Many women who follow a healthy lifestyle that includes practicing yoga before getting pregnant often also desire to keep doing the same even after getting pregnant.
And since most yoga styles are life-threatening for pregnant women and their babies, prenatal yoga becomes the go-to yoga style that is safe and reliable for them.
If you are interested in knowing what prenatal yoga is all about, then this complete beginner’s guide to prenatal yoga will come in handy for you.
We will look at what the practice is, how it works, its benefits, side effects and risks, how to do it, and the frequently asked questions about it.
What is Prenatal Yoga
Prenatal yoga is simply a yoga practice for pregnant women.
It provides a series of exercises that are designed to help a pregnant woman relax, prepare for the upcoming labor, promote the health of the unborn baby, and generally stay fit, just like most child-birth and child delivery preparation practices and programs.
It involves a series of soft exercises and poses that pregnant women can easily do without stretching themselves too much in a way they can put themselves and their unborn children at risk.
It provides various poses and exercises for every stage of the pregnancy to strengthen the expectant woman’s mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
The yoga style has its main focus on slow and gentle stretching, mentally grounding, and body strengthening practices that involve the mind, body, and spirit.
Prenatal yoga is well modified and designed with the pregnant woman in mind so that it handles the pains and body aches that come with pregnancy as well as helps with the emotional and mental-related issues associated with pregnancy.
It gives any expectant woman the chance to get their body ready for the delivery process and the postpartum recovery that follows afterward.
How Prenatal Yoga Works
There are 4 main aspects of prenatal yoga that are kept in mind in every yoga studio that teaches this style of yoga. These aspects are:
* Gentle stretching – This involves a variety of gentle movements that may include stretching your arms, neck, and other body parts to help improve your flexibility.
* Awareness and relaxation – After doing the stretches and poses in prenatal yoga, you get to a point where you focus on relaxation. You aim to bring back your heart rate to the normal heart rate as it may have increased due to the stretching, as well as be aware of your thoughts, sensations, and feelings as a way to promote inner peace and relaxation.
* Postures – For the most part, the poses in this practice are done when standing, laying on the ground, and sitting. The poses done here are aimed at increasing body strength, balance, and flexibility, and are often held for a fairly long period before moving to the next pose. When doing the poses on the ground, various resources such as cushions, wedges, bolsters and folded blankets, blocks are used to increase comfort and support for the practitioner.
* Deep breathing – You can view this aspect as a way to train for the deep breathing required when pushing the baby out as shortness of breath is a common occurrence. The breathing here is through the nose and works with slow breathing that is deep. Since the baby’s growth pushes the diaphragm and uterus of the pregnant woman, doing the breathing exercises help to increase the oxygen in the blood and prevent breathing difficulties as you practice and during the delivery process.
There are also warm-up sessions to “open” your joints and muscles and get them ready for the upcoming steps of the practice.
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
The common benefits that doing prenatal yoga comes with include:
1. Reducing anxiety and blood pressure – Research studies have found that prenatal yoga has got a significant effect on the levels of anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate of the fetus in women who are pregnant for the first time (1).
2. Improves overall mental health – A systematic review of research studies on prenatal yoga collected 942 research reports and narrowed them down to 12 reports that qualified for review. The reports showed that the practice of prenatal yoga can be useful when it comes to enhancing moods, bringing down stress, depression, and anxiety, and increasing positive thinking and confidence in pregnant women beginning from the labor process to the puerperium (2).
3. Reducing labor and childbirth complications – Prenatal yoga is perceived to be a style of yoga adapted from Hatha yoga, a yoga style that uses gentle body movements and poses combined with controlled breathing exercises. Research on how Hatha yoga influences different areas of pregnant women showed that it helps to reduce labor induction, labor duration, and it promotes normal birth weight as well as delivery at the right gestation period. Generally, it improves pregnancy outcomes (3)(4).
4. Building a strong support network – Most prenatal yoga classes are done in a group. Many pregnant women come together for the classes and build friendships, and offer support to each other through the whole pregnancy period and even after. Having women with whom you share a common goal and who you are constantly in touch with for motivation and support helps to keep going knowing you’re not alone.
5. Increases bond with your unborn child – The fact you’re minding your child’s growth and preparation for delivery by doing prenatal yoga helps to build the connection with your child as it is a form of self-care as well as the unborn child’s care.
6. Increasing self-awareness – The awareness exercises in prenatal yoga help with building inner awareness (in terms of spirit) together with increasing awareness of the body as it changes as the pregnancy advances and the awareness of the growing child in the uterus.
