When and How to Start a Prenatal Yoga Practice

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Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans, an Experienced Prenatal, Postnatal, Children’s and Hatha Yoga Instructor

Our expert for this question below is Sarah Evans, an experienced Prenatal, Postnatal, Children’s and Hatha yoga instructor in Austin, Texas.  Sarah is a mom of two. Read more about Sarah here.

Q: I’ve tried yoga a couple of times before and heard it’s especially beneficial for pregnant women. As a beginner, should I try it? What can I expect from my first yoga practice? 

A: If you are newly pregnant, congratulations! You are embarking on such an amazing time in your life. Whether you have no yoga experience or have been practicing for years, attending a Prenatal yoga class is one of the best activities you can do for you and your baby!

Gathering with a group of expectant mamas provides invaluable support in this time of much change. In each class, the students spend the first few minutes sharing how they are feeling and ask questions. This time gives them an opportunity to be heard in a safe environment, and it provides a sense of normalcy to any student who might need reassurance that they are not alone in their physical or emotional feelings.

The yoga poses practiced in a Prenatal class are safe for both mom and baby. Since the body is in the flux so much during pregnancy, options are offered to either intensify or soften each pose. We begin with breath awareness and gentle warm-ups. Then we gradually work toward side stretches, subtle back bends, gentle forward bends, hip openers, and abdominal strengtheners. We end with time to rest, in the final pose of class, called Savasana.

All of these postures improve circulation, tone, balance, and gives a greater sense of space in the body. The release of endorphins through these movements helps to calm the discomforts of pregnancy. This, combined with deep, mindful breathing helps to foster relaxation, which is priceless during labor and delivery.

Most importantly, let your body be your guide! Listen to your body’s messages, be gentle with yourself, take breaks when needed, modify when appropriate. Enjoy connecting with your baby and appreciate your body for all the hard work it is doing to carry this sweet little life.

Please consider joining a Prenatal yoga class. It will greatly benefit both you and your baby!

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Surround Yourself with Support – Ideas from Editor, Sharon

After getting the Advanced Maternal Age stamp on my medical chart with my first son at age 39 and waiting over three years for another viable pregnancy, I made up my mind to do things differently and even more deliberately with Shannon, my second son. Now at age 43, my life was drastically different. My husband and I were raising a 3-year-old biological son and a 6-month old foster daughter, who had been our home since she was 5 days old. I became a business owner the year prior, starting Little Green Beans. I was older, but at the same time, wiser. Most importantly, I considered my choices again.

I share these choices and suggestions with first-time moms of age 35 or better not to say that my/our way is best, but to open your eyes to the possibilities and to get the birth you want, if at all possible for you and your baby.

 

Choose your practitioners with care.

In every part of the U.S., there are skilled practitioners, including obstetricians, perinatologists, midwives, and nurses. There are many schools of thought. Research your options, interview the people who you will be working with for the next 8 or so months, ask them about pregnancy outcomes (e.g., such as c-section rates).

  • Does their practice, style, experience, and philosophy match yours? If yes, move forward. If not, do more research to find a match.

Where do your prefered practitioners deliver babies? Hospitals with certain restrictive policies or ones with more flexible practices based on mothers’ choices, birthing centers, or at-home deliveries are some of the options available. Why do the practitioners deliver where they do? Again, seek a match with the birthing location and your own choices, health and needs in mind. This is another considered decision. Read my earlier story for more info.

Prepare by writing a birth plan.

This is a plan, not a mandate, for what an ideal childbirth is like for you and your partner. What are your preferences regarding medications, walking and monitoring during labor, and showering (yes, you have that option in many cases)? Do you prefer low lighting and soft music during contractions, prior to the bright lights required for delivery? Do you wish to wear your own pajamas until the big “push” when your baby is delivered? Who holds the baby and when? When do you want to try nursing and have the basic newborn care done?

  • Preparing a birth plan of preferences and are very important to most moms of age 35 or better. Otherwise, assumptions and stereotypes could creep in.

Hire a doula.

Unless your mother or sister is someone that provides you with unconditional support and uniquely understands you, childbirth, and all of the challenges, I strongly recommend hiring a doula. A doula is your support person, who helps you and your partner understand the specifics of this unique pregnancy, labor, delivery and even postpartum. She works for you and agrees to respect your wishes and choices. She is literally someone to lean on during labor. Most doulas have assisted with many births and worked in a variety of settings. She can visit you after birth and support you as you transition to life at home. My doula Shelley Scotka, saw my strong back aches after birth and sent over a wonderful friend Sally Leissner, a fellow doula, who is also a massage therapist to my home. Find someone who is a true match for you, your partner, your practitioner and your childbirth facility.

