FAQ -read before contacting
How does pregnancy yoga help create a good birth experience?
Pregnancy yoga is based on natural movements. Movements we were designed to make everyday as women. In the modern world, the way we use our bodies (and even in ‘exercise’) counteracts how women’s bodies should move for pelvic health, correct baby positioning and birth. Everyday activities in the modern world such as sitting and driving shorten major muscle groups that cause back issues and contribute to more difficult labours and births. On top of this, there are some forms of exercise that we know are not conducive to a smooth, straight forward delivery or a healthy female pelvic floor. No, this doesn’t mean that if you’ve done CrossFit or ballet or horse-riding that you are doomed to a bad birth! Pregnancy yoga can address the issues your past movement patterns have caused, repatterning the body into movement and positions that promote ease and tone in the back, core and the pelvic floor to promote a well-positioned baby for ease of delivery. What’s more, pelvic floor and breath awareness become innate through the practice of yoga, leading to smoother and quicker deliveries. And a birth-fit body is much quicker to recover after the birth of the baby, too.
Why can’t I just attend normal yoga lessons?
Only trained and experienced pregnancy yoga teachers have the in-depth knowledge of the array of conditions that affect the pregnant body and to manage complications safely and effectively. This is not the same as a teacher or trainer who has done a short online or weekend course on pregnancy exercise, sometimes devoting up to a third of the course content on how to run a business! Pregnancy creates immense hormonal, physiological and emotional changes to a pregnant woman’s body and everybody and every pregnancy is different: an experienced and well-trained teacher is vital to helping you to piece together the right programme to fit your body.
Pregnancy yoga also aims specifically to promote natural, shorter birth; unfortunately, some other forms of yoga (and other exercise forms) do not have a good track record for quick, easeful labour and birth. Much is this is due to inappropriate strengthening of the pelvic floor and core that can affect baby position and tightening muscles and twisting ligaments that ought to be lengthened or smoothed to help support the pregnancy and prepare for labour and birth. Inappropriate strengthening? Yes, unfortunately, there is a long history of exercise and health care providers giving women unhelpful ideas about ‘training’ their pelvic floor. Sometimes midwifes, obstetricians, physiotherapists and trainers are going by what they learnt from their training: to strengthen your pelvic floor you should lift and tighten it. But during pregnancy, sometimes tighter does not mean stronger. Tighter can mean that muscles tire and weaken more. Pregnancy yoga lengthens and strengthens these muscles in the way nature intended, giving it a significant advantage for birth and long-term pelvic floor health.
I’m in pain. Can yoga really solve my pregnancy ailments?
Caught early enough, most problems such as lower back, rib and pelvic pain can be eased and sometimes even resolved with the judicious use of pregnancy yoga. These therapeutic postures work by restoring balance and symmetry to the body, leaving mums more comfortable and their bodies better able to support a well-positioned baby for birth. There are some occasions when certain positions need to be avoided or adapted for a period, but most postures can still be attained to keep you comfortable and fit. Inactivity or purely focussing on strengthening (without regaining balance first) can make things worse for the mother’s comfort and the baby position. Pregnancy yoga practitioners have known this for decades and now the mantle of optimal baby positioning for an on-time, shorter and easier has been taken up by the Spinning Babies approach. It’s great to see birth professionals and physiotherapists learning these tips, too.
If you are suffering from sacro-iliac or symphysis pubis pain, it is important to let your pregnancy yoga teacher know before you start a class and to follow her adaptations for yoga, sleeping and general movements in life carefully. These conditions can quickly become worse with the wrong professional advice or the wrong exercise movements. Yoga is so effective for treating and even resolving this pain during pregnancy because it works on the ideas of symmetry and balance for the whole body. The results can be amazing.
But I’ve never done yoga? Will I be able to join?
Most women who attend pregnancy yoga join because they have heard how vital it is for pregnancy comfort and a good birth. Pregnancy yoga has an excellent track record over the past 30 years. Others join a specific pregnancy class because they already have a strong yoga practice, but they know it must be adapted for safety in pregnancy. You also meet more like-minded pregnant mums in a yoga class than you might at an antenatal class, building up support networks and learning how to use your body in way that helps your pregnant body feel better. The atmosphere is warmer and more…candid when the dads aren’t there, too. The power of being amongst a sisterhood of other pregnant mums is priceless. Yoga helps you become more confident in your body and to relax and bond with your baby. Many mums treasure this special time in class with their baby and their changing body, retreating from the pressures of work, reality and the aches and challenges of pregnancy. In other words, pregnancy yoga can be picked up by any woman who is prepared to put her body and baby first, learn about how her body moves and to adopt new movement patterns to facilitate a happy pregnancy and birth experience.
Lots of pregnant women are referred to pregnancy yoga to help manage gestational diabetes, pelvic floor and lower back problems or to reposition a baby in the third trimester. Physiotherapists, midwives, and obstetricians who want to empower a mother to a normal pregnancy and a good birth often refer to a pregnancy yoga specialist. Occasionally, I hear of professional who is not keen on women taking up yoga in pregnancy. This is often based on ideas of what yoga was in the past or in some non-pregnancy yoga where there is a stretch-seeking culture (which is not being balanced or safely practised).
Alternatively, some women pick up pregnancy yoga for a subsequent pregnancy because they want to play a more active part in keeping healthy and improve on past birth experience. Preparing for a vaginal birth after a caesarean (VBAC); turning a breech, transverse or posterior baby; and taking charge if you have been told that your baby is ‘too big’ or that you are ‘advanced in age? These scenarios have highly successful outcomes using pregnancy yoga techniques.
What about after the delivery of the baby? When can I start postnatal yoga?
Most people who attend pregnancy yoga feel great, if not euphoric, after birth. That is not a sign to start yoga prematurely. Six weeks postpartum is the earliest you should consider joining a class: longer for c-section or if you are having complications. Some people are bleeding for six weeks and if you start earlier, it is possible you will start to bleed again. Even after a short, easy birth, we must allow a rest period to ensure the integrity of the pelvic floor and to iron out any issues with breastfeeding or let perineal healing to occur. After a caesarean, you need to remember that muscles and tissues have been severed so it is not a good idea to do yoga for at least 8 weeks and sometimes a lack of sensation or aching around the scar means you won’t enjoy the class if you rush in.
At home, after a normal delivery, you can start gently using the breath to connect with the core and pelvic floor. If you know cat and cow position, this can be done at home soon after natural birth. Done properly, this is supportive for your back, pelvic floor and core. Don’t be tempted to join a boot camp or do something online that is not appropriate given the fact you are recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. There is currently hysteria about ‘diastasis recti’ (which is simply the normal and often necessary separation of the front tummy muscles and not a something for postnatal mums to start worriedly googling and following online exercises!) and some other fear based trainers who call themselves pelvic floor ‘experts’. Do your homework. The only expert on your body is you. Planks, medicine balls, burpees and squatting exercises are not part of early post-partum care. You may not see or feel the damage this time, but you only have one pelvic floor and it is worth resting it in this crucial period to make sure it sustains further pregnancies and the changes that come with menopause.
Yoga can be a great friend to you during pregnancy and for your labour and birthing day. It teaches you how to connect with the magic of your breath for a healthy pelvic floor, body and mind. It encourages you to let go, to surrender in a way that other exercise does not. A specialist pregnancy or postnatal yoga class will give you the invaluable tools to cope not just with the physical challenges of your pregnancy but with immense emotional and psychological turmoil of your motherhood journey. You will emerge stronger inside and out and be encircled in a sisterhood unlike any other exercise-based class.