Ease Morning Sickness, Decrease Stress and Back Pain! And that's just 3 of the amazing benefits prenatal yoga has to offer!
Making a baby isn’t easy. As mothers, we sacrifice quite a bit the moment we get that positive pregnancy test: sushi, deli meat, a glass of wine with dinner every night, and sleeping on our stomachs.
The list goes on.
We’re happy to do these things because we get a healthy baby out of it, but the wear and tear pregnancy takes on our bodies are hard to deal with.
Prenatal yoga is an incredible gift for your body, but also for your heart and mind. If you’re expecting a little one and you want to keep up with your practice (or you’re just starting one), then I think knowing the benefits of yoga during pregnancy will help get you on your mat on the days you'd rather sprawl out on the couch.
The Benefits of Yoga for Pregnant Women
Like any “benefits of yoga” post I write, I’m excited to give you a thorough, helpful list. So, prop a Buddha bowl on your belly, put your feet up and let’s get started!
#1 Better Sleep
Everyone warns you about the sleep you’re not going to get when your baby arrives, but everyone forgets to mention that sleep during pregnancy is hard to come by. Your back hurts.
You constantly feel like you need to go to the bathroom. You can’t sleep on your stomach, and even if you never slept on your stomach before it’s all you think about.
So, if pregnancy is going to deprive you of sleep, how does yoga give that back to you? First, it helps alleviate a lot of back pain.
As your belly grows, your back has to compensate for that extra weight, and that leads to an aching back all day long and into the night. I did a lot of tossing and turning when my back hurt during my first pregnancy.
Yoga reduces the pressure on your lower back because it stretches your upper leg muscles and the muscles in the lower back, removing a lot of tension built up there.
And while your abdominal muscles may be separating, they’re still trying to do a lot of work that they just can't keep up with. The core work that just comes naturally with yoga will strengthen those muscles and help support the weight of your belly.
A study was done with fifteen pregnant women in their second or third trimesters to evaluate whether meditation and yoga had an effect on the quality of their sleep.
- Women took part in weekly meditation and prenatal Hatha yoga classes for seven weeks. Their sleep was tracked with wrist monitors for accuracy.
- Women who were in their second trimester when the study started woke up fewer times, fell back asleep more quickly, and slept more soundly than they did before starting yoga/meditation.
- Women in their third trimesters had worse sleep patterns even with the study’s interventions, suggesting that the sooner women started yoga and meditation, the less their sleep is impacted.
#2 Relieve Back and Joint Pain
You can call it “the pregnant swagger”, but there’s a reason you’re walking funny!
I touched on pain relief above, so I’ll go a bit more in-depth about that. If you’ve been pregnant, you know that it affects every joint in your body.
Your joints become lax during pregnancy to allow for the passage of a full-term baby’s head through your pelvis. The pelvis is key, but the rest of your joints like to get in on the fun too.
Your feet, wrists, hips and back all become creaky during pregnancy, plus the added weight of your baby certainly doesn’t help things.
As your baby grows, your center of gravity is thrown off. When you see pregnant women walking with their bellies thrust out and their hand pressed to their back, it’s because the abdominals are weakening as they stretch and the lower back is trying to make up for this imbalance.
This is the biggest reason why your back hurts during pregnancy. Abdominal work is going to be your biggest ally in waging the war against back pain!
Yoga incorporates gentle abdominal work to keep those belly muscles strong and engaged no matter how stretched out they get.
My best friend is a yoga teacher and she had a c-section with her second baby. She said her surgeon raved over her “yoga core” during the surgery and said he was going to recommend yoga to all of his pregnant patients.
#3 Relieve the Severity of Morning Sickness
By now, you know morning sickness is the dumbest name possible because you’re never just nauseous in the morning.
Some women get nauseous in the afternoon, I always got sick between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m., and some women are nauseous or sick all day long.
Regardless of the frequency of your morning sickness, prenatal yoga helps combat these tummy blues.
While you might not want to get into any asanas when you’re green around the gills, Tara Lee, a renowned UK yoga teacher, says deep breathing exercises help reduce the nausea.
Much like you focus on your ujjayi breathing during a particularly challenging class, you put that same concentration into breathing when you’re feeling nauseous. Not only will you feel relaxed, it helps take your mind off those waves of nausea.
