From reduced pain in labor, to better quality sleep - here's a snapshot of 7 Awesome Benefits of Prenatal Yoga (and the medical research to back it up).
If you're like the majority of women I teach during pregnancy - chances are you're trying yoga for the very first time AND YOU'VE PROBABLY ALREADY HEARD THAT IT'S A GOOD CHOICE FOR STAYING FIT & HEALTHY DURING PREGNANCY... BETTER SLEEP, LESS STRESS, REDUCED ANXIETY & LOWER PERCEIVED LEVELS OF PAIN MAKE THIS ONE PRENATAL PRACTICE THAT'S DEFINITELY WORTH LOOKING INTO.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
The best news for women during pregnancy - is that yoga offers so much more than a practice to build strength & flexibility. Clinical evidence is growing to support what many yoga teachers and practitioners already know from experience - that practicing yoga with suitable modifications under the guidance of an experienced prenatal yoga teacher - is a great way to address a whole host of common pregnancy related aches, pains & stressors - making it one of the best choices for women looking for a complete mind/body practice that is safe & effective.
7 Awesome Benefits of Prenatal Yoga (backed up by research).
One of the biggest joys for me as a prenatal yoga teacher - is to hear women say that they came to the practice of yoga for the physical benefits, but walked away with SO MUCH MORE.
By highlighting the benefits that are already documented by researchers - it is my aim that more women will turn to the practice of yoga during pregnancy and discover this life-long tool for managing stress, pain & the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy & motherhood.
Additionally - by highlighting the benefits that are supported by research - hopefully prenatal yoga continues to become more widely understood by health care practitioners caring for women during pregnancy as promoted as a safe & effective mind body practice.
1: Better quality sleep during pregnancy.
If you're tired of waking up due to general discomfort, achey hips & regular trips to the toilet because junior is using your bladder as a trampoline, the great news is that research indicates that women who practice yoga & meditation in their second trimester may have significantly fewer awakenings, less awake time during the night, and less perceived sleep disturbance. Considering that sleep is somewhat of a scarce commodity for most new parents - getting better quality of sleep during pregnancy is a definite bonus!
Advice from the prenatal yoga expert:
When choosing a prenatal yoga class - look for a class that offers a blend of physical yoga postures modified for pregnancy & mindfulness techniques such as guided breathing, meditation & relaxation. Start in your second trimester for best results.
2: Less pain in labor & shorter 2nd stage (pushing)
While some women describe childbirth as an ecstatic experience - there's no denying that for many women, the potential pain of labor is one of their biggest concerns. Because pain perception is so individual - it's impossible to know how your body will react until you're in the moment. In one study - women who did yoga for an hour, three times a week starting at 26 weeks of pregnancy reported lower perceived levels of pain at 3-4cm dilation as well as 2 and 4 hours after that. The research suggested that women who practiced yoga also experienced shorter duration of the second and third stages of labor.
Why this is important:
For a starters - who wouldn't want a less painful labor! Plus...a prolonged 2nd stage of labor (pushing phase) is a risk factor for tearing and assisted delivery via forceps, vacuum or c-section.
3: Lessens the symptoms of anxiety & depression
In one study, 46 women with symptoms of depression and anxiety during their pregnancy were randomly assigned an 8 week yoga program or treatment as usual. Whilst both groups experienced an improvement of their symptoms of depression and anxiety over time, the yoga group experienced less negative affects compared to the control group. Because medication based treatment may have side affects & stigma during pregnancy - this study suggested that prenatal yoga could be a feasable alternative to treatment as usual. In another study of a much larger group of 375 women noting limitations of the study - the researchers concluded that prenatal yoga may be helpful to decrease maternal depressive symptoms and that depressed and non-depressed pregnant women can benefit from yoga. They also recommended that the type of yoga incorporate meditation, breathing and mindfullness as being more effective than yoga that was purely exercise based.
Prenatal yoga may be a viable alternative to other types of treatment for anxiety and depression with less negative affects than treatment as usual - particularly when incorporating breathing (pranayama), meditation and physical postures.
