What is labour like? Useful Analogies

April 11, 2008

What is labour like? Useful Analogies
By Jane Weideman

The I am often asked by friends & clients what labour (birth) is really like. Having birthed 3 LARGE babies naturally myself, they want to know how I did it? What does it feel like? How does one cope with it? What if the baby is large? Do you have to have a super human pain threshold? How do I know if I can do it? What will happen to me afterward? Questions, questions…

It’s hard to describe something to someone when they have no frame of reference. How can you really describe a contraction to someone who has never felt one? Or to a partner who never will feel one, and possibly can’t relate to it at all?

Over time I have developed a few analogies which help to illustrate the process of labour/birth, and the experience of feeling and dealing with contractions. I hope my descriptions help to make it clearer and more understandable. As well as less intimidating and less scary, to those who have the fear of the unknown.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
~Marie Curie~

The best analogy I can give you for birth, and what it is like, is that is it like running a marathon or climbing a mountain.

Take Cape Town’s Table Mountain for instance, there are many different ways to get to the top. None more right or valid than the others, they are just different. And those different ways suit different people better. So the best way for one person, may not be the best (or even a good) way for someone else, depending on each person’s circumstances and motivations. So while you may want to climb it, someone else may think you are crazy for wanting to do that! Why go through all that pain, sweat & exhaustion when you could take the cable car? Someone else might think that even the cable car is risky, or a waste of time, and would rather pay to get a quick & easy helicopter trip up there. I mean the end result is being at the top right?? Doesn’t matter how you got there….

Well yes & no. Sure that’s the end goal, but for some the journey of getting there is as much part of the experience and memory as the summit, and being at the top can feel that much more of an achievement and high if you got there yourself. Plus it is healthy for you, it is exercise and fresh air!

Then of course , there are different ways of climbing, there are long slow winding paths, more steep and intense direct routes, and then even scary but exhilarating real rock-face climbing options. There are loads of options and only you would know which you would want to do, and which is right for you.

Make sense?

Birth is VERY similar.

If you choose the climb option in the analogy, it doesn’t mean the journey won’t be hard and tiring. You might even think “What the hell am I doing!? Why didn’t I just catch the cable car??”, while you are plodding along, and as it starts getting steep. But you keep going, one step at a time, you get into a rhythm, and before you know it you are there at the top. You did it, and you feel fantastic! Like you can do anything. You are proud of yourself, exhilarated and the experience has been unforgettable. And that view from the top is so worth it because you really worked for it, and earned it. Your endorphins are rushing and you have never felt as good, or moved, or emotional before. Nothing compares to that. That’s what natural birth feels like.

So what you need to work out for yourself is. What option do you really want? For YOU. No one else can, or should, make that decision for you. It is a very personal choice, and you are the one who will need to do the work, and feel the feelings and really LIVE the experience.

Do I have a high pain threshold? …. I think mine is probably average, but I think I am very logical and rational. So while I hate having a pimple squeezed. It hurts and just feels WRONG to me. But the ‘pain’ of birth is not just pain. It is a combination of factors, all of which make sense.  So I can deal with it, using my rationalisation skills. A male friend asked me about labour once and said, ‘Ok so is it like slamming your hand in the door and staying there for like 12 hours!?

NO!!! Firstly it’s nothing like that. It’s not ‘oh my god I am being damaged, having nerves severed and am about to die!!’ pain. It is a pressure, dull ache, muscle-working-burn kind of pain. Secondly it’s not continuous. Contractions come and go. They build up to an intense peak and then dissipate, and mostly, the gaps between them are longer than the length of the contraction itself. You have a break after and between each one.

Imagine this scenario. You have an strict gym instructor and have do a yoga-type squat/lunge for a full minute every 5 minutes for a few hours. It starts off fine. No sweat. Easy! Then after 30-seconds or so your thighs start burning and feeling tired and you want to get up. You’re not dying, but you feel uncomfortable. You can’t just stand up though, you have to stay there for a full minute. You could cry, panic, scream etc, but that wouldn’t help, it would actually just feel worse, and you would just waste energy and upset and tire yourself. What you need to do is relax, zone out, breathe slowly and deeply, and just try to forget about it. Before you know it the minute is up and you can stand up. You then have a few minutes to rest move around, breathe, have a sip of water, whatever you want to. Then you start again.

