps mothers sink down into the contractions, moving with them, encourage deep and regular breathing and humming, which will in turn keep her cervix soft and open.

According to Stephanie Larson, CD(DONA), DFB, CBE, and creator of Dancing For Birth classes, “Prenatal/postpartum dance class participants report experiencing low levels of discomfort, few or no interventions, brief labors and high levels of satisfaction during their births.”

Get your groove on early!

The benefits of dance can begin even before it’s time to labor. Dance in pregnancy helps a woman be confident, sexy and sensual in her “new” body, and increases balance, fitness and core strength. Practicing while pregnant, whether it’s in a class or with a video, can make the movements spontaneous in the birthing time — a natural part of the big day.

And, if a woman has been dancing throughout her pregnancy for fun, exercise, bonding with baby and yes, learning moves that help get her baby out, then the movements go even one step further — they become meaningful. They become a part of what she knows will help her baby enter the world and help her feel good while doing it.

Ready, set — dance!

Are you ready to become a pregnant and laboring dancing queen? You don’t have to be concerned about getting the moves perfect or memorizing routines — this is for you and your baby, and nobody else. So, how can you get started?

Taking a dance class specifically for pregnant women is a great, safe way to meet other moms in various stages of the pregnancy journey. Your classmates will often bring additional encouragement and support to your pregnancy (and birth). Some classes focus more on fitness, such as Dancing Thru Pregnancy, while others, such as Dancing For Birth, incorporate childbirth education, yoga-inspired movements, abdominal and perineum strengthening exercises and inspiration. Check your local dance studio, belly dancing instructor, local birth network or YMCA for prenatal dance classes. If you can’t find a class dedicated to those with the full form of pregnancy, see if you can find a Latin, belly dance or African dance instructor willing to help you modify movements in a regular class.

For those who would rather practice at home or can’t find a class in their neighborhood, there are a growing number of choices in prenatal dance video. Check out Veena and Neena: Belly Baby — A Prenatal Bellydance Workout or Leisa Hart’s Fit Mom: Prenatal Workout.

And, if nothing else, make a playlist, turn up the volume, roll your hips in circles, thrust your pelvis, shake your booty — and have a good time. You won’t be dancing by yourself — you’ll be dancing with the precious little one who invited you to the motherhood dance in the first place! And with your baby as your partner, you can’t go wrong.

Micky Jones, BS, CLD, CD(DONA), HCHI, IBCLC, DFB is a former professional dancer and current happily married mother of three, who enjoyed belly dance and Latin dance during her pregnancies and births. Micky is a dual-certified doula, Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis instructor, lactation consultant and Dancing For Birth instructor. She is in a season of new projects, which include a book with Hale Publishing on self-care and burnout for mother-baby professionals, and completing curriculum to become a DONA-approved birth doula trainer. As a founding and active member of the Nashville Birth Network and team member at 9 Months & Beyond, LLC., Micky spends the days (and sometimes nights) that she is not with her family serving birthing and breastfeeding families. Follow her on Twitter @nashvillebirth.

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