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Why should you do Pregnancy Yoga? How pregnancy yoga can help you to have a better birth

Pregnancy yoga can be a great way for women to support their emotional and physical health during pregnancy, and lead to better birth outcomes.

Pregnant women practising yoga

Every week I see these beautiful, strong women come into my pregnancy yoga classes, some very early in their pregnancy journey, some so close to having their babies you can feel the anticipation in the air. Each one of them I watch as they travel through this magical and sometimes challenging experience, growing into their new bodies and growing in their connection with their baby, body and in their connection with each other, all through coming to this space with an intention to practice yoga. So what is it, that practising pregnancy yoga actually does for these women and could do for you?

Often the obvious benefits of practicing pregnancy yoga are highlighted as the physical benefits - growing stronger in your body, easing those aches and pains, and helping the body to open and prepare for birth. Practicing pregnancy yoga is indeed a wonderful way to support and prepare your body during pregnancy and for birth, it is also so much more…it can offer a space and tool to support pregnant women emotionally and mentally. And when we feel emotionally and mentally strong and uplifted, then our hormones and bodies can flow with pregnancy and birth much more easily.

A review from 2022* of evidence existing around pregnancy yoga, highlighted the positive effects of pregnancy yoga on anxiety, depression, perceived stress, mode of birth and duration of labour. The study found evidence that women practising pregnancy yoga reported:

  • Lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress

  • Shorter duration of labour (average of 2hrs less)

  • Reduction in the use of pain management during labour

  • Higher rates of a physiological (vaginal) birth

This feels so positive to read, to know that there is enough women out there experiencing better emotional and mental health from practicing pregnancy yoga, and experiencing better births. But what is it about pregnancy yoga that brings such positive outcomes?

Supporting your emotional and mental health

The evidence around pregnancy yoga helping to reduce anxiety, depression and stress is encouraging to hear, and I can see how it works with the women in my yoga classes. They may still feel worries here and there, but when they sit up after a lovely relaxing savasanna (lying down resting pose) they all always look more relaxed than when they first came in. Pregnancy and becoming a mother is a big life event, and it’s natural to have a range of emotions throughout that journey, and for some working with ongoing severe mental health challenges wider support may be needed, but having a regular space where you can release any anxiety and stress may help to ease some of that.

In our pregnancy yoga we work on calming the mind and body in various ways, and connecting with the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” side of the nervous system), including:

  • Breath work: most pregnancy yoga classes will practising some breathing exercises (pranayama) that help you to relax and can be useful to learn for labour

  • Movement: By moving your body in yoga poses it can help you to connect and listen to your body more, which can in turn help you to build your trust and confidence in your body

  • Meditation: Through guided meditation and affirmations, a positive connection can start to be built with your body, your baby and with yourself

  • Connecting with others: If you attend a Pregnancy Yoga class, then it is usually an opportunity to connect with other women who are pregnant. This can feel very reassuring and offer extra support, when others share their feelings regarding their pregnancies.

Supporting your physical health

Pregnancy and labour are physically demanding. It is powerful work and your body is strong, it knows how to do the work, and we can always help it by staying physically active throughout our pregnancies. As someone who used to love running, I saw my pregnancy and birth a bit like marathon training, I wanted to be as fit and strong as I could for race day!

Pregnancy yoga can help in particular by:

  • Strength and stretch: regular pregnancy yoga can help to build strength in your muscles and to gently stretch areas of your body that may become tight or uncomfortable as your baby grows, such as your lower back and hips

  • Focus and stamina: although a pregnancy yoga class is usually fairly gentle, their is still some focus and stamina required in particular poses, which can all help with your preparation for birth

Preparing for birth

Pregnancy yoga, Cat pose

Pregnancy yoga helps to support yourself physically and emotionally in the moment, with those immediate discomforts in your body or any worries in your mind, and it also helps you to prepare for that time that you come to birth your baby.

  • Making space for baby: pregnancy yoga often focuses a lot on opening the hips and pelvis, helping your baby to have more space to move down when it is ready to engage in the pelvis for birth and when travelling through birth

  • Positioning of baby: unfortunately a lot of our lifestyle these days doesn’t lend itself to our baby always moving into the best position for birth (head down, with their back to your belly, see NCT for more info), such as sitting at a desk, sofa or car for many hours a week. With pregnancy yoga there is a lot of focus on leaning forward poses, that can help to give space to your baby to move into the preferred positioning for labour.

  • Mentally preparing: all the breathing and meditation practices in pregnancy yoga can help to start to visualise and mentally prepare for meeting your baby and birth itself. Practising hypnobirthing along side pregnancy yoga can be very supportive and complimentary

Connection with others

Not everyone can, or wants to go to a pregnancy yoga class, you might prefer practising at home on your own or through an online video and you would still get so many wonderful benefits. But for some, going to a class every week and seeing the same women every week can feel very supportive. During my classes women share how they are each week, which can be hugely supportive for individuals to be able to share and it can be very helpful for others to listen. You may learn that you’re not the only one dealing with that physical or emotional challenge, or hear something reassuring from someone later on in their pregnancy. There is so much wisdom and knowledge amongst these women that I love hearing and learning myself every week.

These moments of connection can sometimes lead to longer lasting friendships beyond the class and your pregnancy, as many women I know who have met at my pregnancy yoga class have carried on meeting with their babies. Continuing to share their experiences, and their support for each other.

Women supporting and holding each other

Carrying, growing and birthing a baby is an incredible thing. It can be beautiful, surprising, complicated, anxiety inducing, joyful, tiring, uncomfortable, powerful and empowering…and many more things! It is also different and similar for different women, with no one pregnancy being exactly the same from beginning to end. But by supporting our bodies, our minds and our hearts through the emotional and physical support that pregnancy yoga can offer, it may just help you to have a more positive pregnancy and birth. And I can’t think of many who wouldn’t want that…

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