The thing is each one is bearable, but you need to prepare your mind and your attitude, that’s the main thing. You need to not panic and you need to just accept it work with it, and only think in the moment. Each one you finish is one that is gone and done, don’t dwell on it. Don’t think or worry about how many more you have, or how much worse it might feel. All there is, is here and now, and each one you finish is one step closer to the end… You can get into a rhythm and find ways which help you relax quickly and easily in between. You’ll find you can finish the minute with 4 or 5 long slow breaths. Or perhaps someone encouraging you or rubbing your back through the hardest part helps you to get through it. Or closing your eyes, or day dreaming or focusing on a spot on the floor etc, whatever you need to do. Sooner or later your endorphins kick in and suddenly it’s not so bad, you can do it, you ARE doing it.

The other way to imagine a contraction is like you are floating on the ocean and each one is a wave. As it comes you can kick and fight and try to stop it affecting you, or you can simply relax as it comes and allow yourself to be lifted up and over the wave. Ride it, don’t fight it. You can’t stop a wave in the ocean, you will exhaust yourself or be dumped by it. Work with it and just surrender to it, and then you can relax and even enjoy it.

Basically your body knows what to do, and will do it regardless. Even if you went into a coma your body would birth the baby without you. In fact it would do a pretty good job of it. So your role in the birth is actually just to not get in the way. Really. 😉 You need to learn how to relax and surrender and breathe through it, and not hold back and resist and impede the progress.

In general a vaginal birth (and particularly a natural one where mom is up and active) is much safer for the mom and baby. The ‘stress’ of natural birth is actually very good and healthy for the baby. It stimulates the baby and prepares it for life outside the womb. Far more Caesarean babies have breathing and lung difficulties (pneumonia etc) because they have not had the fluid squeezed out of their lungs by the passage through the birth canal (and the adrenaline etc they have during birth too). It’s not to say a Caesarean is a BAD way to birth, but natural birth is arguably the best way to birth.

Also even if a Caesarean birth is necessary, or selected, it is still better to allow the baby to be fully ready (not at 38 weeks) and even allow labour to start, before performing the Caesarean, and let the baby get the benefit of:
1) Being born on its actual intended birth date, when it was ready to be born and
2) The stimulation of the contractions. Labour is good for the baby (unless there are issues like with the cord or placenta etc when it’s not, but that’s what the intermittent monitoring is for, to make sure baby is fine with the labour).

Are my pelvic muscles damaged? No. Sure they are not 100% the same as they were, but they work completely fine, and honestly I am far more comfortable with my body and my sexuality now than before I had my babies. Somehow growing and birthing them really put me in touch and in awe with myself. Honestly my experiences of giving birth are some of the highlights of my life, and I regard them as my greatest achievements. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

So the choice really is yours, but I hope some of the above can help with your decision.

The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.
The contractions come from and are YOU. So they can not overwhelm, or be bigger than you, as they are only as strong as you are!


Sensual Birth

July 9, 2007

By Anastasia Stephens

London – For Katrina Caslake, giving birth was not the terrifying, painful ordeal most women experience. Far from it. The midwife, from Wallington, south London, says she found it blissful, even orgasmic. “I found giving birth very sensual,” says Caslake, 44, who didn’t take painkillers for the birth of either of her sons, Aaron and Tomas, now 18 and 17.

“All my erogenous zones were stimulated. I was making sounds very similar to a sexual climax. And it was a very definite climax. I was doing the most feminine thing a woman can do and it felt fantastic.”

It’s a sentiment with which Frederika Deera, a PR officer at John Lewis in London, would agree. She had a similar experience giving birth to her two-year-old daughter Delphine.

‘The most indescribable euphoria’

“Giving birth filled me with the most indescribable euphoria,” says Deera, who gave birth at a midwife-led unit in Portsmouth. “Of course there was pain, but my overall sense was of peace and happiness. I was on a complete high, so much that even having a major suturing afterwards did not bother me at all.”

It was her “pleasurable experience” that led Caslake to train as a midwife. “I knew I wasn’t unique,” says Caslake, who helps run Yours Maternally, an independent midwifery service. “By encouraging other women to trust and relax in their bodies, I felt I could help them experience less painful, more pleasurable births.”

sensual Birth 2It’s an approach that’s also encouraged at the Birth Centre in south London where midwife Nathalie Mottershead actively encourages sensual birth.

“If couples are willing, nipple and clitoral massage can be used to bring on labour contractions, open the cervix and vagina and help with pain relief,” she says.

