When and How to Start a Prenatal Yoga Practice

We have begun a new column where our readers can write in with their questions. We’ll field the questions to one or more experts in the subject and post the responses typically within 2 weeks. Write Us with Your Question!

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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Why Practice Prenatal Yoga?

By Sarah Evans

If you are pregnant or thinking about trying to become pregnant, focus on taking care of yourself! After all, your body is designed to be the vessel to support the little life growing inside. How amazing! What an honor. What a perfect time to serve your body while it grows your baby.

Yoga is a wonderful tool for self-care. You will leave the practice feeling rejuvenated, more peaceful, and more emotionally connected with your baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The long, deep yogic breath techniques are of utmost importance.

This mindful breathing:

  • nourishes the cells
  • increases lung volume
  • massages the organs and growing baby
  • calms the active mind of a woman preoccupied with thoughts of baby
  • connects us to our life-force and keeps us present

Having this knowledge and body awareness is priceless when handling the sensations of labor and childbirth, and the demands of mothering.

Endorphins are released in our bodies through the physical postures (called “asanas”). This eases the discomforts of pregnancy. Together, deep breathing and endorphins’ release foster relaxation. Having this knowledge and body awareness is priceless when handling the sensations of labor and childbirth, and the demands of mothering.

Yoga lowers blood pressure and improves circulation, which is even more important in a pregnant mama’s body since her blood volume triples. (Practitioners check regularly for hypertension.) It also improves balance, as a woman’s center of gravity constantly shifts as the belly grows. Coupled with gentle cardio activity like walking or swimming, yoga keeps your body toned and limber. Labor is hard work, so maintaining strength allows for more efficient labor and quicker recovery.

“Prenatal yoga gives us coping skills for pregnancy and childbirth. These skills and the friends we make are wonderful treasures to hold onto after our childbirth experiences.” -Sharon Munroe

The creation of community is an invaluable part of attending a prenatal yoga class. Meeting and listening to other pregnant moms establishes a support network, where students feel understood and don’t feel alone in their experience.

Co-founder Sharon made good friends and shared lots of ideas with our community by attending regular yoga practices with me for both of her pregnancies. My student/her yoga friend actually delivered her son in the same hospital on the same day as Sharon! They attend postnatal classes together now too. “Prenatal yoga gives us coping skills for pregnancy and childbirth. These skills and the friends we make are wonderful treasures to hold onto after our childbirth experiences.” said Sharon.

The most important piece of advice is to listen to your body during your yoga practice and follow what it’s telling you to do. Bring water to stay hydrated, choose a modification to a pose, ask your instructor for further guidance, or simply take a break if needed.


Becoming a mother is an amazing  journey. I firmly believe that the journey greatly benefits from the power of yoga. Come join us!

Get Moving: The Benefits of Prenatal Exercise and Suggested Activities to Keep You and Baby Healthy


Sarah Evans is an instructor at  Austin’s Yoga Yoga Northwest, teaching multiple classes each week in prenatal, postnatal and toddler yoga. She has helped hundreds of women learn to love yoga for over the last 7 years. She lives in Austin with her husband and two children.

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?

 

Images courtesy of: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Sharon’s Story: Part 2

Text Book Pregnancy – an Earlier Chapter

After a hard loss of a first pregnancy, I was thrilled to find myself pregnant just four months later. Still early in my marriage at age 39, I was optimistic (always one to look at the glass half full). Advanced Maternal Age was stamped on my chart at my traditional OB’s office. Dr. B. knew my name, having been my gynecologist for over 10 years, but it was an otherwise impersonal greeting for my very positive pregnancy test that was administered on that warm April day.

Early tests were good, a heartbeat on an ultrasound, no feelings of discomfort or bleeding. Then the reminder of the dreaded CVS test at 12 weeks, the one that had vanished my dream of my first pregnancy and loss the year prior. Into the perinatologist’s office I went with my husband clutching my hand tight. “This time will be better,” he assured me. I held my breath while the long needle gathered fetal cells, ones that could be normal. I kept faith during the long weeks of waiting. I checked in with the genetic counselor I knew well. “Should be next week,” K assured me. “Let’s not worry.” Our next conversation was one week to the day of that initial call and yes, it was good news, “a healthy baby boy was coming in December.”

