Prenatal yoga, is it safe?
I have been thinking a lot about pregnancy and birth recently. No, I am not pregnant. The catalyst occurred yesterday when I posted a video of a yoga teacher doing some amazing – and very advanced – inversions with her belly which you can see here.
There was some concern as to the safety of her practice. Even some outright objection from friends who believe that she is putting her baby at grave risk. Every woman and pregnancy is different. As a general guideline, women should consult their bodies and physicians to maintain their health during pregnancy and to protect their babies. As a woman who has never had a baby and is not a doctor, I am in no way an expert on this issue. However, this discussion has brought up some very interesting questions regarding women, yoga, pregnancy, and medicine.
Expecting mothers who have an established yoga practice should continue their yoga practice. Women who would like to start Yoga during their pregnancy should keep in mind that as their bodies produce more blood and undergo significant hormone changes that can affect balance, they should use caution and wisdom. The good news is pregnancy and Yoga usually go great together!According to the Mayo Clinic, Prenatal Yoga can:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
- Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath
- Decrease the risk of preterm labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth
General counter indications for Yoga practice during pregnancy include:
- abdominal work, especially where you flex your spine against gravity (for example a sit up)
- deep twists (however gentle twists are fine and most twists cab be modified)
- deep forward folds that might restrict the blood flow to the uterus
- extreme back bends unless you have this already in your practice
- inversions – here I am referring to inversions that bring everything over your head, including your feet such as a hand stand. Down dog should be fine if you feel fine in it. Most folks counsel against inversions during the first trimester, proceed with caution from then on if you have this in your practice already. Here is a great article about inversions during pregnancy.
- dehydration – this is really not good for mommies to be, so be cautious with hot yoga and make sure you drink enough water always
- pushing too hard – don’t over do it, be aware of what your body is telling you. Be aware also that a pregnant woman will have an increased amount of Relaxin hormones from the very beginning of her pregnancy that will make it even easier to move more deeply in stretches but also can cause injuries.
Most importantly, a woman should listen to her body, her baby and her physician to make the best choices during this special time. Most physicians seem to think that it is important that women maintain their activities to support their bodies. Which is why I think if this Yoga teacher is at ease in her body while practicing, even in such an intense way, there is no reason not to. I don’t think she is harming her baby, and I don’t think she is harming herself.
If you are just, you know, a “normal person” who does 😉 here are some links I really love for prenatal :
- Hip and Back from Pop Sugar
- for Low Back Pain from Pop Sugar
Here is a really lovely mediation as well:
I have noticed many students coming to me here in Casablanca and telling me they or their friends have been kept on bed rest during their pregnancy. I respect the physicians opinion, but I find this to be a bit distressing. Bed rest is rarely a suggestion that I hear doctors make in my community in the USA. I am curious as to why doctors are suggesting their patients be in active when their bodies are transforming and need good circulation, respriation, stress relief, stamina and muscle tone to carry the baby to term.
The conditions doctors may treat with bed rest can be very severe and include:
- Vaginal bleeding or problems with the placenta
- An incompetent cervix — a condition in which the cervix is likely to open (dilate) prematurely
- Contractions and other advanced signs or symptoms of preterm labor
- A twin or multiple pregnancy
- Signs, symptoms or test results indicating fetal growth problems
But there’s a problem. While bed rest is a common treatment, there’s no proof that it helps. It doesn’t seem to protect your health or your baby’s. In fact, bed rest has risks itself. Doctors still prescribe it, but more because of tradition than good evidence that it works” (WebMD).
What this all suggests to me is either a view that women are feeble and should do nothing because their bodies in general can’t handle the baby and perhaps the assumption that she won’t be laboring through a vaginal birth anyway so why maintain her health and the health of the baby? If the bed rest is needed, which I am skeptical about in case you didn’t notice, why is it that I hear about it being suggested in Casablanca frequently and basically only when the mother is carrying multiple babies in the USA? Perhaps I am not talking to the right people?
According to WebMD, risks of bed rest include:
- Blood clots
- Depression and anxiety
- Family stress
- Financial worries, especially if you have to stop working
- Low birth-weight for your baby
- Slower recovery after birth
- Weakened bones and muscles
Most research I did showed websites that mostly give support for women on bed rest. The only two websites that commented on the practice that I could find were WebMD, as quoted above and the Mayo Clinic:
Bed rest isn’t a proven remedy for preventing pregnancy complications or preterm birth, and it’s being recommended less frequently. Still, bed rest is sometimes prescribed as a safeguard. Understand the complications that might make bed rest during pregnancy necessary and how to cope. – Mayo Clinic
If anyone has some light to shine on this issue, please feel free to respond. I am concerned and trying to understand. If it is true that bed rest is not a proven treatment and has such bad consequences, then why isn’t is obsolete, and why is it prevalent?
Please understand also, that I am writing from experience within two communities, not from a point of view of medical expertise.
Putting it all together
I am finding the dynamics of women who are active and want to remain active and healthy during their pregnancies, and doctors who cautiously put many women on bed rest interesting and a bit confusing. I think there must either be some grave conditions that are prevalent here that cause such a strict approach, or simply a contradiction in how pregnancy is viewed and how women’s bodies are viewed compared to the USA. Clearly the cultural differences are intense and dramatic. That is for another day, but this was not a difference I was aware of. Part two of this piece is already in the works. Thanks for reading.
Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma
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