More to the point, the approach is capable of transforming birth – perceived by most women to be terrifyingly painful – into a pleasurable, even, ecstatic experience. “We work closely with women so they can give birth at home, in intimate surroundings. If mothers-to-be are open to feeling sexy, labour can be pleasurable, not painful, and it sometimes builds up to a crescendo at birth.”

‘Useful trick for pain relief’

It’s not as if the techniques used at the Birth Centre are isolated or rare.

“If a woman is comfortable enough to do nipple or clitoral stimulation during birth, it’s a useful trick for pain relief and inducing labour,” says Andrya Prescott, spokesperson for the Independent Midwives Association.

A visit to the Unassisted Childbirth Organisation’s US website confirms just how erotic childbirth can be. The site describes in graphic detail women’s fantasies in which romantic and sexual union leads to “blissful waves of pleasure”, and “cosmic orgasms” at the point of birth. More women, it seems, get turned on by birth than you’d think. When Ina May Gaskin, a US midwife, conducted a poll of 151 women, 32 reported experiencing at least one orgasmic birth. ASensual Birthdmittedly, these were home births by women who were “open” to the experience. The plus points are pretty significant – a single orgasm is thought to be 22 times as relaxing as the average tranquilliser, while sexual arousal widens the vagina significantly.

“Women might think twice about having an epidural if they knew that, but nobody talks about these things,” points out Gaskin, a natural childbirth pioneer who was the first midwife to openly acknowledge that women could climax at birth. It almost sounds too good to be true: a touchy-feely labour followed by an earth-shattering orgasm at the moment of birth.

Unfortunately, this is very far removed from most women’s description of childbirth. A major hitch is that, as with any sexual activity, the amount of pleasure gained – for women at least – is closely related to the degree of relaxation, trust and safety she feels.

Most women anticipate with dread the “birth ordeal”, a state of mind that will make muscles contract and adrenalin levels rise before it even begins. And then, most women can only feel sexy in intimate surroundings, with people they know well. Hospitals and doctors don’t really do the trick.

“Adrenalin inhibits sex drive and labour contractions,” says midwife Andrya Prescott. “You become tense and are more prone to feeling pain. It’s why women can have trouble with labour and birth at hospital. Surrounded by strangers, their adrenalin levels are high. They can’t relax. Even if they were open to getting aroused, at a hospital, they may as well forget it.”

Sensual Birth 2Part of the problem, it seems, is the way sexuality around childbirth has been denied. In her book, Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth, Gaskin points out that doctors had to downplay female sexuality for medical men to be admitted to the birth chambers of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. This “denial” was later institutionalised when hospital births became routine.

Even today, it’s a pretty taboo subject. “Lots of women would worry they’d be seen as abnormal or deviant if they admitted to feeling sexual at birth,” says Carolyn Cowan, a yoga teacher and doula based in south London, who herself had an ecstatic birth. “It’s something lots of women feel ashamed to talk about,” she adds. “I run erotic dance classes for pregnant women to try to get rid of these inhibitions. I should know a thing or two – it took giving birth to my son to discover my G-spot.”

The tide is clearly turning. A growing number of obstetricians and midwives point out what seems pretty obvious, yet has been somehow forgotten – that since sex leads to pregnancy and birth, they’re pretty closely linked.

“When you look at sex, birth and lactation, the same hormones are involved,” says Michel Odent, the obstetrician who pioneered the use of birthing pools in the Seventies. “It seems obvious that childbirth is a part of a woman’s sexuality.”

Many parents-to-be, for example, find that making love and nipple stimulation are one of the best ways to get labour going. That’s because sexual arousal releases oxytocin, a love and bonding hormone, which triggers orgasmic and labour contractions in the uterus. Conveniently, this hormone is an endorphin, meaning it has an opiate-like effect – inducing pleasure while acting as a highly effective painkiller.

Aside from the pleasure and pain relief, the advantage of a sensual birth is less physical damage. “Women who are relaxed and feel good, undergo easier, smoother births, so suffer less tearing and bruising,” says Caslake. “Fear makes a woman more tense and this holds the baby back.”

The baby gets a pleasure hit too – bathed in “feel-good” hormones, they’re more likely to come out feeling relaxed and content.
Further reading:www.michelodent.com (for more information on love hormones); www.unassistedchildbirth.com (for more info on sensual birth); www.birthcentre.com ; www.independentmidwives.org.uk; For sensual prenatal exercises contact Carolyn Cowan ; www.mooncycles.co.uk); Yours Maternally Independent Midwives, Wallington, south London (www.yoursmaternally.co.uk )

How to have a sensual birth

Why some women achieve a “birth climax” while others endure excruciating pain is likely to be due to differences in environment, genetics, expectations, and psychological factors. Trust and the level of emotional support you feel from your husband is critical in inducing a feeling of safety and relaxation needed to get the “pleasure hormones” going.Women are generally more likely to have sensual birth experiences during home deliveries in an intimate environment.

