Preparing for birth is no easy task. Some even say that it is equivalent to preparing for a marathon. Before I got pregnant I was devastatingly afraid of birth and the labour process, but I thought if you could train for a marathon; surely you could train for labour. So, I set out to make sure that my body and mind would be ready for the big day. I tried all of the big things that people do to prepare for birth – belly dancing, yoga, hypnosis, YouTube prenatal classes, meditation, walking, and I read every single birth book out there (yup – even the one on orgasmic birth!).
After trying and researching it all I came to the realization that yoga really was the most effective and all encompassing solution for me. It allowed me to have an easy home water birth without medication that really wasn’t that bad in the end (Although there were no orgasms!). Here are the reasons that I think yoga was the best training method for birth!
- Stretches The Hips. Many of the poses that you learn in yoga are designed to help open and relax the hips and the pelvic region. This is really beneficial during birth for obvious reasons – the baby must maneuver its way out through this area of your body. So, the more relaxed and open your hips and pelvis, the easier the birth process will be.
- Teaches You To Breathe. I know breathing seems like common sense, but I didn’t realize how poorly I was breathing until I learned how to do it properly. Yoga teaches you how to slow down your breath and keep it relaxed when you are in sometimes very awkward and uncomfortable positions. So practicing these breathing techniques all through my pregnancy really helped me to use my breath to manage pain during the labour process. I learned how to use the breath to surrender to what was happening in my body rather than to fight it, which I believe was the key to relaxing during birth.
- Stretches the Perineum. The perineum is the space between the vagina and the anus. Normally, this part of our body does not get any thought or attention. Then you realize you are pregnant and have to fit a baby through this very narrow region of your body which will require some stretching (or tearing if we are unlucky). While I knew my body would naturally stretch during labour, I was willing to do whatever it took to train and prepare it to do so on the big day! Many of the poses that you learn in yoga class will help to stretch this area of the body both during pregnancy and in active labour. One of my favourite poses for this purpose is frog pose.
- Encourages the Baby Get In the Right Position. I never studied the proper positions of babies until I was told my baby was in the wrong position. This may not seem too concerning until you realize that a bad position can increase labour pain, stall labour, and increase the likelihood of medical intervention. Several of the poses used in yoga (e.g. downward facing dog, cat, cow) actually help the baby to get into the right position for birth. They work by moving the woman’s body into a position where gravity and gentle movements rock the baby to the proper position.
- Relieves Stress. We all know that beIng stressed durIng pregnancy can have very negatIve effects, both on the mom and the baby, such as increasing blood pressure and preterm labour. Yoga is a really great practice to help you relax, but also to train your body and your mind to relax when you are uncomfortable. If you can master this skill in yoga there is a good chance you can apply it during birth as well.
- Enhances Body Awareness. Birth requires you to be in tune with your body and your baby so you can quickly identify concerns and make adjustments. Yoga trains you to become hyper aware of your body; to notice some of the little changes that you might otherwise may have missed. This allows you to make adjustments to your positions during pregnancy or birth to become more comfortable; and also gives you more confidence in identifying concerns for your medical provider.
- Strengthens the Pushing Muscles. It is so easy to stop exercising when pregnant. I hated the days when I had to force myself to exercise after working all day, but it was definitely worth it! Yoga gets a lot of attention for its ability to stretch the body, but not as much attention to its ability to strengthen. By sticking with my yoga routine I found my legs getting stronger, my core and back was able to support my growing belly, and I was still able to do the abdominal exercises to strengthen my transverse abdominal muscles all the way through the pregnancy. These are the muscles that are responsible for helping to push the baby out during active labour.
- Yoga Teaches You to Move. During my yoga practice I found that even when I wasn’t in a yoga class I was craving movement in my body. Yoga gave me permission to move and takes two different stretches throughout the day that I might otherwise not have done. I learned that discomfort or pain in the body was my body’s way of communicating that I needed to change positions. During labor I found myself intuitively moving in and out of yoga poses to significantly reduce my. In fact we didn’t even think I was in labor until I was fully dilated.
- Yoga Teaches You How to Laugh at Your Body. Nothing is funnier than being in happy baby pose, frog pose, or any other pose that makes you feel and look ridiculous when in a room full of people. We need to learn to find humour and grace with our bodies in those awkward moments. If you cannot do it in yoga class, you may find yourself in those same positions during labour. But this time you’ll be the only one in the position. Naked. If I hadn’t learned how to be comfortable in those awkward positions when I was in my yoga class I don’t know that I would have made it through the labor process when I was so much more vulnerable.
- A Community. I thought yoga would just help me with the physical process of birth. I never imagined that it would also help me with the emotional side. I was working through some of my deepest and darkest fears as I was moving through my yoga practice, but I was also connecting with other moms who helped me to feel normal and find the humor in the vast and crazy experience of being pregnant and giving birth.
When I look back at all of the research I had done, and all of the books that I had read, and all of the different things I had tried to make my birth as easy as possible the one key factor that I kept coming back to was yoga. I had learned it all in my yoga practice. I knew how to move my body, how to care for my body, how to breathe to relax, how to meditate and put myself in a state of gentle hypnosis, how to find humour in uncomfortable situations, and how to connect with others who had already been there. I would never say that birth is easy, but I would confidently say that yoga made it a little easier than I thought it would be.
Jennifer Kavanagh is the owner and founder of Pura Vida Soul Institute Inc., a private retreat center and yoga studio located in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. She loves working with prenatal clients, new moms, and families by bringing humour, laughter, and joy to the yoga practice. You can read more about the work that she is doing or join in on one of her classes at www.PuraVidaMuskoka.com.
Book a prenatal or postnatal session with Jennifer here. Skype sessions available too!!