Pregnant? Prenatal yoga could be the best way to stay active

If you’ve got a bun in the oven, you may be looking for a new way to exercise during pregnancy. Here’s why prenatal yoga could be the answer.

Whether you’re expecting your first baby or your fourth, pregnancy marks the start of a new phase of life – including how you move your body.

And when it comes to staying active, prenatal yoga offers an array of benefits, for both mum and bub.

What exactly is prenatal yoga?

Prenatal yoga is a light form of yoga designed specifically for pregnancy.

Prenatal yoga teacher and Yogababy founder Suzanne Swan says it offers a gentle and safe way to move your body while pregnant.

“Some of the postures used in regular yoga classes – such as deep twists and backbends – as well as some of the more vigorous practices such as hot yoga, aren’t recommended during pregnancy,” Suzanne says.

A prenatal yoga class offers safe modifications of what would normally be offered in a regular yoga class, she explains.

Classes focus on gentle stretching, strengthening and breathing exercises designed to help women adapt to the bodily changes that come with growing a baby, both physically and mentally, Suzanne says.

They often involve elements of meditation too, she says, helping women to tune in to the mind-body connection, which can help relieve stress and maintain a sense of calm throughout pregnancy.

Benefits of prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga is an antidote to many uncomfortable pregnancy moments.

“It can help women stay fit during pregnancy, which can help alleviate common discomforts associated with growing a baby, such as lower back pain, hip pain, swollen feet, and headaches,” Suzanne says.

But it also helps build a bond with your baby.

“Prenatal yoga provides an opportunity for mums to slow down and connect with their baby, and to learn the focusing skills that will support them in the birth,” Suzanne says.

According to Western Sydney University Professor of Midwifery Hannah Dahlen, research into the benefits of prenatal yoga suggests a regular practice can help reduce anxiety, depression and stress.

“There are [also] increased rates of normal vaginal birth and tolerance of labour pain,” Prof Dahlen says.

Does prenatal yoga help with labour?

According to Prof Dahlen, because yoga is a mind-body-spirit practice that combines physical postures with relaxation and breathing, there are likely to be benefits that flow over into labour.

“There appears to be a slight shortening of the length of labour and reduction in the need for pain relief,” Prof Dahlen says.

“Breathing, being active during labour and learning how to relax are good for increasing oxygen flow to the baby, reducing women’s sense of pain,” she explains.

“It’s also good for getting the baby into an ideal position for birth.”

When to start prenatal yoga

Suzanne says women can safely start practising prenatal yoga from around 14 weeks.

“This is when we know the baby is usually settled; prior to that, there’s a sensitive period where miscarriage is higher,” Suzanne explains.

“Attending a regular weekly class is recommended, but women can do a mild form of practice each day if they like.”

Professor Dahlen says studies show women need to make prenatal yoga a regular practice to reap the rewards.

“But we also need more studies into prenatal yoga, as they have not all been high quality,” she says.

More pregnancy dos and don’ts:

Written by Sarah Vercoe.