7. Improves quality of sleep – A study that was done at the Ma’rang Community Health Center in Pangkajene and Kepulauan District that involved 60 pregnant women, some of whom received prenatal yoga classes while the rest got antenatal checkups found that prenatal yoga exercises do improve quality of sleep in pregnant women who are in the third trimester (5).
Side Effects And Risks of Prenatal Yoga
It is always essential to visit your doctor and discuss your health and how prenatal yoga is likely to affect you and the baby. Doing that helps you to avoid the chances of having complications that may come up based on your current health status, as you do the practice.
If the doctor gives you a go-ahead, you should also remember to take it easy as you practice. Ensure you do the movements gently and slowly as the instructor advises because pushing yourself too much may injure you or even the baby.
Do the practice in a well-ventilated room and drink water and lots of fluids to keep yourself hydrated.
In case you experience any pain, vaginal leakages, swelling, belly cramps, backaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, or issues as you practice prenatal yoga, stop the practice immediately and seek medical attention.
Avoid doing other yoga styles like hot yoga, or getting into poses that twist your belly or put you and the baby in compromising positions.
It is also important to be aware of the production of the hormone called Relaxin, which is normally produced during the pregnancy periods and which increases the softness of your pelvic ligaments that help make it easy to deliver the baby.
The hormone makes you feel more flexible than you actually are and may tempt you to stretch yourself more and cause complications.
Most importantly, tune in with your body. Listen to the changes that come as you do your practice and how they are making you feel and affecting you generally. If you feel uneasy about any aspect of prenatal yoga, raise it with your instructor and your doctor too.
How to Practice Prenatal Yoga
Prenatal classes should be done under the guidance of a well-trained, qualified, and experienced prenatal yoga instructor. You can get an instructor in one of your local yoga studios or yoga centers.
Check with your doctor and see which yoga centers within your locality are best for you. You can also check local listings on yoga classes available in your area. Plus, you can ask any mothers you know who took prenatal yoga classes when they were pregnant or any that are taking the classes at the moment.
Feel free to test out different classes until you find the one that makes you feel at ease and in love with the practice.
Before you begin your classes, ensure you talk to the yoga instructor and let them know your goals and interests in the practice and also disclose any health issues you may have so that they know how to optimize and modify the practice for your specific case to increase the chances of benefiting from it without injuring yourself or the baby.
Normally, the classes are held in groups and you may get to practice with other pregnant women.
They begin with everyone introducing themselves and the instructors encourage chatting with other women in your class so that you can build friendships and bonds that last even after the classes are over and you have delivered. Friendships come in handy on so many levels.
Prenatal yoga classes are not long and may last a couple of minutes to around half an hour depending on where you take them.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Prenatal Yoga
Question: How is prenatal yoga different from other styles of yoga?
Answer: Other styles of yoga seek to improve your general well-being while prenatal yoga is designed specifically to prepare pregnant women for labor and improve the overall well-being of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. The poses of prenatal yoga are optimized for pregnant women keeping in mind their limitations and possible risks.
Question: Can prenatal yoga be the first-ever yoga style to try?
Answer: Yes. Even if you have never done yoga in your life and would like to benefit from prenatal yoga, you can go ahead as there is no risk involved in that. Considering it offers among the most gentle practices and is crafted for pregnant women, you can be sure it’s safe and good for you.
Question: Which are the most common poses in prenatal yoga?
Answer: The most common poses include cat-cow stretch, cobbler’s pose, gate pose, warrior II pose, and legs-up-the-wall pose among many others.
Question: Can I continue with my regular yoga practice after birth?
Answer: If you were doing another style of yoga before getting pregnant, you can continue with the practice after you have given birth when your doctor or health care provider gives you a go-ahead. Normally, it takes a few weeks of recovery after birth, both vaginal and cesarean birth, before you can get up and running. Your doctor will let you know when you are ready based on how you are performing.
Question: Is prenatal yoga for me?
Answer: As a pregnant woman, you may be wondering if the practice is open to everyone and if it is right for you. The answers to those questions are, yes, the practice is open to all pregnant women who have been allowed by their doctors to do the practice.
Question: Is prenatal yoga safe for every pregnant woman?
Answer: Those who have been allowed to practice prenatal yoga by their doctors can rest assured the practice is safe for them considering they do the practice as advised to avoid injuring themselves or pushing their bodies too much.
Question: How soon should I start prenatal yoga?
Answer: You can begin as early as your first trimester if your doctor allows it and if you also feel good and motivated to do it considering the morning sickness during that period. And you can do the practice all the way to the third trimester as it has been found to be safe. Although you may experience some discomfort around the third trimester (6).