  • With the advanced maternal age label on your chart, an unknowing doctor (not yours but their colleague) or nurses (and you will see many during the numerous hospital shifts for the labor and delivery ward) may make assumptions.

You want your labor and delivery preferences and choices known. Your doula is your voice, communicating your wishes and supporting you and your partner on this special day.

Supplement medical care with mama care.

In addition to the basics of seeing your practitioner for scheduled visits, plus any additional visits due to issues that arise, consider holistic options as needed.

I suffer from indoor and outdoor allergies regularly and this pregnancy was no exception. During my second trimester with Shannon, I had allergy-induced headaches that were painful. Mindful that I could take Tylenol (only), I went to Cindy Freeman, trained in acupuncture and oriental medicine, and received treatments of 30 minutes twice per month. When early in my third trimester, pubic synthesis pain hit me hard and fortunately was relieved through some additional fine needles.

Chiropractic care and adjustments can bring relief for certain types of pain. When my pregnancy headaches appeared, I had a 30-minute consultation with an experienced chiropractor to see if the pain would subside. It didn’t in my case, and acupuncture did fortunately. After birth, I sought out a chiropractor to relieve the back pain that the 8 hours of back-labor with Shannon. I had a couple weeks of pain, that fortunately went away.

Eat well, exercise in moderation and take your vitamins.

Hopefully, if you are trying to get pregnant you are already taking prenatal vitamins. If not, there are many choices, including some affordable ones from the natural food stores. With my first pregnancy, I was convinced that I needed to take the prescription vitamins that I had sampled at my OB’s office. With my second pregancy, I learned that the price of those same vitamins would cost me $3/per pill, based on a different insurance policy. (I did the math and multiplied by 270+ days and beyond when you elect to breastfeed and that adds up) You have choices in vitamins. Just make certain that you are getting the recommended 800 mcu of Folic Acid or supplement with another pill.

If you are physically fit, by all means continue to do what’s working as recommended by your practitioner. Weightlifting is typically off limits for most pregnant mamas.

  • If you haven’t been on an exercise routine, walking and swimming can be ideal.
  • I spent most of last summer (months 7 to 9), which were some of the hottest on record here in Austin in the pool. Swimming relieved my back strain, kept me cool, and gave me an easier way to play with my kids.

On eating, we are all tempted to eat more and richer foods while pregnant. I had different cravings with both of my boys. It was important to watch it though as we gain about a pound each week in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

  • Eating healthy with protein, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains versus a complete meal of ice cream, while tempting, is always advisable.
  • Eating smaller meals and more frequently is ideal for many women who have cravings and/or nausea.

Prenatal yoga helps women of all ages and, importantly, does a few things like nothing else we can do to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth.

Prenatal yoga for yourself and together with your partner.

I am a big proponent of prenatal yoga and my recent conversation with my longtime friend and instructor Sarah Evans reminded me why. Prenatal yoga helps women of all ages and, importantly, does a few things like nothing else we can do to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth.

  • It helps us form or strengthen a mind-body connection. During childbirth, especially an unmedicated birth, we must prepare our minds to talk with and not fight our bodies. Pain in childbirth is real (for me it was intense due to back labor due to the positioning of both of my boys).
  • Mindful, deep breathing, poses for relaxation during and between contractions, and practice mini-sessions of pain endurance are some of the tools in the prenatal yoga toolkit.

Prenatal yoga provides community for expectant moms. It is a place to talk about our physical health and concerns. It’s a place to get answers, not medical advice, from experienced moms and your instructor, typically a mom herself. When we share in that setting, we give and get a lot. (Two of my good friends were met in class and we shared for weeks. My friend Alicia (from my 2007 birth) and I have stayed in touch with her older son being a month older than my Patrick. It is her OB practice that I chose for Shannon’s birth after hearing her experiences. Preetha’s son and my Shannon share the same birth date (they were born just one hour apart in the same hospital). ) These are unique connections. Read more about prenatal yoga in Sarah Evan’s Guest Blog.

“Practicing yoga with one’s birth partner in a class or private session helps to connect with one another and consider what birth might feel like in a highly supportive setting.”

  • What can your partner do to support and not hinder your childbirth? Can they help relieve stress through massage or calming words? All of this can be part of what you practice together.
  • Seamus and I took the Prenatal Yoga for Partners course offered by Sarah’s studio, Yoga Yoga, both in 2007 and 2011, with the goal of being on the same page for our sons’ births.

What has supported you in your pregnancy and childbirth in an advanced maternal age? What other choices are there for mothers to consider?

 

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