Whether you’ve just had your first or fifth baby, the newborn days can leave you feeling drained and frazzled. You’re definitely in need of some peace and tranquility — yoga to the rescue!
Moving your body gently through a sequence of poses can help with your physical and mental health, as well as provide other benefits in the postnatal period. The best part? All you need is a mat and some comfy clothes to get started.
Yoga in the postnatal period is all about honoring your post-baby body and calming your mind. Giving birth and sustaining life is quite a journey. As you continue to adjust to life with a new little one at home, yoga allows you to breathe, balance, and tune in with yourself when you may otherwise put “me” time on the back burner.
You may see specific postnatal or postpartum yoga classes advertised at your local gym, or you may find similarly titled yoga videos on YouTube or other fitness websites or yoga apps.
The moves you’ll find in these sessions are generally low intensity and modified in some way to address your postpartum body and any weaknesses you may have after giving birth (hello, core muscles!).
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explains that some people may be ready to resume activity just a few days after giving birth. But don’t worry if this doesn’t describe you. You may feel up to the task if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery. But what if, for example, you had a cesarean delivery after a difficult pregnancy?
There are a number of circumstances that may alter your individual timeline, so be sure to speak with your doctor before resuming any form of exercise after birth.
Postpartum yoga moves can be changed to meet the needs of most people. Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, speak with your instructor about any current or previous physical issues you have — for example, chronic back pain, incontinence, etc. — to learn possible modifications that may help you.
Yoga is much more than a simple workout to keep your body fit. In fact, yoga can be a lifestyle choice. Proponents credit daily yoga practice with keeping their stress levels low, making their bodies strong, and creating an overall sense of well-being.
Strengthens the body
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So, along with taking a brisk 30-minute walk, 5 days a week, consider sprinkling in a few yoga sessions for strength training.
May guard against postpartum depression
In one 2015 study, a group of women with postpartum depression (PPD) participated in a yoga program for 8 weeks, two classes each week. The results? Some 78 percent saw a significant change in their depression and anxiety symptoms.
The researchers concluded that larger-scale studies are needed. But, since up to 20 percent of women experience PPD, yoga may be a great complementary therapy to try.
Helps with milk production
A 2017 study on 30 yoga and postpartum women found that yoga may increase milk production. The idea here is that yoga provides deep relaxation and calming as well as a boost in self-confidence. All these things combined may allow for an improved release of prolactin and oxytocin, two hormones essential for getting milk flowing.
Strengthens the pelvic floor
Are you dealing with incontinence issues? You’re not alone. Up to
Researchers explain that more study is needed on yoga specific to incontinence, but that it may provide an alternative to traditional physical therapy pelvic floor exercises.
Good for you and baby
Experts share that bringing your baby in on the action can also have benefits. Parent and baby yoga classes may give you an overall feeling of well-being and a strengthened bond with your baby. Babies who participate in these classes may see improved sleep, a reduction in colic, and better digestion. It’s a win-win!
All you really need to do yoga is yourself and a mat. And if you don’t have a mat, yogi Beth Spindler at Yoga International explains that you can substitute any flat surface (bare floor, rug, or carpet) if you’re careful about slipping.
In the postpartum period, you may be prone to overextending yourself, with the relaxin hormone still circulating in your body. So, stick to matless moves that are relatively stationary and don’t require moving balance.
In addition, some other accessories that may make the experience more interesting or comfortable include:
- yoga blocks or straps to give you some added stability
- bolster pillow for added support in seated or lying positions
- blanket for comfort and warmth or added support in certain positions
- soothing music for atmosphere
- candles or soft lighting to set the mood
If you go to a yoga class at a gym or studio, the staff may provide everything you need. You’ll want to come in comfortable clothing, such as yoga pants and a T-shirt, and bring a water bottle so you can stay hydrated.
Speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program after birth. While you may feel up to stretching and exercise, your body may still need more time for recovery and care after delivery.
If you’re experiencing diastasis recti, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles after pregnancy, ask your doctor what positions you should avoid, like lifting heavy weights, or what other exercises and therapies may help correct the separation.
Exercise in the postpartum period may feel challenging, but it shouldn’t hurt. If you feel pain, experience increased or excessive bleeding, or have any other concerns, contact your doctor for guidance ASAP.
If you plan to do yoga at home, place your baby in a safe space. Take your time as you flow through the following sequence.
You may wish to move through each of the positions in 2 or 3 minutes or perhaps choose to stay longer if it feels good. The ending Corpse Pose, in particular, can provide deep relaxation, so you may want to stay there for a while before resuming life with your newborn.
Begin your practice by getting yourself into the right headspace.
- Stand on your mat with your feet planted firmly on the ground and your toes stretched outward.
- Bring your arms to your sides — shoulders relaxed away from your ears — with your palms facing forward.
- Breathe in and out as you bring your attention to your body and mind and away from your obligations and stresses.
- Connect with your breath for a couple more minutes before moving on to other poses.
- Kneel on the mat.
- Bring your knees out wide to give your belly and breasts space as you bend your upper body over your legs and reach your arms out in front of you.
- Place your palms on the mat as you relax and feel a stretch in your lower back.
- Close your eyes and soften your jaw.
- Breathe deeply while you settle into this pose for a couple of minutes.
- Move your body so you’re on all fours (hands and knees) with your spine in a neutral position.
- Breathe in as you look up and lift your chest and buttocks upward while letting your stomach sink toward the mat (Cow position).
- Breathe out as you return to a neutral spine and arch your back up toward the sky and look at the ground as you softly tuck your pelvis inward (Cat position).
- Continue moving with your breath in this way for a few minutes.
Extended Bird Dog
- While staying on all fours, begin to play a bit with balance.
- Extend your right arm out in front of you as you bring your left leg straight behind you (toes pointed down at the floor).
- Engage your core as you breathe into this move.
- Repeat on the other side.
- As you work up confidence, you can slowly flow between the two sides with your breath for a few minutes.
Extended Bird Dog works the transverse abdominal muscles and may help correct abdominal separation after pregnancy.
- Move your body so you’re resting on your sit bones (your buttocks) with your legs in Lotus position (crisscross applesauce).
- Reach your arms out in front of you with your palms facing together.
- Cross your left arm underneath your right and weave your palms together while bringing your elbows to a 90-degree angle.
- Feel the stretch across your upper back and shoulders, which may be strained from nursing or carrying your newborn.
- Relax your neck and lengthen through the top of the head.
- Breathe as you hold this position for a minute or so and then repeat on the other side.
End today’s practice by lying down on your back. You can support your neck with a rolled towel or blanket if you like. You may also place a bolster under your knees if you’d rather not have them fully outstretched.
If the room is chilly, consider also covering your body with a light blanket for extra comfort. The idea here is to fully relax and connect once more with your breath before returning to everyday life. Lie here breathing in and out for several minutes.
Listen to your body throughout your yoga practice. If something doesn’t feel right, you can always stop and move into a familiar pose — like Child’s Pose — to take a break.
While you’re at it, you’ll probably want to keep early yoga sessions brief and work your way up to longer stretches of exercise. As the weeks roll on, you’ll get stronger in your routine and may even feel a bit more confident both physically in your body and mentally in your role as a parent.