Taking up yoga when pregnant holds plenty of health benefits, and a new report from Manchester University researchers finds that it can ease stress and reduce women's fear of childbirth by a third.
Yoga is understandably popular with mothers-to-be as well as long recommended by doctors and midwives.
In addition to its many other health benefits for pregnant women – including reduced cortisol levels, less difficult births plus more full term & healthy weight neonates – pregnancy yoga is a low cost intervention that many health experts suggest means that yoga should be provided free on the NHS.
Post-natal yoga is so beneficial that experts have called on the NHS to provide free classes for pregnant women.
Yoga Teacher Natasha Harding is the author of From Bump to Baby and YogaMamma and has two children that she delivered naturally using just yoga breath and positions to help.
Natasha explains: “Yoga is a wonderful exercise to try during pregnancy, when you naturally want to take it a bit easier. It’s ideal to ease many of the ailments that women suffer from when they’re pregnant such as backache, sciatica and general aches and pains. Pregnancy yoga includes visualisations and women can use this time to connect with their unborn child. In a normal labour yoga can help so much from a physical and mental point of view. By maintaining a regular yoga practice during pregnancy the positions will become second nature with the aim being that the woman can have a more active labour with less intervention. My second baby was born in 51 minutes and the male midwife was so shocked he kept asking what my secret was - hand on heart I know it was the fact I did yoga every single day and felt so strong during the birth."
Here are Natasha Harding's six favourite yoga poses to try every day while you’re expecting:
Butterfly (Badha Konasana)
This position allows the baby to move down into the pelvis and uses all the muscles that a women draws upon in labour. The yoga guru BKS Iyengar claims if a women practises this pose every day it will take the pain out of child-birth – while I won’t stake my name on that it is a great hip opener and a lovely stretch.
Lean against a wall and put the soles of your feet together - if your knees are higher than your hips sit on a cushion or two. Once you’re comfortable sit back and breathe with your hands on your knees. If you want an additional stretch push the soles of your feet together a little harder.
Wide Legged Seated (Upivista Konasana)
Stretching your legs in this position will encourage your hips to be more flexible which is clearly vital during labour. It’s a great position to do every day if possible and leaning forwards will gently stretch the back too and towards the end encourage the baby into a good birth pose.
Sit up tall and part your legs. Be careful not to over-stretch in this position during pregnancy. If you find it difficult sit on a cushion or two; this will lift your hips and tilt your pelvis. Once you’re comfortable place your hands on the floor in front of you. Inhale and as you exhale walk your hands forwards slightly, making sure you’re moving from your hips and keeping your back straight.
Staff pose is wonderful to sit in and circle your ankles and legs each day which will help with any puffiness you may be experiencing. When you combine breathing work too you’re helping to release your shoulders as well as creating much-needed space in your abdomen and chest. It’s a good one to try if you’re getting heart burn.
Sit against a wall and straighten your legs. It’s important to part the legs slightly during pregnancy. Place your hands in prayer pose, inhale and lift your arms high above your head (if you have high blood pressure take your hands forwards instead of up), exhale and bring your arms back down. Repeat three times in time with your breath.
Cat (Marjariasana) with arm and leg lifts
Being on your hands and knees is wonderful for any pregnant women as it relieves symptoms of back ache and encourages the baby into a good birth pose - our mums would have been told to wash the floors. By lifting the arm and leg you stabilise the pelvis which is vital during pregnancy.
Place your hands and knees on the floor, making sure your hands are shoulder width apart (if your wrists ache, walk your hands forward slightly), your knees should be under your hips and your back STRAIGHT. As you inhale lift your right arm and your left leg. Your arm should be in line with your shoulder and your leg in line with your hip. Exhale and release and swap over. You may find it a struggle towards the end of your pregnancy, in which case just do the arms. If you have any issues with your pelvis avoid lifting the legs altogether and keep your knees together.
Triangle – adapted for pregnancy (Trikonasana)
Women hold a lot of tension down the side of their bodies and never more so than during pregnancy. This stretch should feel lovely when you do it and lifting the arms too will give a more intense feeling. Regularly stretching this area will create a feeling of space in the abdomen as it becomes more cramped as the baby gets bigger.
Stand with your feet wider than your hips, turn your toes out slightly to protect your knees. Inhale and as you exhale slide your right hand down your right thigh, dropping from your waist to your right side. Keep your left shoulder back and allow the left arm to lift. If you want to intensify the stretch use the arms more. Inhale, and as you exhale slide your right arm down your right thigh and lift your left arm at the same time. Repeat both sides.
Down Dog – adapted for pregnancy (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
A lot of women find their back aches a lot during pregnancy and Down Dog is great stretch to try. When you’re pregnant though you shouldn’t do the full pose so using the wall instead will give a similar stretch but it’s much safer.
Stand facing a wall; inhale and lift your arms, exhale and place your hands against the wall, ideally your arms are straight as is your back. If it tugs your back bend your knees and keep your head lifted if you don’t like your head hanging. Breathe in this position.
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From Bump to Baby: Positive Birthing Experiences
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