Prenatal Yoga Can Help Prepare Body and Mind for the Journey to Birth
By Renee Peterson, MSW, RPYT, RYT-500, Certified Viniyoga Wellness Instructor and Registered Prenatal Yoga Teacher
Preparing and having a baby can be an exciting time. Whether this is your first baby, or an addition to the family, it’s a new chapter of change. Prenatal yoga can help you prepare for and ease many of the changes happening. It provides an opportunity to safely stretch and strengthen your body and to prepare physically and emotionally for labor and delivery.
A woman’s body, mind and emotions go through tremendous changes during pregnancy. To feel confident and prepared for pregnancy and birthing, it is important to:
- increase awareness and knowledge about the changes in your body
- be physically active
- meditate or practice calming breath practices to calm your mind and reduce anxiety and stress, and
- have a support system.
Changes in the Body
Shifting hormones that support your body and growing baby can create many changes in your body during pregnancy, including:
- Nausea or morning sickness
- Cravings or aversions to certain foods
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Enlarged breasts
- Swelling/fluid retention
- Circulatory changes (feeling out of breath, having difficulty breathing, lightheadedness)
- Hyperthermic changes (overheating, dehydrating)
Laxity of ligament and joints throughout the body is another common change, and you are at greater risk of strains, sprains, and over stretching. Over stretching beyond your pre-pregnant flexibility can create instability of the back, hips, and pelvis leading to discomfort and longterm instability. In addition, a growing baby belly creates imbalance and increases the curvatures of the back, which in turn puts stress on other parts of the body.
Physical activity, however, is important before, during and after pregnancy. Being physically active during pregnancy has been found to minimize the discomforts of pregnancy related conditions and better prepare women for labor and delivery.
What is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga focuses on more than the physical practice of yoga. My classes at 5 Koshas aim to support the mind, body, breath, heart, and spirit of each student by integrating affirmations, mantras, breath awareness, breath techniques, connection with inner self, body and baby, and information.
For each class, I introduce a theme and provide a brief informational summary of a common issue you may encounter. For example, for nausea, I share information about the possible causes and provide suggestions to minimize the discomforts. Throughout the yoga practice, I incorporate a breath technique, physical postures and adaptations to postures intended to minimize the discomforts of nausea.
As students progress in their pregnancy, I offer adaptations of postures to support their changing body. It is common for your posture to change as the uterus expands and baby grows and develops. I incorporate props during the yoga practice, such as a wall, a chair, a blanket, yoga blocks, a bolster or an exercise ball, to support you in a physically beneficial way.
Functions of child’s pose, for example, can remain the same in 1st and 3rd trimester yet look very different in practice during 1st trimester than during 3rd trimester. The baby belly needs more space so widening the knees, or using a prop such as a bolster to place hands or forearms on, can help support your body and baby in a positive and safe way.
Another benefit of prenatal yoga is to help you feel supported and prepared for birthing.
Peggy Simkin, a physical therapist, childbirth educator, doula, and trainer, noted in her observations working with birthing women that the essence of coping in labor consists of the 3 R’s: Relaxation, Rhythm, and Ritual. Relaxing between contractions; creating a rhythm during contractions such as breathing, moving, swaying or using sound; and the ritual of repeating relaxation between contractions, rhythmic movement and sound. Instinctively getting in the zone, one-pointed focus.
Continuing to practice prenatal yoga during pregnancy provides you with the opportunity to practice the 3 R’s, enabling you to instinctively incorporate these methods. Many of these same techniques taught in prenatal yoga classes can be used in everyday life. Breathing techniques can aid in improving sleep, reframing your mind, releasing tension and stress in the body. In addition to the 3 R’s, I would recommend you learn and practice breath techniques to calm and center you. Acknowledge that birthing a baby is not pain-free, however, with the use of breath techniques, sound, rhythmic movement and a relaxed mind and body, you can minimize the discomforts of birthing your baby.
When to Begin
Prenatal yoga is a safe physical activity that you can begin at any stage of pregnancy with the okay of your doctor. It is helpful to know if you have any physical restrictions before you begin and if anything changes along the way. Prior to taking the class, you will be asked to complete a Prenatal Health Questionnaire. This information is helpful to me as the yoga teacher to clarify health conditions, learn about any physical restrictions and offer modifications if needed.
The earlier you start in your pregnancy, the more time you have to practice and prepare your physical body for endurance and strength needed during birthing and learn techniques to increase awareness and relaxation. Honor your body and your level of energy as you move through your day or yoga practice. Avoid force. Know that yoga should not cause pain. Somedays you might only put forth 50 to 60 percent of effort or spend the class time resting, and that is okay.
Following the advice of your doctor and adapting to any contraindications, it is safe to practice yoga throughout pregnancy.
If you are pregnant and have questions about joining a class, feel free to reach out to me via phone, text, email or in-person to ask questions and share your concerns. One of my students, Tanya Ehr, kindly shared her experience.
“I’ve always wanted to have a baby but I was also the most scared person of birth I think in the world. I did as much as I could to prepare. I walked a lot, prayed a lot and did yoga. Some of those things worked, because my labor went so well. I still think back and can’t believe how well it went. I didn’t know it, but I went into labor at 2 a.m. I knew something was happening, but I didn’t realize it was labor. In fact, I even got out of bed very early in the morning and did a yoga class. My labor progressed very fast and I had my baby that afternoon at 4 p.m. without any pain medicine. I just breathed through the contractions. In all honesty, yoga has helped me in so many ways for the past ten years.”
Tanya shared that she felt many benefits came from practicing prenatal yoga, even on days when she didn’t feel motivated. “I felt more energized, definitely more mentally and emotionally balanced and reset. If my body was sore, it felt so much better after. What you had to say about birth helped calm me and prepare me.”
“Postnatal benefits are about the same,” she continued. “When my body hurts, I feel so much better after I do yoga. That alone helps me be a happier mom and able to take care of my baby better and be a better person in general to my family or my coworkers and to myself. It also clears my head so I can be more peaceful and still and connect spiritually.”
Note: Every pregnant woman’s body is different. Consult your doctor if you have concerns or questions about your physical, mental and emotional health.
For additional reading, Mayo Clinic cites the many benefits of prenatal yoga at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatalyoga/art-20047193).