Yoga during pregnancy is one of the best overall practices you can use for pregnancy and labor.
Interestingly, women begin their yoga practice because they are pregnant more often than any other reason. That said, longtime yogis may wonder about how to best continue to practice, while honoring the new demands of a rapidly changing body. While there are many things you can do, they are several you should not do, and there are many other things that are more than just “yoga flow with modifications”, but are actually important for labor.
- First of all, I never teach Warrior pose in pregnancy yoga because it is not actually helpful for labor or for pain relief while pregnant. There are no Sun Salutations either because:
- Cobra is contraindicated for pregnancy,
- Pushups and Planks are also not useful and contribute to the hard-core thing we are seeking to remediate.(see below for more on that)
- Push Ups against the wall are the solution for upper back and chest work that is very useful for pregnancy and baby-carrying postpartum.
- Lunges are also wonderful because they strengthen your hips and thighs, work on creating balance, open up the psoas and tight hips, while also stretching the ligaments of the pelvis for birth.
What about Inversions?
- No head, shoulder or handstands just because you used to do them. These heavy inversions are counter indicated for both you and baby. A great inversion that is not only safe for you and baby, but actually is an excellent leg, back and hip stretch is the good old Downward Facing Dog. Especially for use as a prenatal exercise, make sure to keep the weight as far back into your hips as possible (imaging that a strap is around your hips, lifting them upwards, then you’ll be in much better alignment). If your legs and back are super tight and you feel your pelvis tilting under, it might be a great idea to keep your knees from rolling in by placing a block between them, and bend your knees to allow your belly to rest on the thighs and your heels to drop to the floor. Keep the neck long and pull with the hips rather than push the floor away from the shoulders. With practice, you can have so much of the upper body weight supported by the larger muscles groups of your backside, that you could easily lift a hand from the floor.
- Forward folds (both seated and standing) should be done with legs at least hip width apart to prevent lumbar pressure and discomfort. Also, rock the heels slightly wider than your toes for an even deeper opening in the back of the pelvis that will usher an easier opening for birth.
- Keep your heart rate and respiration to the point where you can still hold a light conversation during exercise. Panting breath and overheating in pregnancy are big no-no’s. You can cool down waaaay faster than your baby can. Which means no running.
- Case in point- years ago, one of my clients was a Type A city girl who just could not imagine postponing running for a few months of her life during pregnancy. Even though I consistently advised her to do about a million other exercises better suited for prenatal exercise and a healthy labor, her idea was to just run fewer miles. Well, sadly, she ended up deeply hurting her joints, and worst of all, went into pre-term labor at only 7 months, severely risking her baby’s life. Point being, I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you runners out there to heed the cautions, and just enjoy the pregnancy ride. Running will totally be there when you return 😉
- No abdominal work at all. Nope, not even a little. Why? Two main reasons, although I could list many more.
- Firstly, the last thing your body wants right now is to compress in the very area it needs to expand. Your organs must have room to move as they work much harder removing toxins for two in a more compressed environment..
- Second, constriction in the abdomen prevents full Diaphragmatic Breathing – the kind you really need for a developing baby. You are not really eating for two, because babies are kind of like parasites. You will end up with the anemia while baby is sitting pretty 😉 .You are however, breathing for two. Just make sure you never hold your breath or do Breath of Fire right now. Save that for postpartum,
- Third, (I know said two, but this one is really important to understand!), having compacted abs and doing lots of Kegels actually impedes pushing in labor. The uterus contracts to push the baby out, not your abs. Strong abdominal muscles become a crutch for pushing, and have often been a cause for c-sections in my clients who did cross training and other hard-core type exercise that was designed for Navy SEAL training, but very much not recommended for pregnancy.
What about those Kegels?
Hmmm, ok. So here’s the deal. They are awesome for getting in touch with your pelvic floor, and I know you have used them a lot to prevent peeing when you are close to bursting. They are also important to get back in the swing of things 6 weeks after birth to replenish the blood flow to the pelvis and support a stronger pelvic floor, but in labor this practice is in the way! Instead, you need to learn to push out and down.
As a birth doula, I have watched far too many mommies in labor with the baby crowning at rest (which means the top of the head is already visibly pushing through) who suddenly get a contraction, gear up to push and suck the baby back IN again. Look, that muscle memory you have been building for years with step class and ab crunches has trained you to contract the core and squeeze UP, not relax the abs and push out through your vagina. It’s a totally different exercise. And deep in the throes of 3rd stage labor is not the time to finally get in touch with your vaginal strength if you are trying to push a baby out with the same muscles you use for pooping. Not the same thing at all guys, even if they are in the same general vicinity.
The remedy? Ben Hua balls. Get them now and use them forever. I recommend you wear them in the shower so it is easy to wash them off when they fall, which they most likely will. Insert them as far as you comfortably can and while you brush your teeth or wash your hair, practice pushing them down and out. It may be a strange sensation at first, but trust me, this one trick alone is a lifesaver. Plus, postnatal, you can now use them to focus your pull back up in the pelvic floor and strengthen these areas again. The added benefit? A strong pelvic floor means your internal organs stay firmly in place (yay) and is an important ally for powerful, healthy orgasms.