Midwives who have witnessed women who’ve been physically aroused during childbirth believe the following techniques could make the experience more likely:Before and during childbirth, become intimate with your body. Look at yourself naked in the mirror, noticing any areas that trigger uncomfortable emotions. Send loving thoughts to that area until the difficult feelings pass. Ask your partner to look at your body and compliment you.If you feel comfortable with it, aim for a home birth.

Work closely with a doula or midwife to build up a sense of trust with her, in your body and in the birth process.Ask yourself if you can believe that your body will be doing the right thing, to the best of its ability, to give birth successfully. The more you can believe this, the more you’ll be able to trust yourself and relax.

Pick a special room or area where you want to give birth. Light candles to create atmosphere and evaporate lavender essential oil in an oil burner to induce relaxation.Learn a relaxation method such as abdominal breathing to use during childbirth to curb the release of stress hormones.

Create the expectation that childbirth could be pleasurable, even if there is pain: while pregnant, spend time imagining how it could trigger warm tingling sensations in your body along with feelings of love.

If you feel it is appropriate, ask your partner to kiss you, stroke you gently or even caress your nipples as labour contractions come on.

Pain in labour – what causes it and how can you minimise it?

May 10, 2007

By Paula Pedersen

What causes pain in labour?
During labour and birth, there are several physical processes occurring that lead to childbirth pain: the strong uterine contractions and the tension they place on supporting ligaments; pressure of the baby on the cervix, vagina, urethra, bladder, and rectum; stretching of the cervix, pelvic floor muscles, and vagina.

These processes are unavoidable, and the pain caused by them is a positive sign that labour is progressing. We don’t want to stop these processes from happening, we just have to figure out how to minimize the pain we experience as a result.

Pain-intensifying factors that we can influence:

– The stretching of the pelvic floor muscles can cause pain; it helps if you’ve been doing your Kegel exercises in advance.
– Pressure on bladder causes pain, going for a wee regularly during labour helps.
– Reduced oxygen to uterine muscle increases pain; breathing techniques help.
– Muscle tension increases pain, fear and anxiety make you more sensitive to pain; relaxation can help with these.

itf131048.jpgYour body is AMAZING! It has nurtured another human being for 40 weeks, and is beautifully well equipped to birth your baby into the world. Endorphins are natures own pain killers and are naturally released into the blood stream when the body is physically stressed beyond its normal limits (think of an athlete running a marathon!).

The endorphins increase as your labour does – so the key here is to ensure that you are mentally and physically in a state that will encourage endorphins to be released at all times. Your endorphins will modify pain, create a feeling of well-being as well as alter your perception of time and place. The endorphins peak at the transition stage, giving you that extra energy for birth and amnesic effect (forgetting about the pain afterwards). They are at their highest during the pushing stage, which then gives rise to the elation you feel after the birth and encourages bonding with your new baby.

Ways to enhance natural pain killers include:

If you are free to move around and get comfortable, your labour may even speed up. Use gravity to its maximum benefit and try to remain upright as that will encourage your baby’s head to come down. Change positions every 30 minutes or so. Try standing, walking, slow dancing, lunging, sitting upright on a chair, sitting on a birth ball, kneeling, on your hands and knees, sidelying, squatting…the list is endless – find a comfy position that feels good for you.
See some great labour position suggestions in this slide show.

Do not labour alone, surround yourself with positive and encouraging support people. Your partner (and a doula) will help you immensely. Anxiety increases the amount of adrenaline in your body, which in turn reduces the release of endorphins and oxytocin and will slow labour down considerably.

Avoid unnecessary procedures
Procedures with scientific evidence of benefit to you and your baby should be promoted and those without scientific evidence of benefit should be avoided. Avoid the following ‘routine procedures’: pubic shaving, enemas, early artificial rupture of membranes, restriction to bed, intravenous fluids.

Safe Environment
Ideally you want to labour and give birth in a safe and non threatening environment. If you are giving birth in a hospital, make the room your own by bringing flowers, candles, music and turn the lights down or off.

