Benefits of yoga during pregnancy and birth

Yoga in pregnancy offers a whole range of benefits.
Yoga in pregnancy offers a whole range of benefits. Photo: Onfokus

We all know how important it is to look after ourselves both during and after pregnancy.

Yoga has come to play a central part in the pregnancy experience for many women as it incorporates looking after both body and mind in one gentle practice. 

Charmaine Andrew, whose pregnancy with son Lachie was considered high risk as a result of Charmaine's heart condition, practiced yoga throughout the nine months and has continued after Lachie was born.

"I took up pre-natal yoga to empower myself," said Charmaine.

"I wanted to obtain some techniques to ensure my birth would be as calm, natural and controlled as it could be for as long as possible (knowing I would be instructed to have an epidural)."

My own yoga teacher taught me a range of techniques to use throughout labour to help me progress as quickly and comfortably as possible in the comfort of my own home. I found the positions and breathing techniques she taught me most helpful. 

As it turns out I got to the hospital so close to giving birth I can clearly remember the feeling of the wind in my hair as I was being whisked down the hospital halls in a wheelchair to the birthing centre!

Jo Grooms, a yoga instructor from Sydney with 12 years experience specialises in pre- and post-natal yoga and running regular ante-natal and 'mums and bubs' courses. Jo herself first got into yoga when pregnant and, having enjoyed such a great experience, she decided to train in the discipline herself.

As well as the physical benefits, such as the stretching and loosening of muscles which help during childbirth, there are great psychological benefits that can come from regularly taking time to slow down and concentrate on the changes happening during pregnancy.

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Talking to Jo, it is clear she is passionate about the benefits and enjoyment that can be derived from yoga in general, and certainly when pregnant. She explains,  "Yoga has shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and digestion, strengthen muscles and joints, and increase flexibility."

"Women who practice yoga regularly report that they feel less stressed and more peace in their lives."

Other benefits pregnant woman may gain practicing yoga include*:

  • Relief from back pain and nausea
  • Increased stamina
  • Increased fitness and weight management
  • Stress relief through use of Pranayama breathing techniques and meditation 

A prenatal yoga class will consist of preparing the mother with many tools in her "tool box", to assist with pregnancy and birth, such as yogic breathing to Asana postures for prevention of and relief from aches and pains.

During labour birth the mother can draw to her "tool box" to help her cope through the labour experience in the way that is needed at that particular time.

Postnatally, techniques taught through prenatal yoga may be used to help mums find a calming space to cope with unsettled baby, sleep deprivation and even postnatal depression.

Tamara Keniry, a mother of three, had always enjoyed vigorous exercise so for her, yoga was a slight departure, or addition to, the norm. It proved to be life-changing.

"I joined prenatal yoga as I believed it would help my body prepare for the birth process. I'd previously done a lot of more strenuous exercise so needed to reduce to something manageable during pregnancy."

"I found to be the main benefits were the time it gave me to focus just on the baby and my body, to be centred on what was happening."

"They also encouraged mantras and although I'm normally not into that sort of thing I was for this! I used to say, "I am strong, my baby is strong" and I think for some reason it helped a lot to make both those things a reality. I ended up with an induced, crazy dramatic birth with my first then a caesar for my twins so in terms of births nothing quite went to plan and  I didn't really get to use any of the yoga techniques. But I still felt prepared before the main event and that was what was important!"

Whether you are an experienced yogi or completely new to the practice, a good prenatal yoga class will gently encompass work for both body and mind, providing you with hugely important tools and bonding time helping you to enjoy your pregnancy journey.

*Any new exercise program including yoga should be discussed with your GP, midwife or obstetrician.

Julia Cahill is a mum to three crazy boys and a freelance writer when time allows. She blogs at www.juliacahillswords.com