4: Boosts immune function
One study that looked at 94 women over a 20 week period (16-36 weeks gestation) gave 1/2 the group a yoga program (70min sessions x twice a week) and half the group maternity care as usual. The researchers tested salivary cortisol and immunoglobulin levels as indicators for stress and immune function. The women in the prenatal yoga group had significantly reduced cortisol levels and enhanced immune function.
Like a vitamin pill in a practice!
These findings suggest that in our increasingly busy world - where women are juggling the demands of busy life, work, family & pregnancy - regular yoga sessions practiced throughout pregnancy may be a natural way for women to decrease stress levels & boost immune function - think of it like your pregnancy multivitamin for the body & the mind. Whilst the jury is still on what degree maternal stress can affect a baby’s development, improved immune function may be a positive for women at a time when the focus on health & wellbeing is paramount.
5: Reduced Stress Levels & Boost in Mood:
Excessive stress levels can impact both mother and baby negatively, and in this Japanese study, 60 healthy women were asked to attend yoga classes twice a month as well as practice yoga at home online 3x a week from 20 weeks gestation through to childbirth. Subjective mood states were measured and salivary cortisol levels were also measured before and after the face to face sessions. This study indicated the immediate stress reduction effects of yoga during pregnancy.
Why we love this:
Let's be honest - pregnancy can be full of a shit ton of triggers for stress. Like thinking it would be a good idea to move house or renovate at 30 weeks pregnant, attending ante-natal appointments that go over time and eat up half your day, work stress, changes in your relationship or well meaning but poke your eyes out kind of advice from your best friend's sister's mother (you know what I mean right!)....We LOVE that this study showed that practicing yoga regularly at home online as well as in person was shown to have an immediate effect on mood, resulting in diminished feeling of anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and increased feelings of positivity.
6: May Reduce Pregnancy Related Back Pain
As greek researchers who conducted a research review on lower back pain"There has been a plethora of studies regarding the epidemiology of pregnancy related lower back pain. Rates range from 25% to 90%, with most studies estimating that 50% of pregnant women will suffer from lower back pain."
That's huge! Lower back pain during pregnancy can have any number of causes & risk factors such as excessive weight gain, previous lower back pain, prolonged periods of standing or walking, excessive anterior pelvic tilt. Whilst the evidence is still emerging in this field, systematic reviews of research over the last 10 years, have shown that yoga-related exercises may indeed help reduce pregnancy related back pain.
A word of warning:
Different women will experience varying results and it's essential that you communicate with your health care team & suitability of starting yoga during pregnancy if you have any existing injuries. As a prenatal yoga teacher - it's also good to note that there are definitely some instances where yoga may actually make your lower back pain worse - especially if you teacher is not experienced with the biomechanical changes and necessary modifications to poses that are needed during pregnancy. One legged balances and "stamina" sequences may actually make your lower back pain worse - so the general rule of thumb here is to communicate with your teacher if you notice any ill-effects during or after the practice. Whilst many women will report that prenatal yoga helps reduce lower back pain - if you notice the opposite, let your teacher know as in most cases certain poses can be modified or eliminated.
7: Reduced incidence of pre-term labor
In Japan, Ritodrine Hydrochloride is frequently prescribed to suppress preterm labor. This study aimed to clarify the association between prenatal yoga and ritodrine hydrochloride use during pregnancy. The study looked at survey responses from a total of 2,692 women of which 567 (21.1%) women had practiced prenatal yoga. Medical records were used to analyse the percentage of women who were prescribed Ritodrine Hydrochloride to prevent pre-term labour. Prenatal yoga was associated with a lower risk of ritodrine hydrochloride use, particularly in women with more than 900 minutes of practice time over the course of their pregnancy.
Top Tips for Women During Pregnancy:
Findings from this study indicate that prenatal yoga may be a beneficial option for pregnant women in the selection of alternative therapies. When considering yoga as a preventive tool for pre-term yoga - best results may be experienced for women who accumulate at least 900mins of yoga practice (eg: 15x 1 hour sessions or 30x30min sessions).