There is a reason I am so passionate about teaching prenatal yoga. Actually, there are many reasons and I can talk for hours about the benefits to birthing persons, partners and families. Through my own birth experiences and my experiences as a yoga teacher and birth doula, I can say without a doubt that practicing prenatal yoga regularly (one or more times per week) is great for preparing yourself for birth. Many will say that labour is called labour for a reason, it’s hard work! You may also hear that you need to train yourself for birth like you might for an intense athletic event. I am not just referring to the physical demands of labour but also the energetic and emotional demands. Yoga may seem to be simply be a type of workout focusing on stretching to some, but those who dedicate themselves to a consistent practice know that it is much more than that. Yoga can be an hour long asana practice, a 15 minute meditation, a few restorative poses, a mindful strength practice etc. All forms of yoga will benefit you during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond.
Here are some ways:
How yoga prepares the physical body for birth:
Labour and birth requires the soft tissues around the pelvis to lengthen, stretch and relax. Most of us sit for lengthy periods of time during the day causing our hips and back to be restricted. Prenatal yoga poses focus on stretching these areas and when performed throughout pregnancy and labour can have significant positive effects on how quickly labour progresses and a shorter second phase (pushing). Deep breathing and proper cues for breathing in yoga can help one to become more aware of their pelvic floor muscles. This awareness is also key when yielding to the downward pressure of baby’s head crowing and work with contractions instead of being tight and pressing back against baby. When we practice poses repeatedly our bodies get used to them and our nervous system responds favorably. A pose like a squat is very helpful in labour for pain relief and getting baby in a good position but if a woman has not performed a squat in many months she may tense up and be uncomfortable. Gentle inversions, open twists, concave-back forward folds and subtle back bends can all contribute to optimal baby positioning when the time is right for baby to move, resulting in baby being head down and occiput anterior (ideal position for a vaginal birth).
How yoga breathing prepares you for birth:
A prenatal yoga class should contain some pranayama (breath exercises) that are safe for pregnancy. When we regularly practice breathing that is full and focused it gives us a tool to find peace and comfort. Between contractions there is time to use your breathing to release tension and conserve energy for the next wave. When your birth support team reminds you to breathe deeply you can be reminded of all those yoga classes that you did and you can find the same calm feeling, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Some times in a yoga practice we do a movement or stretch that is difficult for you and you might be cued to breathe into the space where you feel restriction. You can do this also in labour! Imagine your back feels tight and sore and when you take a deep inhale you send it there and exhale to let some of that tension go. We obviously breathe all the time but right breathing takes practice. Find a teacher who teaches pranayama then give it a go at home or any where else that works for you, like a birthing suite 😉
How yoga prepares you emotionally for birth:
Labour and birth are intense, awesome and amazing. Full of sensations and feelings that are unfamiliar and overpowering. The thoughts can go in many different ways. Fear, doubt, sadness, anger are all common emotions that come up during birth. Regular yoga and meditation are practices that allow us to notice our thought patterns and habits and learn to observe them rather than react to them or create a story around them. Maybe during your formal seated meditation you notice that you are still thinking about a heated argument you had with your partner. You acknowledge that thought and then you let it pass. Maybe it comes again and you find yourself clinging to it so you let it go again, and again. This practice will serve you well when each wave rises and you feel like it is a part of you, then you detach from the sensation, take a breath and feel it go. This is not easy to do. It’s best if non-attachment is practiced often in pregnancy to prepare you. Yoga teaches us how to surrender. How to be in the present moment, not the past, not anticipating the future. That is birth! Visualization can happen in many ways during a yoga practice. For example, I often lead my students through a meditation where they visualize their baby wrapped in white light energy which offers warmth, nurturing, protection and love. This would be wonderful to do in labour if there is any concern or fear for the baby’s well being. Allowing the birthing person to minimize her fears and allow her body and her baby to work together.
I often tell my yoga students to think about their yoga practice when they are in labour. Allow yourself to be intuitive and tap into the self-discovery you have been working on as part of your practice. There are definitely more ways that yoga prepares you for birth. I would love to hear how it helped you!