Research by the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle revealed that attending a pregnancy yoga class once a week for eight weeks resulted in women having significantly less fear about giving birth, and less anxiety in general. Even a single yoga class during pregnancy had the benefit of potentially cutting anxiety in mums-to-be by a third.
Cheryl MacDonald, pregnancy yoga teacher, is not surprised by these findings. “Yoga during pregnancy is especially beneficial, because women are undergoing times of great change, stress and anxiety,” she says. “Yoga brings awareness to the body and the mind, and induces calm.”
Pregnancy aside, yoga in general has experienced a huge boom in popularity over recent decades. Once the reserve of just a few free-spirited devotees, now thousands of people from all walks of life, have switched on to its benefits with classes readily available in gyms and clubs everywhere.
However, it seems yoga may be more appealing to many women once they become pregnant. In a survey of 700 women attending pre-natal classes, 86% said they had never previously set foot in a yoga class.
The trend’s been given the celebrity thumbs up too; before giving birth to her baby boy, Bobby, earlier this month, Kimberley Walsh wrote about her experience attending a class, while pregnant Hollywood actress Mila Kunis was spotted leaving a pre-natal yoga session in Los Angeles.
As MacDonald points out though, it’s important that mums-to-be who are new to yoga seek out a class tailored to their needs.
“It [pregnancy] really is a specialist area of teaching, because there are so many things that can go wrong and there are so many different specific conditions. We don’t take anyone in our classes until they’re 14 weeks gone,” she explains. “Extreme back bending and things like that can cause the embryo to detach from the placenta, so the first trimester is actually the time you have to be most careful.”
Dr Sarah Jarvis, a clinical consultant, also advises that women may need to be more careful when it comes to exercise during pregnancy. “Your ligaments naturally soften and stretch during pregnancy, which makes it easier for your baby’s head to fit through your pelvis, but which also makes you more prone to painful strains,” Jarvis says. “Your centre of gravity also shifts, as your womb and breasts enlarge, which can put you off balance.”
However, while being sensible and cautious is important, being active is still vital.
“Exercise is important for everyone, but never more than when you’re pregnant. It keeps the heart strong, muscles toned, and being fit may even mean shorten labour,” Jarvis adds. “But it’s important to make allowances. Low-impact exercises, designed for pregnant women are great, and pregnancy yoga can help you relax your mind as well as keeping you supple.”
Indeed, MacDonald points out pregnancy yoga — in which traditional yoga postures are adapted for each trimester of pregnancy — can help build strength and stamina.
It can also help them learn effective breathing techniques in preparation for giving birth.