Every pregnancy story is different. But, because of the end reward, each story is beautiful in its own way. While moms-to-be may disagree, there is no formula to having a perfect pregnancy. There are, however, proven and helpful ways to make the process more endurable and enjoyable. One of the most increasingly popular ways for expectant mothers to make their pregnancies easier is to practice prenatal yoga.
Yes, yoga is completely safe to practice during pregnancy. The calm, stretching-oriented practice helps prepare both the mind and body for labor and, ultimately, birth. (However, consulting your doctor is highly recommended before trying out any type of yoga practice while pregnant.)
Prenatal yoga can be practiced from the very beginning of a woman’s pregnancy up until her third trimester. It’s one of the few physical activities that allow students to focus on their mind and soul as well as on their bodies.
“Prenatal yoga is a slow-paced, easy going social class where [pregnant women] can get away for a little bit and have a nice workout,” said prenatal yoga instructor, Lizzie Aguirre. “And the benefits are awesome. More women should know about [prenatal yoga]. It has been proven that mothers who practice yoga will be heathier and their babies will be smarter.”
Adopting a prenatal yoga practice has also been shown to prevent complications during labor. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that pregnant women who practice yoga for one hour, three times a week are less likely to have pregnancy-related diabetes, high blood pressure, and low birthweight in their babies.
Pop culture icons and celebrities like Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gisele Bündchen have all engaged in the practice of prenatal yoga.
The benefits of adopting a yoga practice, whether pregnant or not, are extremely beneficial. Yoga develops stamina and strengthens major muscle groups in addition to stretching out your back and hips. During the first trimester, standing yoga poses are top priority to help strengthen leg muscles.
For moms-to-be, the practice is a great way to relieve tension from the lower back, neck, and shoulders. Through the deep breathing techniques taught in yoga, the nervous system is able to remain calm and redirect focus off of pain and onto the rhythm of breathing (a la the Lamaze technique).
This breath work helps expectant mothers feel more in control when they go into labor. During each inhale, prenatal yoga students are taught to acknowledge the pain and the tension in their body. During the exhale, they let it all go.
Another benefit of the practice is increased blood circulation. By stretching out different areas of the body, yoga allows muscles to elongate—aiding in the reduction of swelling.
“Pregnant women have blood that circulates in the womb and, when they workout, this blood actually stops circulation for the duration of the exercise,” Aguirre said. For the baby, this means that post-activity, more blood circulates back to the womb—giving them the fresh, oxygen-rich blood and the nutrients they need.
Although yoga is an extremely popular fitness activity in Austin, prenatal yoga practices are few and far between at area yoga studios.
Oh Baby! Fitness, a company specializing in prenatal and postnatal exercise classes, is trying to change that. The national franchise offers a wide variety of classes catered to those going through pregnancy and opened their first location in Austin in January. Oh Baby! Fitness is an outlet for mothers to stay active and healthy during their pregnancy; offering session-based classes at area studios and gyms where women can sign up for 6–8 week sessions and gather with the same instructor and group of women for each class.
“It really promotes community building,” said owner and head instructor of Oh Baby! Fitness Austin, Karen Killough. “Some of our mothers become fast friends with their mat neighbor. They become really close and talk to each other about their pregnancies or about things they might not want to discuss with their husbands. Of course, there’s always talk about their babies and nurseries.”
Prenatal instructors with Oh Baby! Fitness are certified in prenatal yoga instruction before they are allowed to teach. The company conducts its own certification process requiring instructors to take an eight-hour workshop that involves one-on-one practice sessions and a final cumulative test.
Kathleen Miller-Sumrall is 30 weeks pregnant with her second child and recently became an Oh Baby! Fitness yogi. She got into the practice at the start of her second trimester. “I had not been very active. I didn’t even do yoga at the beginning of my pregnancy,” Miller-Sumrall said.
Miller-Sumrall said she noticed a big difference between her first pregnancy and second pregnancy. After signing up for a prenatal yoga session, she now has less back pains, is more relaxed, and can keep up with her 2-year-old first born. “I am stronger now than I was before I got pregnant,” Miller-Sumrall said.
Like your average yoga class, prenatal yoga is designed to make moms-to-be feel good about their bodies, love their bodies, and connect with their baby on a deeper lever.
It’s easy to understand the reason for the practice’s rise in popularity: prenatal yoga is a safe, full body workout and a simple way to stay active while pregnant. After all, a happy mom equals a happy baby.