Fall always makes me excited for the New York City Marathon. What’s not to love? Cheering for thousands of people who have chosen to participate in an awe-inspiring test of endurance. I leave the sidewalk full of endorphins, adrenaline pumping! You may be surprised to find out how often I reference the marathon in childbirth preparation classes. Here are the eight ways I think running a marathon is analogous to having a baby:
1. You can prepare, mostly.
First time competitors never run 26.2 miles before race-day. They do, however, spend at least 16-20 weeks preparing physically and mentally for the main event. By running regularly and practicing complimentary strength training and stretching they move their body towards optimal conditioning. Pregnant people can work towards optimal conditioning by staying active throughout their pregnancies and receiving massage, chiropractic care, physical therapy, or acupuncture. And, like distance runners, hydrate and nourish their bodies well. Taking a comprehensive childbirth education course to understand what lies ahead, learning about pelvic floor muscles to understand pre and postnatal physiology, and exploring mindfulness practices to reduce anxiety and decrease pain are all essential preparation tools.
2. Breathing is essential
Muscles need oxygen! That is probably more obvious for runners than for those in labor. The uterus is a broad muscle, contracting regularly in labor, pushing the baby down while helping the cervix dilate. Deep breathing also reduces anxiety!
3. The pain is temporary
The vast majority of pain in labor is caused by uterine contractions, not the baby passing through the birth canal. Labor contractions last about 60 seconds and are followed by minutes of rest and relaxation. It can be helpful to know that both individual contractions and the process as a whole will not go on forever!
4. Find your rhythm, stay steady.
Don’t start out too fast! When running a marathon, the excitement and adrenaline can lead you to do too much too soon. Similarly, in childbirth you are in it for the long haul, and early on your focus should be on conserving energy. Contractions should become ritualistic and having coping strategies is essential. Some people need music, others mantras. You can practice many different coping strategies ahead of time so you’re comfortable on game day.
5. Stress can slow you down
Oxytocin is the our love and trust and bonding hormone. It is released when we feel safe and relaxed. Oxytocin causes the uterine contractions of labor. Fear and stress diminish the amount of oxytocin produced in the body in turn slowing down or stalling your labor.
6. There will be moments of self-doubt
Because it ain’t easy. And endorphin production is on a slight delay. But, you can do it!
7. Support can make a huge difference
It’s always a good idea to have people cheering you on. No one can “run this race” for you, but people by your side can make it more possible.
8. It’s worth it