by, Lori Boggan, RN
The popularity of yoga has grown exponentially over the last many years in the western world. More and more studies are proving the benefits of a regular yoga practice. So how can yoga benefit the expectant mother? A 2015 study from Brown University suggests that yoga can be an effective alternative treatment for women suffering from depression during pregnancy. Another study from The University of California, Irvine, showed decreased cortisol levels and higher affect on the days the pregnant yoga group practiced. While most women can safely practice prenatal yoga during pregnancy, there are some conditions that may preclude yoga so women should always ask their midwife or doctor before starting. Conditions such as increased risk for preterm birth, placenta previa, premature rupture of membranes, or preeclampsia are other likely contra-indications. The following are just a few of the many benefits of prenatal yoga.
Connection to Breath
Prenatal yoga teaches the mom-to-be how to connect deeply to the breath, a breath that taps into the parasympathetic nervous system. In this state of deep relaxation, the baby benefits as well. The breath is the earliest bond that connects mom and baby on the deepest level. Also, the deep breathing that is practiced in prenatal yoga can relieve stress and anxiety and improve sleep. The breath learned and practiced week after week in prenatal yoga class can be used as a tool to guide her through the labor process.
Gentle stretching and opening of the hips and pelvic floor muscles prepare the body months in advance to yield for the baby’s passage. Regular modified squatting as practiced in prenatal yoga can open the pelvic outlet by as much as 30 percent. The mom-to-be learns positions in class that can be used in labor to ease baby’s passage and possibly shorten labor.
Mental Preparation & Increased Strength
I tell my prenatal students to imagine they were about to run a marathon and had not prepared physically or mentally in any way. While they would of course make the finish line, had they prepared they will have been more apt and conditioned to face the challenges along the way. Prenatal students are guided through poses that test their strength and breath in preparation for their journey through labor. The added benefit of these exercises is strong legs for pushing and strong arms for baby holding.
Connection to Baby
Showing up every week to yoga class allows the expectant mom an hour of uninterrupted connection with her baby. Prenatal yoga allows her to connect to the living, growing being in her womb. It is a sweet meditation between mom and baby in anticipation of their first encounter.
Alleviation of Pregnancy Aches
Depending on the ailment of the day, there is almost guaranteed a yoga pose that can in some way alleviate it. Prenatal class allows a woman to practice in a safe environment guided by a teacher with knowledge of the common aches and complaints of pregnancy. From headaches to heartburn, carpel tunnel, constipation, low back pain, and/or achy feet, the yoga instructor guides the students through poses that can help relieve and soothe some of their complaints.
Creation of Community
Prenatal yoga brings women together during the most exciting, challenging and, rewarding days of their lives. Friendships are made out of the sheer desire to know that the mamas truly are not alone in this journey. These friendships and their support continue to grow long after their babies arrive.
While more research will likely prove the benefits, it is easy to witness in a class full of focused, happy mamas. Childbirth educator and Prenatal Yoga Teacher/Director of Mama Tree in San Francisco, Jane Austin, sums it up perfectly. “It is very common that when a woman gets pregnant, she looks outside of herself and her own experience for answers. Yoga gives women the opportunity to look within, to pay attention to how she is feeling not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. When a mama tunes into her own experience and really pays attention, it often amazes her what she discovers. She has a wealth of wisdom and an inner knowing that can surface if she creates the space to listen. Yoga helps create that space.” Stay tuned for my interview with Jane on the benefits of postnatal yoga.
Lori is a neonatal nurse that has made her way to Sweden. She is also a Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher and Certified Prenatal/Postnatal Yoga Teacher. Follow her adventures working and traveling through Europe in her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.
Yoga during pregnancy: effects on maternal comfort, labor pain and birth outcomes.
The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms.
Potential for prenatal yoga to serve as an intervention to treat depression during pregnancy.