Comfort measures
These include breathing and relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety and tension. Water (bath, shower or Jacuzzi) is a very effective comfort measure and it encourages you to relax. The best time to get into a bath for pain relief is between 5-6 cm. Sit of stand in the shower and allow the jets of water to massage your back or tummy.

Heat and cold
Alternate between heat and cold to relieve pain or tension. A hot water-bottle, microwave bean bag or warm face cloth. Then try an ice pack, chilled cooldrink can or a cold cloth on your neck, back, shoulders or under your tummy – wherever you need it!

Touch & Support in labourMassage and touch
A massage can do wonders for pain. It conveys a comforting message to you that you are loved and being cared for. If you transmit pleasurable impulses (such as light, soft touch), those will reach the brain first and that can modulate, or interfere with, the pain sensations. Firm massage on your back or soft fingertips (called effleurage) over your tummy can all ease the pain of your contractions. Even a foot, hand, leg or shoulder massage can help! In general, sensory input can distract us from pain perception.

TENS machine.
T.E.N.S stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS machine is quite a nifty little gadget. The unit consists of four flexible, band-aid-size pads connected by wires to a small battery operated generator of electric impulses. The pads stick to the mothers back alongside her lower spine. The mother can regulate the impulses during a contraction. The pulses prevent the pain signals from the contracting uterus and cervix from reaching your brain and also stimulate your body to release its own, natural “feel good” substances, (endorphins.) (Not easily available in SA though…)

Your attitude is very important in labour. Try to relax and believe in yourself and your ability to do something miraculous. Tell yourself, “I AM STRONG. MY BODY KNOWS WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO.”

If you aren’t able to cope and feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your contractions – medicated pain relief is available. You will have made your educated decision beforehand as to what type of pain relief you are willing to accept. Labour and childbirth is not an endurance test – it is a beautiful occasion when a new family is born and an event that you will remember for the rest of YOUR life.

Yoga in Pregnancy – Part 3 – More Advanced Postures

March 18, 2007

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2.

Practising Yoga during pregnancy – Part 3 – More Advanced Postures

Yoga & PregnancyCompiled by Jane Fraser (Weideman)

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

This article follows on from the first which introduced the benefits of yoga during pregnancy, and the second which examined some simple poses for relaxation.

Before you start remember that in general, you want to avoid any strain, compressing and twisting in the belly or abdomen. Also avoid most inverted poses (headstands, handstands, shoulder stands) unless you are experienced in and very comfortable doing them. Absolutely no breath retention or breath of fire should be attempted. Above all … listen to your body! Your body and baby will let you know what you need and what poses are uncomfortable. And please … don’t practice yoga to the point where you’re exhausted.

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.

Modifications for yoga during Pregnancy

The Basic Rule: The more your belly grows, the more challenging balance poses become (due to your shifting centre of gravity) so avoid postures that are uncomfortable, or feel to unstable or cause doubt. Or alternately use the wall!

Pregnant women are generally told not to lie on their backs after the first trimester in order to prevent Vena Cava Syndrome (a lowering of blood pressure due to the baby pressing on the vena cava artery). Use common sense and listen to your body. It varies amongst different body types. Ed’s note: You will know if this is a problem for you – as you will feel feint and light headed when lying on your back for any length of time. If you feel fine – you are.

Bolsters and cushions can make a big difference and make postures more comfortable. During deep relaxation you can bend your knees or lie on your side with cushions under your neck, baby and between your legs. During the second and third trimester, do not lie on your stomach.

Note that pregnant woman are subjected to the hormone relaxin. The purpose of this natural hormone is to facilitate the pelvis and hips to gracefully shift during pregnancy and child birth providing an easier passage way for the baby’s arrival. Due to the softening effect of relaxin on all joints and ligaments pregnant woman need more support when they are stretching to ensure they don’t over stretch and strain.

Good Form
Breathe through your nose, relaxing your jaw and drawing air deeply into your belly.Move with intention, allowing each move to follow the flow and rhythm of your breath.Do not overexert yourself. Remain calm and relaxed during the routine.Wear loose, comfortable cotton clothing and drink water before, during and after your practice.

Breathing Basics
While in labour, you can rely on “ujai pranayama,” an ancient breathing technique, to help you relax through contractions. Keep your jaw and face relaxed and eyes closed, place the top of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and hands on your belly. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and imagine drawing the breath into the crown of your head and the deepest part of your belly. Then exhale through your nose, drawing the belly gently in to empty all the air out. (It can help to imagine the complete relaxation you feel and deep breathing you do just as you are drifting off to sleep. Ujai breathing is similar to this.)