I felt healthy with limited morning sickness and other symptoms, and was again optimistic. I worked, enjoyed free time with my husband and friends without too much concern. Despite this, Dr. B. was full of warnings each month during my routine visits. There were no emergency calls or extra visits to cause alarm

She likely felt she was helping me by reminding me about upcoming tests. Every time my blood pressure was taken, the new nurse seemed surprised that it was low and healthy. (No one cared to notice that during the prior 10 years of routine care at that office that I never had elevated blood pressure.) After the first trimester, it seemed that Dr. B.’s commentary about risk factors became longer and more frequent. I had no symptoms of a troubled pregnancy so why was I being warned about gestational diabetes, hypertension, and the high probability of c-section?

The chapters and complete books I had read about high-risk pregnancy contained similar warmings and the associated doom and gloom. Why was my doctor worrying me? Was there something else looming? I didn’t understand it. I considered (and still consider) myself young and healthy.

After the standard 20 week anatomical ultrasound, we were thrilled to see all 10 fingers and 10 toes, healthy organs and that our baby boy was growing at a normal rate. I continued to feel good and started to make plans for childbirth. Lots to research and think about I thought.

I enrolled in prenatal yoga class at the well-known Yoga Yoga in Austin. With some 5 prenatal classes per week, I could fit one or two into my busy work and travel schedule. I exercised, learned yogic breathing, and more importantly made connections with my instructors (all wonderful, caring mamas), and new friends. We were in a club of soon-to-be mamas who met weekly to share ideas, and we were going to have babies, many within the same month.

Two of my yoga instructors, including Sarah Evans, my now long-time friend, talked a great deal about the use of yoga in labor and delivery. I was a good student of all of the yoga postures designed to release and relieve pain, and get comfort. I learned to breathe deeply and consciously for the first time in an early evening class. My husband and I attended the studio’s yoga for partners session that focused exclusively on working through childbirth together. I felt empowered and supported in this new chapter in my life.

One of the yoga instructors, Dawn pointed us to certain books that would complement our yoga practice and support us in childbirth. My sense was that this were not the typical books I had found, which were filled with warnings about high risk pregnancy. I read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth cover to cover one evening. It changed everything for me. No, I was not going to her famed “Farm” in Tennessee but my new, aspirational goal was to have natural childbirth, no planned c-section or medications unless absolutely medically necessary. Imagine the surprise on Dr. B’s face when she heard that out of the mouth of her 39-year-old patient?

Next I asked my yoga instructors about doulas. They had mentioned that doulas provide couples with outstanding support in birth and beyond. I wanted a strong, experienced doula on my side if the going got tough. I couldn’t have found a better support person than Dawn Martin, one of Austin’s most experienced doulas and mamas. Dawn had taught Birthing from Within classes, and now is one of the most sought after lactation consultants in our city. We discussed what an ideal childbirth looked like for us and began writing a birth plan to serve as a written document of our childbirth wishes.

In the 25th week, Dr. B. looked at my birth plan with surprise and a bit of shock. “Do not offer me medicines for pain. Do not limit my movement with a fetal monitor UNLESS ABSOLUTELY MEDICALLY NECESSARY for my and my child’s health.” I forced her to sign it and she shrugged her shoulders and scribbled a doctor’s scrawl on my persuasive, marketing-like document.

Dr. B. didn’t deliver my son. She’s since retired from delivering babies. Her partner and a nurse delivered my healthy boy with my husband and Dawn by my side on a warm December morning. Despite 28 hours of back labor and a lot of associated pain, there were no complications and no high-risk delivery in my Advanced Maternal Age of 40 and 2 months. This experience was powerful. This age is about blowing past the stereotypes and working hard to fulfill one’s goals as many of us have done in every other aspect of our adult lives.

Read Part 1 of Sharon’s Story!

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