#4 Promote Relaxation
Even before the baby is in your arms, the stress of motherhood really gets you whipped into a frenzy. There’s so much to do before the baby arrives that you feel like nine months just isn’t enough time, especially if you’re battling morning sickness, have other kids or work full-time.
There aren’t enough hours in a day for you to sit down, guilt-free, and just relax.
You’re building an entire human body, and you deserve some downtime, woman! I know, I know. I get it. You’re terrified the store is going to run out of your favorite salted caramel gelato like last week, so you are trying desperately not to poke your husband awake to get him there stat.
Yoga is the perfect place to put all of that stress aside and focus on you and your tiny belly dweller. All yoga teachers gently remind you to put your worries, to-do lists, and troubles aside for the 60 minutes or so you’re on your mat.
When you’re able to let go of everything and just be in that moment, it’s incredibly freeing. When your teacher comes around and gives you a savasana adjustment, it will all be worth it.
#5 Prepare Your Mind for Labor and Delivery
You won’t need that funky breathing you learn in Lamaze class when you’ve got your pranayama down pat. Pregnant women report their biggest fear during labor and delivery is the pain, and not being able to handle it (which is ultimately the point of Lamaze and other related classes).
These fears dissipate the moment your baby is in your arms, but it can be a blur of terror before that. Yoga teaches you to trust your body and, in listening to it, find the strength you need.
The practice helps you realize your body gives you exactly what you need at every turn, and this is incredibly true during labor and delivery. You might not think things are working out how they should, but your body knows what it’s doing.
#6 Prepare Your Body for Delivery
Not only do tight hips make your back pain worse, they also make labor and delivery more difficult. There is a myriad of positions you can push in, but they all have one thing in common: tight hips.
This means you’re going to have a tougher go of giving birth. You need to open your hips to get that baby out, there's no way around it!
When you’re busy pushing a human out of your body, you don’t want your body doing unnecessary work. If you allow your hip flexors to stay flexible, you are able to open your legs to push without putting a ton of strain on your hips and back.
I hate to break it to you, but some women push for a couple of hours, so this flexibility will come in handy if you have a pokey baby.
Yoga also stretches the ligaments in the legs, pelvis, and hips, making a variety of pushing positions more comfortable. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to push on your back, and while other positions aren’t ever going to be cozy, you’ll be able to settle more deeply into them.
#7 Reduce the Chance of Preterm Labor
A baby is considered preterm when they’re born before 37 weeks gestation. In today’s society, women are encouraged to “get that baby out” once they hit 36 weeks, but this can really impact your baby’s health.
A week doesn’t seem like it makes that much of a difference, but it really does in terms of your baby’s overall health. They say every day your baby stays in-utero up until 39 weeks is one less week they’ll have to spend in the NICU after birth, that’s pretty huge!
But how does yoga help prevent preterm labor? A University of Ohio study showed that pregnant women who practiced prenatal yoga had lower rates of inflammation and better moods than the women who didn’t do yoga.
It’s thought that inflammation plays a role in preterm labor, as well as stress and depression. When inflammation is present, the body releases prostaglandins which soften the cervix and possibly induce labor.
Stress and infections are risk factors in premature delivery, and countless studies have shown that yoga reduces the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body and strengthens the immune system to prevent a variety of infections.
#8 Bond with Your Baby
A yoga class is one of the only places where it’s all about you. It’s about what makes you feel good, what makes you happy, and you get to choose exactly what makes you feel good. It isn’t about anyone else!
It’s nice to have that “I matter, too” feeling when you’re pregnant, but it’s also a great time to forget about the other stressors in your life and bond with your baby.
As your body changes, your yoga postures are going to change with it. This really puts these changes, and what’s causing them, into perspective.
Since it’s a growing human changing everything about your body and your practice, you really get to appreciate your baby.
At the end of most prenatal classes, your teachers use the time spent in shavasana to guide you through a series of affirmations and intentions as you cradle your belly in your arms.
When you're in the soft cocoon of a yoga class with nothing else trying to get your attention, you can truly appreciate the new life you're about to bring into the world.
#9 Make Like-Minded Pregnant Friends
When you’ve had your baby and your shirt is stained with milk, your hair hasn’t been brushed for two days, and you’re so tired that the idea of leaving your house sounds like torture, there’s no way you’re going to want to go out in public and actually talk to people unless it’s the Starbucks barista.
