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In the Belly of the Goddess: Belly Dance for Pregnancy and Birth, Part Two
In the Belly of the Goddess: Belly Dance for Pregnancy and Birth, Part Two

by Cathy Moore, CNM

Belly Dance as a prenatal exercise

Some of the same women mentioned earlier who have written about the belly dance and birth connection, have also suggested that belly dance may have been the very first childbirth preparation exercise. Morocco, in her research into prepared childbirth classes such as Lamaze, found the exercises taught are similar to, and in some cases exactly the same moves taught in belly dance classes. Barbara Brandt, in her collaborations with birth professionals, also explored the usefulness of belly dance as a childbirth preparation exercise.

The basic posture for belly dance, with the knees slightly bent, the pelvis tucked under, and the heart lifted, is excellent for counteracting many of the common discomforts associated with the physical changes to her body which a woman experiences during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester as she approaches her due date.

The hip and torso movements provide exercise to all the muscles of the abdomen and the muscles of the pelvic floor involved in birthing in terms of both strengthening and improving flexibility.

Belly dance benefits for pregnancy

From my personal observations the potential benefits of belly dancing for a pregnant woman are many, and I will list some of them here: More and more, research is showing that regular exercise in pregnancy benefits both the mother and her baby. Regular exercisers can expect to have overall shorter labors and less need for interventions such as C-section. Studies show placental blood flow is increased with moderate exercise. This means the growing baby gets more oxygen and nutrients delivered to it throughout its intra-uterine life.

Unlike many forms of fitness where the emphasis is on muscular contraction, belly dance balances muscular contraction with expansion or muscular lengthening, similar to yoga. This results in both increased strength and flexibility. In our culture, many of the forms of physical fitness in which we participate, emphasize only muscular contraction – for example “rock hard abs” or “buns of steel”. For birthing, a woman needs muscles that are not only strong, but that are also flexible enough to expand and lengthen in order move the labor along, and to facilitate the birth.

Also, like yoga, and Tai Chi, and other forms of exercise which emphasize the mind body and spirit connection, belly dance improves body awareness helping the woman to be in tune with her changing body and her growing baby. These are essential elements for a pregnant woman whether she desires an un-medicated birth experience, or plans to make full use of current modern pain management techniques such as epidural analgesia.

Healthy body image is another benefit for women who belly dance. So many women, whether pregnant or not, have experienced a wonderful acceptance and appreciation of their bodies, as they learn the movements of belly dance which are essentially natural to the female body. Any woman who lives in our modern culture, and especially pregnant women who often hide under tent-like clothing, can benefit from the “my body is great!” affirming messages inherent in belly dance.

Because, at its ancient roots, belly dance tells the story of woman’s life-giving power, it is a natural for pregnant woman who are at the peak of their creative power. Through belly dance, a woman celebrates her fertility, sensuality and abundance and affirms the fullness of her being.

Pam England, a nurse midwife and author of the book Birthing from Within, which I recommend that all pregnant women and birth professionals read, talks extensively about the importance of active, creative self-expression to the birth process. She and I both agree that belly dance is one of the many avenues for this creative self-expression that is essential for the pregnant woman in achieving her goals of self-discovery and “birthing-in-awareness” (England and Horowitz, 1998). Giving birth is a rite of passage, and belly dance is one powerful tool a woman can use to re-claim pregnancy and birth.

In summary

Belly dance is an ancient dance form rooted in childbirth that offers many benefits for contemporary women seeking to re-claim their power during this significant rite of passage.

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