On to the poses…

You may want to use the poses described in the second article as part of your warm up and cool down to your yoga work-out…

Standing Mountain Pose Standing Mountain Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees soft and toes pointed straight ahead, your palms touching at “heart center” (in front of your chest). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Inhale and sweep your arms out and overhead, bending back slightly. Exhale and stand upright, returning hands to heart center. Repeat for 10 full breaths. The continuous flow warms up your body and prepares you for the rest of the program.Supported Triangle Pose

Triangle Pose Supported Triangle Stand with your feet about 2x shoulder-width apart, toes facing front, hands on hips. Turn your right toes in and left toes out. Bend left leg, placing your left hand on the thigh, eyes looking down. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your right arm above your shoulder and turn your head, eyes looking up. Place your left arm on your thigh for support. Hold for 1 full breath as you lower your right arm and straighten leg. Return to starting position, then repeat for 5 full breaths. Reverse feet and repeat sequence on the other side. Strengthens and stretches the entire body and helps prepare you for labour.

Tree PoseTree Pose This pose helps strengthen your thighs, calves, ankles and back. It can also increase the flexibility of your hips and groin. Your balance and concentration can also be improved with constant practice. This Yoga Pose is recommended for people who have Sciatica and flat feet. Start with the Mountain Pose (see above), as you exhale, place your left foot on the inside part of your right leg, close to the groin area, with the toes pointing downward. As you inhale, stretch your arms sideways to form a T, palms facing down. As you exhale, bring your palms together in prayer position. Raise your arms overhead, keeping your palms in prayer position. To maintain balance, it helps to focus your eyes on one point in front of you and keep on breathing through the belly. In the beginning, you may use a back brace against a wall to help you keep yourself steady.

Half SquatHalf or Full Squat Stand with your feet 2x hip-width apart, with a stack of pillows on the floor behind you. Bend knees to lower hips into a deep squat (sitting onto the pillows for support if you need to). Place your palms together at heart centre (shown). Close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose as you relax your pelvic floor (the muscles surrounding the vagina). Hold for 10 full breaths, then go onto hands and knees for next move. Full squatIn a healthy pregnancy this is an excellent pose to practise, as it strengthens the thighs and teaches you to relax the pelvic floor, preparing you for labour.

Ed’s Tip: You can also practise your labour breathing techniques while holding this pose! Breathe through the burning sensations in your thighs as you feel them working and try to hold for 60-90 seconds – which is about as long as a contraction lasts.

Note: This pose is not recommended if you are experiencing any signs of premature labour.

Cat PoseMoving Cat Sequence Kneel on all fours, abdominals drawn in. Inhale and gently arch your back, tipping your tail-bone up, eyes looking up. Exhale and round your back as you tuck your chin in toward your chest. Sit back on your heels into Child’s Pose and relax for 1 breath. Repeat sequence 10 times. Remain in Child’s Pose for 5 slow breaths to cool down. Builds stamina and strength in the arms, back and abs, and teaches you to relax and let go.

Warrior II PoseWarrior Pose II ( Warrior Pose I is tricky in pregnancy as stretches and places strain on the stomach and requires a lot of balance. Warrior II which still strenuous is probably a safer option for most people.) This posture strengthens your legs, back, shoulders, and arms, building stamina. It opens your hips and chest, and improves balance. Start with the Mountain Pose (as above). Step your legs open so that your feet are around four feet apart. Warrior II PoseRaise both arms parallel to the floor. Turn your head to the left. Turn your left foot 90 degrees to the left and bend your left knee. Keep the hips in the same angle (180 degrees) as for the arms. Stay in this position for 30 seconds to one minute. This is a powerful Standing Pose which provides numerous benefits such as increase in stamina and improved strength in the legs and ankles.

Standing Side StretchSide Stretch This side stretch will increase the flexibility of your spine, arms, and rib cage as it stimulates the liver, kidney, and spleen functions. Furthermore, the Yoga Pose will also help realign your spinal column and will aid the lungs to take in more oxygen. Start with the Mountain Pose (shown above) and establish a smooth flowing breath. Seated Side StretchAs you inhale, raise your left arm, making a line from your left foot to the fingertips. Place your right hand on your right hip. As you exhale, bend your upper body to the right. Hold for several breaths. Inhale, and bring the body back to the original position. Repeat the pose on the other side. If it is too strong for you to do this standing, you can try a seated variation.