If you want some friends who are in the same place as you, there’s no better time to start than while your baby is still tucked safely away.
Going to yoga affords you the opportunity to socialize with women who are as swollen, tired, hungry, and exhilarated as you.
There’s nothing a pregnant woman likes to talk about more than pregnancy, and here you are in a classroom filled with pregnant women!
These women also happen to have the same ideals as you because they’re at a yoga class for a healthy and fit pregnancy too. Yoga means “to yoke” and you can form some pretty incredible bonds in a yoga class, pregnant or not.
#10 Help with Antenatal Depression
If you’re feeling perpetually blue during your pregnancy, you need to know that it’s normal and not only can you get help, you should get help. Women don’t just get postpartum depression, many women suffer from clinical depression while they’re pregnant too.
Yoga definitely helps combat these issues, but some women may need medication to battle their symptoms.
During a 10-week yoga program for pregnant women with antenatal depression, changes in their depression before and after the study’s intervention were monitored and recorded.
The results showed that most of the women’s depression was markedly decreased by the end of the 10 weeks, this was based on self-reporting and analysis by mental health professionals.
The study concluded that yoga is a great way to approach depression during pregnancy and women are likely to try yoga if they have any reservations about taking antidepressants while they’re pregnant.
If you think you have depression during or after pregnancy, please reach out here for more information, help, and endless support. You aren’t alone, things will get better.
#11 Curb Unhealthy Cravings
There’s currently no research indicating why women have such intense food cravings during pregnancy, but there are plenty of anecdotal stories about the rage of a pregnant woman who’s been denied her craving.
So far, the most believable theory about food cravings is blamed on a heightened sense of smell. The hormone fluctuations during pregnancy make your smell more sensitive, in turn making your taste buds more sensitive.
Yoga certainly won’t curtail those crazy, sugar-driven cravings, and there’s something to be said for striking a balance between healthy eating and indulging your cravings.
Yoga during pregnancy is going to give you the ability to realize what your body needs versus just what it wants. Yoga also teaches you to learn about the importance of balance.
If you’re absolutely ravenous for cheeseburgers, perhaps swap them out for a loaded veggie burger a couple times. Like everything else, balance is key!
#12 Strengthen the Pelvic Floor
When you hear "pelvic floor", you're probably already groaning about the Kegels you're supposed to be doing, but aren’t. Your pelvic floor muscles help support the weight of your growing abdomen, as well as play a part in how quickly you rebound post-delivery.
Pregnancy and childbirth place the biggest demand on your pelvic floor, and if you've given birth before, you've learned to cross your legs whenever you sneeze or cough.
Yoga is an excellent pelvic floor strengthener because it encourages you to engage the muscles in the abdomen and pelvis.
Squats are the best way to strengthen your pelvis, and world-renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin has said, "Squat 300 times a day, and you're going to give birth quickly".
Nobody is suggesting a pregnant woman goes and drops 300 squats a day, but squatting regularly is certainly going to aid those muscles.
A good squat ensures your knees are stacked over your ankles and your pelvis isn't tucked in. Guess what? These are all alignment cues given during most standing poses in a yoga class, especially warrior II and chair pose.
Pelvic alignment is just as important in squatting as it is in yoga, and experts agree the better aligned your pelvis is, the more effective your squatting and its effects are.
Another bonus to all this squatting? A squatting position during labor is one of the ideal positions when you start pushing. It opens your pelvis up and allows gravity to do the work in bringing that baby out.
Many laboring women find they naturally gravitate towards squatting when they start pushing, and that's the body's way of confirming it's the most natural way to push.
If you’re safe when you practice yoga, you know your limits and you’re a low-risk pregnancy, there’s no way that yoga is unhealthy for you.
Whether you’re looking to stay in shape, prepare your body for delivery, find some peace in your chaotic world or you’ve been a yogi for years, there are hundreds of reasons why you should be getting on your mat whenever you can.
I can’t tell you how much of a difference yoga made in my second pregnancy, my labor and delivery, and my postpartum recovery. Not only did I feel better after delivery, my muscle strength and flexibility rebounded quickly.
Let me know what you think about starting a practice while pregnant, or share your story about how yoga made motherhood that much better for you. Namaste, mamas!