Yoga in Pregnancy: Part 1 – Introduction

February 28, 2007

Practising Yoga during pregnancy – Part 1 – Introduction

Yoga & Pregnancy

Compiled by Jane Fraser (Jane Weideman)

This is the first article in a series about yoga in pregnancy.

This article introduces the idea of Yoga during pregnancy, and discusses the benefits of yoga during pregnancy. Subsequent articles will go into more details on postures and specifics of yoga during pregnancy.

Foreword: As with any exercise program it is best to consult your doctor before beginning. However, with the exception of not lying directly on your back or stomach after the fourth month, and avoiding what doesn’t feel right to you, there is very little yoga that would be a problem during pregnancy.

If you have never experienced a yoga class before, when you think of yoga, you may be inclined to envision a yogic guru (swami) wrapped in cloth and sitting in the lotus position meditating or chanting in an impossibly contorted position. Yoga is much more than this!

Yoga has been used for many many centuries to help centre a person and relieve stress. In many countries yoga during pregnancy is a standard component of pre-natal care. Yoga can be a great way to stay flexible, relive stress and prepare for birth. By using, stretching and cultivating the muscles for birth, you will ultimately make birth easier. The muscles are prepared by the yoga to do their job efficiently in labour. Not to mention the glorious relaxation and breathing skills that you can bring to your birth after the months of practising.

Yoga can also alleviate the discomforts caused by pregnancy. There are poses to help for sciatic pain, round ligament pain, swelling, heartburn, and yes, even morning sickness.

Yoga BreathingMany women begin a life long journey into yoga during pregnancy, finding that returning to yoga is much simpler post-partum than many other fitness activities. (Ed: I started yoga early into my first pregnancy and am still going strong 16+ years later, taking only 4 week breaks for the birth of each baby. I could not recommend it enough!).

Yoga is the perfect way to stay flexible, create energy, relieve stress and prepare for birth. Yoga has increased in popularity in recent years. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and digestion, strengthen muscles and joints, and increase flexibility. Yoga removes impurities from the body through the breath, sweat, liver, kidneys, and digestive system. People who practice yoga regularly report that they feel less stress and more peace in their lives.

Pregnant women can gain additional benefits from practising yoga: relief from back pain and nausea and increased stamina. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that can help expectant moms to stay in shape. And the breathing meditations practice in a yoga class really come in handy during labour!

Yoga - extended cat position

You have probably already noticed the great changes take place in your body during pregnancy. Practising yoga is a great way to slow down mentally and physically and to really appreciate these changes. Yoga encourages you to be in the moment — to be fully present. It encourages you to listen to your body, to accept it as it is, and to surrender to its sometimes uncomfortable changes.

Through gentle stretches and simple strength- building postures, you can improve your physical health. Through meditation, you can reduce anxiety and self-critical thinking and thereby improve your mental health!

Note that although yoga is very beneficial during and after pregnancy,there are a few practice guidelines as general precautions:
• Listen carefully to your body. If you feel any discomfort, stop. You will probably need to modify each pose to your body’s physical changes.
• Avoid all compression (squashing) of your abdomen (tummy/bump).
• When practising twisting poses, twist more from the shoulders and back to avoid putting any pressure on your abdomen.
• Avoid any poses on your back after the first trimester as that can cut blood flow to the uterus.
• Avoid poses that stretch the muscles too much, particularly the abdominal muscles.
• Remember that you are more prone to strain muscles now because the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which allows the uterus to expand, also acts on all connective tissue.
• As a precautionary measure, practice standing and balance poses near a wall for safety reasons, to avoid losing your balance and risking injury. Remember your centre of gravity shifts during pregnancy, and it takes some getting used to.
• Maintain as much length as possible between the breastbone and the pubic bone to make breathing easier.
• Keep the pelvis upright when stretching the chest and the front of the thighs.

A smooth healthy pregnancy and a natural childbirth are just some of the benefits of yoga. But more importantly, yoga does wonders on the physical and mental development of the foetus.

The word yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning yoke or connection. Yoga connects your body, mind, and spirit. Yoga can connect you to your baby too! The practice of yoga gives you the opportunity to create a world (your body) for your baby that is healthy and peaceful. “What a child learns in the womb cannot be learned on earth” (Yogi Bhajan).

Warrior pose

Yoga coordinates movement, breath and awareness. It addresses health and well being on several levels: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. Because of its many benefits and the pleasure derived from its practice, the time-honoured art of yoga is becoming increasingly accepted everywhere as part of self-care during pregnancy and preparation for childbirth and motherhood.

If you are interested in practising yoga during your pregnancy, be aware that certain postures should be avoided (such as those that involve laying on the back or belly). Get a video or book that is specifically designed for expectant mothers or attend a prenatal yoga class. These videos, books, and classes will cover postures that help to reduce back pain, swelling in the lower extremities, and misalignments due to weight changes. (More on this in the next article in this series!)

Many postures (for example, squats) are useful preparations for natural childbirth. During pregnancy, hormones cause joints in the body to become loose (that’s why women often increase in shoe size). Yoga postures can help to stabilize and strengthen these joints and promote flexibility in the muscles and fascia.

