Pregnancy and Childbirth with the Alexander Technique

by Amy Likar and Constance Clare-Newman,
AmSAT Certified Alexander Technique Teachers

The Alexander Technique is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, flexibility, and coordination. The principles of the Technique can be applied to anyone and can greatly enhance your comfort during pregnancy, delivery, and recovery.

Use of the Self: How you coordinate your body movements with your mind in activity.

Main principles of the Technique: Awareness, Inhibition, Direction The Alexander Technique teaches greater conscious awareness and conscious control over how you function in posture, movement and reaction. By self-observation, you bring attention to how it is that you do what you do, and increase awareness. Then you learn to suspend or inhibit the habitual patterns which are not useful, gradually replacing those habits with better ones. Undoing patterns of tension or compression provides the opportunity for natural movement and the natural postural reflexes to work. Direction is allowing, without forcing, expansion rather than contraction. It is this undoing of contraction, whether it is from slouching or rigidity, that allows for the unforced expansion which gives the feeling of lightness, ease and spaciousness associated with the Technique.

The Alexander Technique is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, flexibility, and coordination. The principles of the Technique can be applied to anyone and can greatly enhance your comfort during pregnancy, delivery, and recovery.

A woman's body is designed to birth and care for a baby. How much easier that can be when you learn how to use your self based on your body's natural design. Study of the Alexander Technique aids in a more informed and integrated experience with pregnancy, birth, and life with a baby.

Ideally, a woman will take weekly lessons while pregnant. Since the Alexander Technique is an educational process, the more you practice the principles in your daily activities, the greater your benefits will be.

Comfort During Pregnancy

When you are pregnant, your body is undergoing more changes in the first trimester than in any other time during your pregnancy. Hormones are rushing through your system. You may be experiencing morning sickness and breast tenderness, among other changes. As pregnancy progresses and your body changes and grows to accommodate the developing fetus, other problems you may notice are neck pain, lower back pain, sacroiliac pain, carpel tunnel syndrome and numbness in the hands.

Study of the Alexander Technique can help with all of these changes. You will learn to work with your body's structure, function and your new size to allow the greatest amount of freedom of movement. By un-doing muscular tension and contraction, you can move freely with easy joints and supported balance. You will learn how to direct yourself out of contracted or collapsed postural states into more expansive ones that will give you a feeling of less effort and more ease.

By the third trimester, walking, sleeping, sitting and bending can become uncomfortable. By learning to use the core spinal support of the body and to let the innate postural responses work for you, you can be more comfortable in all positions.

As for indigestion, constipation and morning sickness, the Alexander Technique doesn't address these directly, but undoing habitual patterns of contraction and re-directing yourself into a softer postural state can lessen the discomfort.

Ease During Childbirth

During labor and delivery, the biggest issue you face is getting out of your own way and allowing your body to birth the baby. Many first time mothers are led into the birthing experience with a lot of fear-from the expectation that doctors, nurses, and TV shows create. Using the principles of the Alexander Technique can help you calm and focus-and turn the birthing process over to the body. Whether or not you choose to use pain relieving drugs, just the calming influence of practicing awareness, un-doing tension and re-directing into softness and openness can help you cope with pain. Particularly helpful in delivery is the Alexandrian direction, knees forward and away. Really understanding the separation between legs and torso is crucial in the delivery process. If out of fear, you unduly tense your legs and contract them into your torso, it will be more difficult to allow the baby to move lower into the birth canal. It will also be more difficult to make the most of your natural urge to push.

Often labor nurses encourage women to push on every contraction the nurse sees on the fetal monitor. It's important to only push on those contractions on which you feel like pushing. Only you know which of those contractions will really be productive.

If throughout the months of pregnancy, you've refined your sensory awareness, you will know which of the contractions are the strong ones on which to push. And by practicing all the principles of the Technique, you'll be able to ride those contraction waves with more success.

Recovery from natural childbirth

As your body changes, and slowly returns to its earlier shape, practicing the Alexander Technique is helpful in the re-integrating process. Practicing the familiar directions gives you something positive to focus you on while so many things around you are changing and you may not getting much rest.

Recovery from cesarean section

Whether it's an emergency cesarean section or a scheduled c-section, the Alexander Technique can help focus and calm your mind. To have presence of mind and a sense of calm before having surgery can help the healing process.

After surgery, you will have a substantial cut in your abdomen. Using the Alexandrian principle of leading with the head and letting the spine follow in sequence will save you a great deal of pain. Alexander students are amazed at the ease with which they can move in the days and weeks after a cesarean section delivery. Not moving as your body was designed can put you immediately in pain, so moving with ease and freedom is a great motivator! Also, it may allow you to lower your doses of pain relieving drugs.

Breastfeeding

It is common for women to strain the head, neck and upper back while breastfeeding. A comfortable chair, a nursing stool, a My Breast Friend nursing pillow can give you an ergonomic advantage. You can ease the pain and discomfort of nursing by paying attention to how you are sitting, inhibiting the scrunching of the neck, and allowing your natural postural responses and balance to work for you.

Caring for Yourself and Your Newborn

You can bring your newborn baby with you to lessons. Your teacher can work with you on how best to carry the baby, change diapers, and breastfeed.

Constructive rest is immensely helpful in the postpartum period. Babies like to be close to their mother's bodies. You can practice constructive rest with your baby.

Parenting is a challenging, relentless activity. You will go wrong with the use of your self many times. Congratulate yourself for recognizing it. Use the Alexander Technique to recover; and recover a hundred times a day. While the principles of the Technique are relatively simple, they aren't always easy. Just keep working for more freedom and ease.

Amy Likar is a freelance musician and an AmSAT certified Alexander Technique teacher in the Bay Area of California. "The Alexander Technique has been part of my life since 1992 when I had my first experience of the freedom and ease of movement the Technique could offer me. In 1999 when I became pregnant with my first child, I was in the midst of my teacher training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. I now have two children. My first child was born naturally without any pain relieving drugs. My second child was an emergency cesarean section because unfortunately I became gravely ill with meningitis during my 38th week of pregnancy. In both pregnancies and birth experiences the Alexander Technique improved my quality of life."

Constance Clare-Newman is an AmSAT certified Alexander Technique teacher with a private practice in Oakland and San Francisco. Constance also teaches classes for actors at A.C.T. and Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Constance is the Co-chair of the Marketing and Media committee of AmSAT.

About AmSAT:
The American Society for the Alexander Technique is the largest professional association of certified Alexander Technique teachers in the United States. AmSAT's mission is to define, maintain, and promote the Alexander Technique at its highest standard of professional practice and conduct.

Bibliography

  • Calais-Germain, Blandine. The Female Pelvis: Anatomy and Exercises. Seattle: Eastland, 2003.
    I wish I had this book during my pregnancy. The information in this book is so informative and the exercises are excellent.
  • Forsstrom, Brita and Mel Hampson. The Alexander Technique for Pregnancy and Childbirth. London: Victor Golancz, 1995.
    A good overview of the Alexander Technique and how to apply the principles to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Machover, Ilana and Angela and Jonathan Drake. The Alexander Technique Birth Book. New York: Sterling, 1993.
    Again, another good book with informative illustrations on how to use physioballs.

Copyright © Amy Likar & Constance Clare-Newman. Permission to republish granted Pregnancy.org, LLC.