Butterfly PoseFull Butterfly Sit with legs outstretched. Bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together, keeping the heels as close to the body as possible. Fully relax the inner thighs. Clasp the feet with both hands. Gently bounce the knees up and down, using the elbows as levers to press the legs down. Do not use any force. Repeat up to 20-30 times. Straighten the legs and relax. This pose helps to open the hips and relieves tension in the inner thigh muscles. Removes tiredness from legs.

Reverse Table Top PoseReverse table top Sit tall with your legs bent, palms down and behind hips, shoulders back and down, chest lifted. Pressing into your hands and keeping shoulders back and down, inhale, then exhale as you lift your hips to a comfortable position, keeping neck in line with your spine. Hold for 1 full breath, then lower hips to starting position and repeat 5–10 times. Strengthens upper back, shoulders, buttocks and abs, improving overall balance and coordination.

Bridge PoseBridge Strengthens the spine, opens the chest, improves spinal flexibility, stimulates the thyroid. Lie on the back. Bend the knees, bringing the soles of the feet parallel on the mat close to the buttocks. Lift the hips up towards the ceiling. Interlace the fingers behind your back and straighten the arms, pressing them down into the mat. Roll one shoulder under and then the other. Lift the hips higher. Draw the chest toward the chin, but do not move the chin toward the chest. Make sure the feet stay parallel. Release the hands and bring the upper, middle, and then lower back down. Rest , allowing the knees to knock together.

To be completed soon.


Below is attached a very useful Great Pregnancy Yoga Poses document beautifully illustrating the various pregnancy poses (with variations):

Great Pregnancy Yoga Poses .pdf document (right click to download, or click to access directly).

For some listings of recommended local (Cape Town) Yoga teachers experienced in Prenatal Yoga. See our Local Recommendations section.

There are also some very good Yoga for Pregnancy Books available. We have several in our Lending Library.

** Medical disclaimer: Note that this web site is not a substitute for medical advice. The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes, and is not intended as advice or instruction. It is provided to help you to make informed choices for yourself. You should consult your primary care provider regarding your specific medical symptoms or advice. Birth Buddies is not engaged in rendering medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any medical decisions should be made in consultation with your caregiver or other trained medical personnel. We will not be liable for any complications, injuries, loss, or other medical problems arising from, or in connection with, the use of, or reliance upon any information or products on this web site.

Yoga in Pregnancy: Part 2 – Simple Postures

March 8, 2007

Following on from Part 1.

Practising Yoga during pregnancy – Part 2 – Simple Postures

Yoga & PregnancyCompiled by Jane Fraser (Weideman)

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

This article follows on from the first which introduced the idea of Yoga during pregnancy, discussing the benefits of yoga during pregnancy. In this article we start to examine which poses and postures are safe and beneficial to practise during pregnancy, staring with some very simple relaxation movements.

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.

The practice of yoga encompasses an holistic approach using physical movements (asanas), breathing (pranayama) and relaxation techniques in order to establish a sense of awareness and integration within yourself. This resonates particularly with pregnancy, birth and the time immediately after birth, which are times of change, adjustment and growth on all levels of being. Many of the classical Yoga postures and relaxation procedures seem to be tailor-made for the experience of pregnancy and many others can be adapted to suit individual need.

The following sequence of basic yoga postures can be practised at home by women of normal health who have healthy low-risk pregnancies (i.e. with no complications related to present or past pregnancies.) If you have never done yoga before it may be a good idea to wait until after the first trimester to start doing postures. If you are a seasoned yoga student, you may practise yoga right throughout your pregnancy.

You’ll need a couple of blankets, a yoga mat or towel, two blocks or thick telephone books, and a sturdy chair. Set aside one half to one and a half hours of quiet, uninterrupted time. (Remember to turn off the phone!) Wait one or two hours after a light meal, at least three hours after a heavy meal, before practice. After practice, wait half an hour before eating again.

8 Simple Yoga Movements
This is a simple and basic, and safe set of yoga movements you can try. These are safe and relaxing for anyone, and is a good relaxtion workout.

Try it out — you’ll feel rejuvenated and refreshed after every session.

Pose #1: Neck Roll
What it does: Warms up and stretches the neck
What to do: Sit up tall in a cross-legged position. Inhale. As you exhale, slowly tilt your head to the right until you feel a stretch in your neck. Take three deep breaths while holding the stretch. Then bring your head back to the starting position and do the same on the opposite side. Repeat three times on each side.