There are two nervous systems in the human body: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic, commonly known as the “fight or flight” system, causes the blood pressure to rise, the breath rate to quicken, and stress hormones to flood into the body. Historically, this occurred to prepare the body for fighting dangerous animals. But in today’s world, we experience this response while we are sitting in traffic or feeling stressed at the office. When this system is overly stimulated, we can experience health consequences such as ulcers, migraines, and heart disease. During pregnancy, the effects of the sympathetic nervous system can be transferred to the developing baby.

Yoga side stretchThe parasympathetic nervous system lowers blood pressure and slows the pace of the breath. When the blood no longer has to rush to the muscles, it is free to travel to the digestive, reproductive, glandular, and immune systems — systems made up of organs more necessary to long-term survival. Studies have shown that long, deep breathing encourages the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system and allows relaxation and healing to occur.

The food that you eat, the oxygen that you breathe, and your state of mind are all transmitted to your baby. The stress you feel is the stress your baby feels. Yoga has developed over thousands of years to help people obtain optimal physical health and a relaxed and peaceful state of mind.

Part 2 in this series can be found here.


Beautiful New Born Photos

February 25, 2007

One of the exciting things about having a baby is all the photo opportunities you have. New babies and cameras are never far apart…

Here is some newborn photography to inspire you and make you go ahhh!**

**Note all these photos were found on flickr, and are linked through to the original which is posted there. If there is any copyright or other issue with this please contact us and we will gladly add credits or remove the photo as required.

Also, although we had hoped to display a diversity of babies from different ethnic groups, sadly not much diversity was available on flickr. If you know where we could find some nice photos, please let contact us, we’d love to add them.


Birth Videos

February 22, 2007

There are some lovely birth videos on You Tube.

Birth videos can be a wonderful way to prepare yourself for birth. It helps you to desensitise to the reality that is birth, and to start becoming familiar with what is normal during birth, and what to expect.

You’ll also instinctively react to and know what you do and don’t like from each birth you see, and in that way you can get a clearer idea of what you’d like for your birth. You’ll end up with a much better idea of what it will really be like and will be able to plan and visualise your birth as you would like it.

Here are some lovely natural and gentle births*:

  • ‘Lyle’s Birth’ – mom labours and gives birth – catching the baby herself – in a birth pool at home, with dad in the pool with her. The mid-wife hasn’t even arrived yet and gets told the baby is born on the phone. Your body really does know what to do!
  • ‘Birth1’ – a very short video of a mom giving birth in water, without making any noise at all.
  • ‘Christian’ – This is the water-birth of a Spanish speaking mum. She vocalises a lot through the birth (not a BAD thing at all, it helps a lot). See how the contractions come and go and her body tells her what to do as each contraction starts and relaxes completely after each one finishes. The mid-wife helps her to birth the head slowly, so she doesn’t tear.
  • VBA3C – This is a beautiful photo video of a woman who finally gave birth to her 4th child naturally, and at home, after 3 Caesarean births.
  • Dutch Home Birth– This is a simple beautiful and calm home vaginal birth on a birthing stool. Translated into English. this one is fairly graphic with a close up of the head emerging beautifully, slowly and with control from a very calm mom. Birth doesn’t get much better than this!
  • HBAC– This is a very moving birth of a mom who had a medically managed vaginal birth with her first son, followed by a Caesarean birth with her second son. Less than a year later she had a successful home vaginal birth after a Caesarean (VBAC) with twin girls!
  • Incredible Laughing Birth – This French woman gives birth naked and completely uninhibited by herself or her birth attendants, she is in bliss and literally revels and laughs as her baby emerges slowly and wonderfully from her and is caught by the dad.

If you’d like to search yourself, try key words such as: Birth, Homebirth, Water Birth etc. There are quite a few videos to chose from (including a funny but slightly disturbing parody called ‘Snakes on a Homebirth’) 😉

Then there are also a host of other more professionally produced videos available such as:

Birth As We Know it: Educational Edition. A profoundly moving film showing conscious, gentle birth and spiritual midwifery.**
by: Elena Tonetti-Vladimorova

Gentle Birth Choices: Gentle and natural ways to give birth. This DVD blends interviews of midwives and physicians with footage of six different birth experiences.
by: Barbara Harper

Kangaroo Mother Care: Rediscover the Natural Way. This video summarises research and evidence to prove that the newborn thrives best in its original rightful place – on its mother’s chest.
by: Dr Nils Bergman

Remember: You don’t fear what you understand.

** We have limited DVD copies of the Educational Edition available (Cape Town, South Africa). Please Contact Us if you’d like to find out more about how to get one of these.


Virtual Labour

February 19, 2007

Birthing Naturally is a wonderful website focussing on healthy natural pregnancies and births.

Amongst the vast array of information and many many valuable resources on this site is the following gem:

Virtual Labour – a wonderful tool to help you to decide how you would like your labour to go, as well as to see how your choices in labout can affect the progress and eventual outcome of your labour. Click here to give it a try!

“Virtual labor will randomly choose for you how your labor begins, and as you make decisions, virtual labor will show you how your labor might progress based on your decisions. It is a different natural birth every time you try it.”