Go With the Flow: Yoga and Your Pregnancy

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To Pose or Not to Pose?

Pregnant women are encouraged to participate in daily physical activity, though many do not. And, even those who do often have trouble choosing an activity that is safe, appropriate, and beneficial for herself and her unborn baby. If you are trying to decide how to stay fit during pregnancy, yoga may be the answer.

Yoga incorporates postures, deep breathing, and meditation to improve overall well-being, enhance physical fitness, and decrease stress and anxiety. In recent years, the popularity of yoga has increased, and, with it, the scientific evidence confirming the benefits of yoga has grown. More than 36 million Americans practice yoga on a regular basis and most of these people are women of child-bearing age. Staying physical fit and active during pregnancy is important, and evidence now show that yoga can be an important part of an expectant mom’s daily routine.1

Build strength

Practicing yoga during pregnancy helps women reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; decrease low back pain; and improve quality of sleep.1,2 It can also decrease nausea and headaches during pregnancy and alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome.2 Even women with high-risk pregnancies experience improved outcomes with yoga.1 Practicing yoga also improves confidence with other types of physical activity during pregnancy.3

Yoga not only offers a physical outlet, but it can foster relationships that help women share anxieties, experiences, and stories. Creating a community of supportive women is an added benefit to practicing yoga as a group. Teachers who are specially trained and experienced in prenatal yoga can create a sisterhood, model pain-coping techniques for labor and delivery, build confidence of expectant mothers, and enhance learning to support the emotional and social transition to motherhood.2,4,5

One randomized controlled trial (RCT)—the “gold standard” of scientific research—compared women who participated in a 1-hour prenatal yoga class 3 times weekly beginning at 26 weeks gestation to women who did not participate in yoga. The women who did not practice yoga had higher pain scores during labor in delivery than the women in the yoga group. Women who attended the yoga classes required less frequent labor induction, as well as fewer cesarean section deliveries. The yoga group also had shorter second and third stages of labor.6

An evaluation of 10 RCTs revealed that yoga during pregnancy resulted in lower rates of prenatal disorders, lower levels of pain and stress, and improved relationships with babies. Yoga was found to be more effective than walking and other prenatal exercises.7

Stay Safe

If you attend a yoga class during pregnancy, it’s smart to choose one designed for mothers-to-be. (If you have trouble locating a prenatal class, ask your doctor: some obstetrical practices offer prenatal yoga classes as part of the care provided to pregnant women.3) If a prenatal class is not available in your area, attending a regular (not prenatal) class is fine, just be sure to tell the instructor that you are pregnant and how far along you are.2,8

Most Yoga Postures Are Safe During Pregnancy (see here). Avoid poses that make you lie on your back, as this may reduce blood flow to the uterus. Of course, laying on your belly is a no-no for expecting moms, especially after the first trimester!9 Also avoid backbends and inversions (upside-down poses).8,9 When you are doing standing poses, stay near a wall, chair, or other prop so that you have support in case you lose your balance.8

Take care not to overstretch any of your muscles. Pregnancy makes you more susceptible to injuries to muscles since the hormone relaxin (which allows the uterus to expand) also makes connective tissues more flexible.8,9 Any style of yoga that is practiced in an overheated room is not safe for pregnant women.8

Know Your Body

One of the most important principles of yoga is to appreciate and trust your own body. If something is difficult for the pregnant you, it’s OK! Don’t get frustrated or discouraged if you need to modify some poses. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you.9

Be Well

Whether or not you consider yoga part of a “traditional” exercise plan, consider its benefits for you and your baby. Yoga can complement, supplement, or replace other activities during pregnancy to help you stay fit and active during and after pregnancy.

If you’ve never practiced yoga before, don’t worry! Trying yoga for the first time while you’re pregnant is usually safe and tolerated well by mother and unborn child.1 Regardless of what exercise you choose to do while pregnant, be sure to discuss all programs with your doctor before you begin.

References:

  1. Seven Benefits of Prenatal Yoga You May Not Have Considered.
  2. American Pregnancy Association. Prenatal yoga.
  3. Kinser P, et al. Enhancing accessability of physical activity during pregnancy: a pilot study on women’s experiences with integrating yoga into group prenatal care. Health Serv Res Manag Epidemiol. 2019;6: 2333392819834886.
  4. Campbell VR, et al. A qualitative study exploring how the aims, language and actions of yoga for pregnancy teachers may impact upon women’s self-efficacy for labor and birth. Women Birth. 2016;29(1):3-11.
  5. Campbell V. ‘It definitely made a difference’: a grounded theory study of yoga for pregnancy and women’s self-efficacy for labour. Midwifery. 2019;68:74-83.
  6. Jahdi F, et al. Yoga during pregnancy: the effects on labor pain and delivery outcomes (a randomized controlled trial). Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017;27:1-4.
  7. Jiang Q, et al. Effects of yoga intervention during pregnancy: a review for current status. Am J Perinatol. 2015;32(6):503-14.
  8. Mallett T. Is it safe to do yoga during pregnancy?
  9. Dellitt J. 12 tips and modifications for yoga while pregnant.
Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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