Pose #2: Shoulder Roll
What it does: Opens up the chest and back
What to do: Hold your arms out to your sides and place your fingers on your shoulders. Inhale. Bring your elbows forward, then lift them toward the ceiling. Exhale and return to the starting position. Do the same exercise in the opposite direction. Repeat three times.

Pose #3: Calf, Ankle and Foot Stretch
What it does: Loosens feet, ankles and calf muscles, encourages circulation
What to do: Sit up tall on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you, your legs outstretched, your palms on the floor behind you – or lean back against a wall.

Ankle Bending: Bend your right foot back toward you, creating a right angle to the floor. Exhale as you point your right foot and toes forward and down. Inhaling, bring your foot back in the right angle position. Repeat 10 times. Do the same with your left foot. You can make two rounds of this exercise and after some practice, exercise both foot at the same time.

Ankle Rotation: Breathing freely and slowly, bend your right foot towards you, creating a right angle with the floor. Slowly rotate your foot clockwise for about 10-15 times then reverse it and rotate counterclockwise. Do not allow the knees to move. Repeat twice on the same foot then do the same to your left. After constant practice, you can do this Ankle Rotation Exercise on both feet at the same time.

Pose #4: Cat and Cow Poses
What it does: Increases flexibility and strengthens abs
What to do: Get down on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Inhale and push your pelvis back and down, gazing up at the ceiling. As you exhale, bring your head between your shoulders, round your back, and tuck in your navel. Repeat three times.

Pose #5: Child’s Pose
What it does: Opens up the pelvic area and chest
What to do: Get down on all fours, keeping your knees slightly wider than your hips. Moving slowly, gently rest your bottom between your heels and your forehead on the floor. Arms can be in front of you or at your sides. Repeat as often as you’d like for as long as you’d like. You may move your legs wider apart if it is more comfortable, and can place a pillow under your forehead. You may also chose whether you prefer your arms to lie forward (Eastern Praying Position).

Pose #6: Pelvic Tilt
What it does: Strengthens the muscles in your lower back, buttocks, and abdomen
What to do: This can be performed on the ground or standing against a wall. When lying on the ground with your feet flat you will feel a small curve in the low of your back (the same is felt when standing against a wall). Push your belly button towards the ground or wall, controlling your pelvis. Hold for a count of three and then relax, repeat for 6-15 repetitions. Heavily pregnant women should do this standing against a wall.

Pose #7: Chest Expansion
What it does: Stretches and strengthens the chest and upper back
What to do: From a standing position with legs together (or hip-width apart if more comfortable), interlock fingers and hands behind the back, straightening the arms, standing erect.Breathe in deeply, raise the arms up and back away from the body, drawing the shoulder blades together.Exhaling slowly, bend forward at the hips, keeping the knees slightly bent and the spine straight.Let the face roll forward, keeping the arms straight. Hold this position, breathing comfortably, then begin to come up slowly, inhaling.As an alternative, you can remain standing without bending forward. This asana lubricates and limbers the shoulder joints, upper back muscles and vertebrae. It also expands and stretches the rib cage and lungs which allows fresh blood and energy into the nerves and tissues of the lungs, chest, heart, etc. Repeat as often as you’d like.

Pose #8: Relaxation – Corpse Pose
What it does: Opens up your hip and groin area and helps relieve backaches
What to do: Take a pillow and lay it down lengthwise behind you. Lower yourself onto it so your head rests at the top. Heavily pregnant women should do this sitting up. Lie comfortably on your back on the floor and separate your legs so that your feet are two to three feet apart. Close your eyes. Separate your arms so that each hand is two to three feet from your body with palms facing up. Roll your head from side to side, releasing tension in your neck. Roll your shoulders down and away from your ears. Relax your entire body. Breathe normally. Rest for at least a minute. The Corpse Pose helps you rest and relax your entire body, including your nervous system. It is a great pose to do when you feel stressed out.

Part 3 in this series can be found here it progresses to more advanced postures.

** Medical disclaimer: Note that this web site is not a substitute for medical advice. The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes, and is not intended as advice or instruction. It is provided to help you to make informed choices for yourself. You should consult your primary care provider regarding your specific medical symptoms or advice. Birth Buddies is not engaged in rendering medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any medical decisions should be made in consultation with your caregiver or other trained medical personnel. We will not be liable for any complications, injuries, loss, or other medical problems arising from, or in connection with, the use of, or reliance upon any information or products on this web site.

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.