Birthing Ayurveda: Week 13—The Benefits of Yoga and Exercise During Pregnancy
Welcome to Birthing Ayurveda, where we follow one woman's pregnancy experience week by week—from a positive home pregnancy test all the way to delivery.
As I have started to ease my way out of the first trimester and make my way into the second trimester, I have definitely noticed a change in my energy level. I don’t feel quite as weak or foggy. And along with that came an inspiration this week to get back into it!
I have always lived a pretty active life, and I have no intention for that to be any different during my pregnancy. It has been my observation that, in general, the more active mothers tend to progress quite well in labor. In fact, I had an attending while in residency that advised all of his patients to get a certain amount of exercise during their pregnancy. When his patients walked down the hallway to check in, we all just relaxed because we felt fairly confident that their labor would go well. Even for his patients being induced, I remember thinking, “It’s Dr. Jones’ patient—she’ll probably deliver quickly by 4 pm.” (Name changed for anonymity)
I went to my first yoga class again this week (after two months or so), and I was happy to find that, while I was very clearly not quite as strong, I got through the class just fine. In the end, I experienced the post-yoga class bliss that I usually do, found myself feeling more connected to Charlie, and physically I felt stronger and healthier.
At the end of this article, I will share some general guidelines for exercise during pregnancy (please always consult with your provider for any special instructions). But I want to first spend a few minutes sharing some interesting and exciting facts about yoga during the prenatal period.
I am not claiming that yoga is the only exercise that is good during pregnancy. But there has been some really exciting research on Ayurveda’s sister science and the prenatal period.
There are numerous studies that show that yoga may be good for depression and anxiety during pregnancy, which is becoming more and more common during both prenatal and postpartum periods.1 Yoga also helps with sleep and those very common pregnancy complaints of back discomfort, headaches, and getting short of breath easily. In preparation for childbirth, yoga tones and stretches the muscles needed for delivery. In fact, some studies show that it can help with labor discomfort and duration of labor. And, it is especially worth talking to your provider about, as research shows it can be helpful in decreasing your risk of intrauterine growth restriction, preterm labor, and pregnancy-induced hypertension (likely because of better blood flow to the uterus and placenta)2, 3, 4
Given that I spend much of my day on the computer, writing and doing research, or traveling, I completely turn to yoga for these many benefits. My family and I also go for walks in the evenings after dinner as often as possible for the exercise and for some good conversations and goof-off time.
If you have wanted to incorporate a healthy exercise regimen into your routine, here are some tips.
- There are varying opinions on the first trimester and exercise. Ayurveda recognizes that this is a very fragile time, when the pregnancy is becoming firmly implanted in the uterus and really establishing itself. Some say do just gentle exercise and yoga and others will advise against anything more than walking. I chose the latter with the thought of wanting to really allow the pregnancy to become stable and strong.
- After the first trimester, do not suddenly decide to run a marathon. Yes exercise is amazing, but, as a general rule, use your pre-pregnancy exercise level as a guide to how much you should exercise during pregnancy.
- If you did not exercise at all before pregnancy, this is a great time to start! Be moderate. Long walks (40 minutes long) with a slight increase in your baseline heart rate, several times a week, are going to be great for just about anyone. Yoga, again, is going to be good for almost anyone. The key is to make sure that you do not push yourself to the point where you feel lightheaded, short of breath, or nauseous.
- While it is best to work with a certified yoga teacher, here are some general guidelines to yoga during pregnancy.
- Avoid deep twists. You can modify these poses by gently rotating the torso to about a third or half of how much you would normally twist.
- Avoid inversions (no handstands, shoulder stands) since they decrease the blood flow to the uterus. Downward dog and like poses are okay for limited durations (do not stay in these poses for long periods of time).
- Avoid compressing the belly, especially as you enter the late second trimester. Try working through cat/cows or doing back bends on your side.
- Avoid extreme back bends. Use your body as a gauge of what is comfortable but extreme back bends can compress a growing uterus.
- Activities to avoid would include scuba diving, exercises at very high altitudes, and activities that have a high fall risk (gymnastics, skiing) or high risk of contact (soccer, basketball).
Enjoy exercise as a time to get away from the stressors of your day and to just be in your body. Use it as a time to really connect with your body and the growing body within you.