Get Up and Move that Bump!
By: Patricia Anaya, Certified Pre/Post-Natal Yoga instructor
Yoga literally means “to yolk” and in pregnancy yoga, a woman learns to bring into balance her body, mind and spirit in preparation for one of the most important transitions in her life! Her physical body will change in ways she has never experienced before. The practice of pregnancy yoga helps women assume good body alignment and awareness of the breath with the added benefit of conditioning muscles and other tissues directly involved with childbirth.
If you are already practicing yoga or some other form of exercise, you might wonder if you are able to continue to exercise throughout your pregnancy. Most pregnant women are able to continue some form of mild exercise up to and until the baby is born. And, remember, you have a little ‘bun-in-the-oven’ now and depending on your preferred method of exercise, modifications may be necessary.
Pregnant Women Benefit from Practicing Yoga
Dr. Gowri Motha, an obstetrician in London, England and the author/creator of the Gentle Birth Method. Dr. Motha notes that women who stay fit in pregnancy enjoy shorter labors.i Who wouldn’t want that?!
Some of the benefits of prenatal yoga include:
- Safe physical practice during pregnancy
- Regulates blood pressure
- Stress release/reduction
- Labor preparation and pain coping skills
- Increased flexibility and muscle tone
- Supports Optimal Fetal Position (OFP)
- Alleviates discomforts in pregnancy
- Builds endurance and mental focus
- Provides a supportive environment to expectant mothers
- Faster recovery after birth
Practicing Yoga sequences offers an excellent all-body conditioning. Standing yoga poses (asanas), by their very action of moving the femur bones, keep the pelvis and hips limber in preparation for birth. Poses like Downward Facing Dog stretch the calf and hamstring muscles to help open and release the backs of the legs and alleviate sciatica. Women often complain about knee pain in pregnancy. This is partly because the leg muscles may not be toned enough to support the extra weight and therefore the knees bear the extra weight. Standing yoga poses, like Warrior I and Warrior II, can help cultivate leg strength and balance.
Doing yoga pelvic rocks and cat/cow tilts in the Tabletop position helps reduce back pain in pregnancy and in labor because the weight of the baby is able to move off of the spine.
Pregnancy yoga utilizes body positioning, which have been credited with helping a pregnant woman achieve optimal fetal positioning (OFP) in late pregnancy. OFP is a term coined by Jean Sutton, midwife, and Pauline Scott Pauline Scott, which suggests that a woman’s body positioning in late pregnancy can increase the likelihood that the baby will be in the most optimal position for birth, which is head down (vertex) and ‘tummy-to-mummy’ (anterior). According to Jean and Pauline, encouraging OFP in late pregnancy increases the likelihood of an uncomplicated, straightforward vaginal delivery.ii
Women who practice yoga tend to have babies in the vertex anterior position at the start of labor and therefore spend less time in labor as a result of their strong mind/body connection. And it is more than their physical conditioning and preparation for birth that makes a difference. These women have great body awareness and are able to relax their strong bodies when labor requires them to be soft and just breathe; and then they are able to find strength to stand up and squat, if required, to push out their babies even when the length of labor has taken its toll.
Learning the art of relaxation and breathing (also known as pranayama in yoga) is also an essential component of a pregnancy yoga class. Breathing slowly and deeply can calm the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight mode”) and help activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest mode”) instead. In pregnancy yoga class, women learn how to relax her body and mind during the process can actually reduce pain. Slow and rhythmic deep yogic breathing has a way of accessing and affecting the central nervous system and therefore releases muscular tension. Even if a mother chooses to receive an epidural, analgesic drugs do not relieve neuromuscular tension.
A study from the Journal of Complimentary Therapies stated that, “movement, specifically yoga movement, breathing, and chanting may increase circulating endorphins and serotonin, raising the threshold of mind-body relationship to pain.”iii
The practice of pregnancy yoga is a great way for expectant mothers to relieve stress, create physical comfort and emotional balance, as well as prepare for birth. With all the benefits pregnancy yoga has to offer, I think many doctors, doulas, midwives, childbirth educators and mamas agree: Pregnancy yoga is an excellent way to stay active during pregnancy and prepare for childbirth.
Patricia Anaya is a certified Pre/Post-Natal Yoga instructor who teaches classes and workshops in Los Angeles. Patricia is also a childbirth educator and birth doula. Learn more about Patricia at SerenityBirth.com.
Additionally, she recently published the new book “Bumps in Motion: Pregnancy Yoga Sequences From Around the World” now available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Bumps-Motion-Pregnancy-Sequences-Around-ebook/dp/B06Y2DP5YP
Follow Patricia @ IG:Serenity_Birth
i Dr. Gowri Motha and Karen Swan MacLeod. Gentle Birth Method: The Month-by-Month Programme to Help You. (Hammersmith, London: Thorson, 2004), 73.
ii Sutton, Jean. Let Birth Be Born Again! Rediscovering & Reclaiming our Midwifery Heritage. (Bedfront, Middx., UK: Birth Concepts UK, 2001).
iii Chuntharapat, S., Petpichetchian, W., & Hatthakit, U. Yoga During Pregnancy: Effects on maternal comfort, labor pain and birth outcomes. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 14(2), 105-115. [Abstract](http://www.feminafisio.com/noticias/10001/livro_10001.pdf). 2008