While it’s the chance to meditate and relax that makes prenatal yoga unique among pregnancy fitness classes, there are many physical benefits as well.
Andrea Page, founder of Fitmom Canada in Toronto, says the advantages of doing yoga during pregnancy are endless. “There is research to show that women who do yoga during pregnancy may have an easier labour and delivery,” says Page. “Through yoga we learn breathing and meditation techniques. Those are extremely useful in the delivery room.”
Prenatal yoga helps ward off many of the discomforts of pregnancy by counteracting the effects of pregnancy posture, characterized by a swayed lower back, rounded upper back, tight hamstrings and lax abdominal muscles. It does this by helping women maintain strength in key muscle groups, such as the lower back, explains Page, a doula, childbirth educator and mother of two.
As with any form of exercise during pregnancy, you should seek approval from your doctor or midwife and keep in mind a few restrictions:
• Don’t lie flat on your back past your first trimester. The weight of the baby on your uterus compresses a major vein and can affect the amount of oxygen traveling back to your heart and to the baby.
• Avoid inverted poses you may have done in regular yoga classes, such as headstands and shoulder stands.
• Remember to move slowly when you’re coming out of a pose. Because of your growing belly, your centre of gravity changes a little each day. Listen to your body and modify as needed – try putting a knee down on the floor or moving in stages. Don’t worry about looking graceful.
• Do the talk test. You should always be able to carry on a conversation when you exercise so you know you’re not working at a level that’s too much for you and the baby.
• Be aware of “Gumby syndrome.” The extra dose of the hormone relaxin in your system may give you a false sense of flexibility, leaving you vulnerable to injury. Be careful not to exceed your normal range of motion.
• Pay close attention to warning signs such as lightheadedness, spotting or fluid leakage, and report any unusual symptoms to your caregiver immediately. Exercise won’t cause these to happen, but if you have certain pregnancy-related conditions, you may need to avoid exerting yourself.
• Hold each posture for three breaths. Listen to your body and build up to the recommended number of reps as gradually as you need to. If you need to cut back, do fewer reps instead of shortening the time you spend on each.