The Benefits of Prenatal Yoga


Prenatal Yoga encourages healthy attitudes, utilizing easy exercises, and comfortable positions to accommodate a growing baby. In a prenatal yoga class relaxation and breath awareness to prepare for childbirth is a cornerstone. At a more subtle level, the baby is welcomed into the world and the mother is prepared for the rigors of motherhood.

Just as in a non-pregnant woman, yoga increases flexibility, strength, circulation and balance. From a purely physical aspect, prenatal yoga prepares a woman for the truly rigorous physical job of labor. It is no different, in many ways, than preparing a marathoner for a big race. In addition to the anticipation of great physical stress, prenatal yoga can prepare a woman to more easily accept the physical changes her body will go through during the course of her pregnancy. Prenatal yoga reduces blood pressure and benefits the central nervous and endocrine systems. It also increases lymph flow and blood circulation. Prenatal yoga reverses the negative effects of the gravitational force applied to the organs, tissues, and bones; balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems which govern our moods; increases nutritional substance to the cells and tissues of both the mom and baby, and increases endorphin production in the brain, including seratonin and melatonin which help the body naturally reduce the sensation of pain.

Further, The common ailments of swelling, back and leg pain and insomnia can be eased with prenatal yoga, specifically through restorative asana, some types of pranayama and meditative practices. Although many postures need to be modified depending upon the stage of a woman’s pregnancy, there is a wide range of asana that can help tone the muscles, lengthen them, and reduce stress in the nervous system.

A secondary but perhaps even more important set of benefits for a pregnant woman practicing yoga is the tools it provides for handling stress. Pregnancy and labor can be stressful times for a woman and her growing family. Pain is almost inevitable, especially for those who choose a more natural delivery, but the management of pain is possible. Pranayama techniques will help both the mother and the fetus receive more oxygen. This yogic tool relaxes the mother during labor and helps her focus in order to regulate her breathing when labor pains and contractions begin. With mindfulness practices, women can be taught to lessen the experience of pain when it is happening and to reduce the anticipation of it that inevitably accompanies pregnancy. Utilizing yogic tools, the diet can be modified to make the body a cleaner vessel of life giving force, and with asana and pranayama, the mind and energy are purified and vivified to pass into the child. Many women can be taught to change their perspective on childbirth through yogic practices so that it becomes an anticipation of challenge and joy, of empowerment, instead of the drudgery that it is often perceived as.

Further, scientific evidence, such as studies from the Imperial College in London, increasingly supports that the mental state of the mother is passed through the umbilical chord via hormones to the fetus. “Of our research so far, of particular interest are a study showing that maternal antenatal anxiety doubles the risk for hyperactivity in boys; studies showing possible mechanisms by which maternal anxiety may affect the development of the fetus; a study showing that babies born by different methods (elective caesarean, normal vaginal, assisted) have different stress and crying responses at 8 weeks; and the first trial of analgesia in the fetus.” A stressed-out mom also proves to lower IQ scores, and increase anxiety in infants. The stress-related hormones our bodies make are increased in a fetus as well. “We have found that there is a highly significant correlation between maternal and fetal cortisol levels, although the maternal levels are ten times higher. This suggests that enough of the maternal stress hormone cortisol crosses the placenta to affect the development of the fetus. We have shown, using Doppler ultrasound, that the most anxious mothers have impaired blood flow through the uterine arteries. This could help to explain why mothers who are very anxious while pregnant tend to have smaller babies.”

Hopefully the practice of prenatal yoga will lead to a postnatal practice, as the benefits of yoga continue with enduring practice. Just a few of the benefits for a new mom include a stimulation of the pituitary gland which normalizes prolactin, a hormone responsible for helping with the production of milk for breast feeding mothers. It strengthens the back that has been strained from pressure and weight gain and restores and strengthens the pelvic area, hips and bones. There are also many studies pointing to the reduction of post-pregnancy weight by breast feeding, and with the normalization of prolactin, this is a possibility for women who might otherwise have difficulty producing milk. Yoga postures will help to reshape the body and relieve stress that was put on the pelvis, neck, back and shoulders form carrying the baby. It will also help rejuvenate a tired mom who has to get up for late night feedings. It will help to minimize the stress of being a new mother and all the emotional and hormonal changes her body goes through to try to normalize itself after childbirth.

Finally, yoga helps to strengthen the important bond that is created through the mother and child in the first several weeks of its life, because she is more emotionally balanced and open to giving of herself more completely. In study after study, the love and nurturing a mother provides in early infancy, has proven to be elemental to raising a loving, balanced child.

Yoga is an essential piece of a positive pregnancy, birthing process and post-natal experience for both mom and baby. Not only does it overwhelmingly affect her physical and emotional state, it also positively affects the emotional state of the baby. On more subtle levels the energy body of both mother and baby are balanced. It is important for a woman to consider yoga practice as a way to empower herself and her new baby through this ancient science.

Fetal and Neonatal Stress Group

About the Author:
Christina Sarich runs