I am always thrilled to hear about the births of babies from my pregnancy yoga classes. You can read the birth stories and see the lovely photos at www.facebook.com/tessavenutiyoga. I'm even more thrilled when I hear that the yoga has helped in some way during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards. Here are the Top 5 benefits (amongst many!) that I have compiled from the new mums who've attend my classes and birth preparation workshops.
1. Stay calm using the power of the breath
Sometimes people look at me like "Why do you need to teach pregnant women to breath? We're all breathing, all the time." However, most of the time we breathe automatically and take it very much for granted. The most common comment from new mums is that the breathing techniques and awareness that they learned during the class made all the difference, and very often meant that they were able to birth their baby with gas and air alone (if that's what they wanted). They often describe how midwives were impressed with their calm breathing and focus through their birthing journeys, even when it didn't go as planned.
When you practice different breathing techniques, you begin to understand how your breath can have a huge impact on your state of mind and level of relaxation. And relaxation is essential to a smooth birthing journey. If you remain relaxed, your body can get on with what it knows how to do. The golden thread breath is fantastic and you can see a video of it here: www.tessayoga.co.uk/pregnancy-resources.
[Photo from Tina Cleary of Expecting Photography]
2. Empowered about your role in the birth
Occasionally I will hear a story about an expectant mum who experiences regular uterine contractions, is asked to come on into hospital, only for them to fade on arrival and to be sent home. This is SO disappointing when you thought you'd be meeting your baby soon. Sometimes this is because the woman felt vunerable and unsure when she arrived at the unfamiliar enviroment of the hospital.
In contrast, I know midwives who say that they know when a woman has done pregnancy yoga or hypnobirthing because she is confident when she arrives. Looking around to see what she can use - maybe a birthing ball, or leaning into the wall to ride the surge of a uterine contraction. She will be focused or in 'The Zone', using relaxation techniques that she has practiced beforehand. Birthing partners who have attended my birth preparation workshops also comment that they feel useful during the birth: they can offer practical and emotional support, be an advocate for their special lady in this unique journey. My greatest wish is that a woman feels like she has been empowered by the experience of birth (even if it was not exactly how she imagined it!) and rose to the challenge of this rite of passage.
3. Space to enjoy your pregnancy
If you're busy at work, doing DIY to get the house ready for your baby or already have children, it can be hard to stop and have time to connect with your baby and enjoy the pregnancy. Having a weekly pregnancy yoga class gives you the space to prepare emotionally. In addition, the yoga movements support you physically to enjoy a healthy pregnancy. As the weeks pass, the classes show you how to move as your baby gets bigger and you may feel uncomfortable (although I'm sure you'll be blooming on the outside!) Occasionally, an expectant mum may develop something like pelvic pain or wrist pain, and with the experience of hundreds of women coming through my classes I am able to show her how to manage these side effects of pregnancy until the baby is born.
Most importantly, expectant women enjoy the relaxation during the class and from the free downloads that are available from my website. It is essential that the expectant mum goes into the birth with her energy levels high, batteries full-charged for the journey ahead, rather than being depleted from 'finishing everything before the baby comes'. This can mean that rather than a cascade of interventions happening when she is exhausted, you are maximising your change of an intervention-free birth and an alert baby on arrival, ready to feed.
4. Trust the natural process of birth
In the pregnancy yoga classes and birth preparation workshops, I hope that expectant parents come to believe in the natural process of birth that has served us well for millenia! Although over the past decades, birth has become medicalised and moved into hospital (as shown in recent episodes of Call the Midwife), in a normal, healthy pregnancy there is absolutely no reason why a woman cannot manage the birthing journey, and dare I say it, enjoy it (as some might enjoy a marathon!) In the Pregnancy and Birth Colouring Book that I illustrated last summer, I wanted to give expectant mamas the chance to reflect on how amazing their bodies are and see how there are lotsof options when it comes to birthing your baby.
We are used to seeing women lying on their backs or with their feet in stirrups for birth on TV, but there are so many positions you can give birth in: on all fours, squatting, lying on your side if tired, in water.... During the yoga classes we practice these positions so that they begin to feel natural. Then during the birth you will find the position that suits you and your baby, and you will trust your instinct to move around. When you learn in the classes about how changing the position of your pelvis can help your baby's journey, or the amazing interplay between your baby and your body, you may even be excited about the birth.
5. Quicker recovery after birth
There are several ways in which pregnancy yoga aids your postnatal recovery. During the pregnancy yoga classes, we practice pelvic floor exercises to prepare for birth. By using those muscles, you aid circulation to keep them healthy, but also are able to relax them in preparation for dilation (the opening of the cervix to allow your baby passage through the birth canal). When you are in the habit of practicing these exercises antenatally, it is much easier to remember to do them postnatal to aid any healing that is needed (e.g. around stiches). A good tip is to do some pelvic floor squeezes every time you feed your baby.
In addition, by exercising safely during pregnancy, it is possible to keep tone around the abdominal area. Although some women may find that they have a separation of the abdominal muscles (diastasis recti), it is much easier to fuse these muscles back together when you were in shape previously. If you have been careful during pregnancy, when ligaments are more likely to stretch due to the relaxing relaxin hormone, then you are likely to get moving more readily.
It is important to be patient with your body though. If it has taken 9 months to grow a baby, I think you owe yourself at least that amount to getting back to your 'pre-pregnancy' body. Having attended pregnancy yoga classes, I find mums are more likely to be patient with their bodies. My Mother & Baby Yoga DVD introduces yoga practices at a kind pace so that you can enjoy the fourth trimester with your baby and increase stability and strength at a sustainable level.
I hope I've convinced you that pregnancy yoga is very beneficial. I'd love to hear how pregnancy yoga has helped you in your pregnancy so please leave a comment below.
Best wishes for YOUR birth!