Working in such rural locations means that every so often I get farmers attending antenatal preparation courses. They sit next to the lawyers, doctors, accountants and teachers and often say to me in private during the first week that they're a bit shy and 'know nowt - not like everyone else'. I smile and reassure them that birth is the great leveler ...........and then I watch and wait.
I grew up in the seventies in a North Yorkshire Dales town. Everyone came alive on market days when the livestock came to town. At school at least half of the children in my class were the children of farmers in fact they themselves were already farmers. On market day, when lambing was at its height, during the harvest or Great Yorkshire Show days they didn't come to school. They were needed on the farm - as young as eight or nine their value to the family's livelihood was sometimes greater than their education.
And when it comes to childbirth they instinctively know more than anyone sat in the room. They often have an innate understanding that you can, with patience and understanding know when a woman is about to go into labour by watching her behaviour. They know that being fit and active may make labour easier. I love watching their confidence grow as the other Dads recognise their knowledge and understanding and turn to them for answers and support.
When Jackie told me that early on in her pregnancy her farmer husband had scolded her for being lazy I was shocked and then amused as he'd said "better a fit heifer than a fat heifer". And of course he's right. Labour and birth is a physical activity, often women are surprised by just how physical and exhausting it can be. The research is very clear, the fitter and more physically prepared a woman is then there is an increased likelihood that her labour will be shorter and more straightforward.
There are three ways to prepare for labour and birth - intellectually, physically and emotionally. From my experience of having heard hundreds of birth stories I believe that the most important preparation of all is the physical. Every book I read from Bump by Kate Evans (read it) to my all time favourite, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin (I love this book so much I have all editions in my study) advises walking during pregnancy.
Walking* is one of the best cardiovascular exercises during pregnancy because it keeps you fit without jarring your knees and ankles. It's also a safe activity to continue throughout all nine months of pregnancy and one of the easier ways to start exercising if you haven't previously been active.
Like Neil said "Better a fit Heifer than a fat Heifer"
* walking is great exercise but obviously within the parameters of your own general health and wellbeing. If you are experiencing Pelvic Girdle Pain or been advised to rest more then listen. But if all is well walk, walk, walk.