Many new mothers find it frustrating if they cannot exercise once they become pregnant. Maybe their care provider told them to take it easy for a medical reason. Or maybe they just don’t feel well enough to continue with the same workout schedule they kept before pregnancy. For this reason, many pregnant women find yoga. It is a gentle physical practice that incorporates breathwork and meditation. The movements can alleviate normal pregnancy pain and even build strength for labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. Perhaps most beneficial to expectant mamas, yoga asks you to move slowly and mindfully. Therefore creating an experience of connection with your body and your baby.
Pregnancy can be uncomfortable, especially in the third trimester.
The weight of the baby is putting a strain on your lower back, pelvic muscles, and internal organs. Hormonal changes throughout pregnancy can cause the stomach valve to be so relaxed that it cannot do its job of keeping stomach acid out of the esophagus, which causes heartburn. Often, there is not much relief you can find from taking medication.
An experienced yoga instructor can recommend postures and breathing exercises. These can address many of the common pregnancy aches and pains. For example, many yoga practitioners find relief from achy, swollen feet by laying down on the floor and putting their legs up for 10-15 minutes at a time. When I was pregnant, I practiced deep yogic breathing every evening, and I found that my nausea and heartburn after meals were definitely less intense.
Even if your mobility is limited in the final weeks of pregnancy, there is a posture for you.
Many first-time moms are anxious about childbirth. You can read childbirth literature. Hire a doula! Or take childbirth education classes. But, it is also important to prepare your body for the physical feat of labor and delivery. Regular yoga practice can make your labor easier, shorter, and more comfortable by helping you build strength in your legs, hips, and pelvic floor.
A study from 2016 reported that prenatal yoga can reduce the intensity of labor pain as well as the likelihood of induction and Cesarean section. Women who participated in this study actually self-reported their pain experience as being lower during labor when they had practiced yoga three times per week in their third trimester. This evidence is so important because often women believe there is nothing they can do to prepare for the pain of labor. And that fear causes stress.
Yoga reduces stress in everyone by allowing you to access deep relaxation.
There is now a robust body of research to support this idea. Studies have shown that regular practice has a real effect on mental health. This benefit certainly applies to pregnant people as well. However, there are studies that address health benefits specific to yoga in pregnancy.
A study that measured the immune function and stress levels in pregnant women who practiced yoga twice weekly found that their cortisol levels were lower and their immune systems were functioning more effectively than pregnant women who did not practice yoga. There is even research that suggests practicing yoga while pregnant may be effective in reducing depressive symptoms. Stress is hard to avoid no matter who you are, but high-stress levels can be dangerous for pregnancy. And most types of exercise will reduce the amount of cortisol your body produces, but yoga is a perfect choice for pregnancy because it can be modified for bodies that are limited.
The evidence supports the idea that yoga makes us healthier during pregnancy.
My favorite reason for practicing yoga while pregnant has nothing to do with the physical benefits. Our lives are busy and especially in our culture, women spend their days mostly distracted from their pregnancies and do not have a chance to connect with their unborn children. Through prenatal yoga, you engage in an activity that puts you in touch with your child. Pregnancy is often dominated by anticipation and looking toward the future. Yoga invites you to accept and be grateful with who you and your child are in the present moment.
We communicate with ourselves, our babies and each other when we come to the mat. And then we can experience early motherhood and pregnancy as more than just a large bump that inconveniences your daily activities.
Building a healthy and loving yoga habit while you are pregnant will carry into your early parenting. After birth, it will continue to enrich your life as you and your family grow.
Vanessa will be offering private prenatal yoga sessions in the comfort of your own home for all Tucson Doula clients. You can also attend prenatal yoga classes with Vanessa at Om Yoga Tucson starting in the new year.