As doulas, we are commonly asked by clients, “What can I do to prepare myself for the birth of my baby?” Regardless of where a client is delivering her baby or with whom, many women describe their ideal birth to include being calm and relaxed, coping well with contractions and having their labour progress in an efficient manner (amongst other things). Introducing a prenatal yoga practice into your pregnancy self-care regime can help you achieve all of the above!
Yoga is a practice that focuses on bridging a connection between mind, breath and body. Prenatal yoga also shares this focus and adds the connection with baby. It is a time when a pregnant student can put all of her attention on herself, her changing body and her growing baby. For many, their prenatal practice becomes a cherished time with nothing else to focus on except these very important things.
Let’s further explore how these elements of yoga can help you in your pregnancy, labour, delivery and the transition into parenthood.
Most prenatal yoga classes begin with a short meditation, encouraging students to let go of anything from their day or week, letting go of expectations, letting go of any to-do lists or anything waiting for them after class, allowing themselves to be fully present in the moment. Students are guided into a state of deep relaxation as they inhale intention and exhale fear, feeling their bodies grow heavier, softer, more relaxed onto their mats with each breath. As students become aware of their surroundings and their physical bodies, their minds tend to become calm and quiet. This sense of calm serenity is felt by the baby growing inside, as are all of a woman’s emotions. The more the student practices creating this sense of calm and peace within her mind, the easier it will be for her to access this same state in times of stress or exertion, particularly in the labour and delivery of her baby and also in the first days and weeks as a new parent.
Every prenatal class will encourage students to become aware of their breath. Just this very simple practice of focusing on each inhale and exhale has the power to ground you, bringing you into the present moment, helping you cope with contractions one breath at a time, or life in general one breath at a time. There are many different forms of breathing that can be taught to pregnant students, all of them with the intention of bringing the student back to her breath, back to the present moment, creating something to focus on and calm her mind. Of course, the deeper and slower the breath during labour, the more oxygen-rich blood crosses the placenta and reaches baby, helping baby to cope with contractions as well.
In prenatal yoga, the focus of postures changes. The focus is not how deeply you can go into a posture. In pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is produced, making soft tissues in the body more pliable and elastic. This mean that many women will be able to stretch further and deeper than normal, with the potential risk of injury. Instead, the focus of prenatal yoga postures becomes one of strength and endurance. Students are encouraged to only give 70-80% of what they would normally. Moving your body mindfully in a prenatal yoga practice allows you to become more aware of your changing body, noticing the subtle differences occurring within from week to week. Postures are taught that can increase the diameter of the pelvic inlet, making it easier for baby to move into an optimal position before labour has even begun. There are postures to help increase the diameter of the pelvic outlet, which becomes important as baby moves through the birth canal. Many standing postures are practiced to increase strength in the body, while being mindful to avoid any extra pressure on the abdominal area, regardless of how far along in your pregnancy you are. As students hold strengthening postures, they build endurance within the muscles of the body and this endurance is essential for dealing with the physical demands of labour. Each posture allows the student an opportunity to draw her attention inward, focusing on her breath, calming her mind, strengthening her changing body.
In prenatal yoga, students are encouraged and given many opportunities to notice their growing bellies and the sensations that are created within. Many classes will guide students to place one hand on the heart, one on the belly, knowing that with each beat of the heart, baby receives everything they need. Cues are given throughout the class to remind pregnant students to “lift baby from below”, engaging the core muscles to help stabilize and support the weight of the growing baby. Most classes end with another meditation, relaxing the physical body, giving students yet another opportunity to connect with themselves, their bodies and their babies.
Edmonton and area has many wonderful yoga studios offering prenatal classes year-round. Ask your favourite doula for recommendations!
Postpartum essentials – A simple self-care checklist for mothers (written by April Fermaniuk of Edmonton Area Family Doulas)
Congratulations on the arrival of your new bundle of joy! You have probably spent the last 40 weeks (approximately) preparing for the delivery of your beautiful bundle of joy. But what about planning for your own recovery after the birth?
Now that you are settling in with your little one, the most important person can sometimes get forgotten. Postpartum self-care and recovery is just as, if not more important, than pregnancy self-care. Here are some of the essential things to have on hand and a few tips to get you through those first few weeks.
1. Depends or Heavy Postpartum Pads – Have a good supply of postpartum pads on hand. You don’t want to have to run to the store when you should be at home resting and snuggling baby.
2. Sitz/Herbal Bath – Help soothe wounds and reduce swelling to your perineum & bottom with a sitz bath or herbal bath.
3. Pain Relief - Have several pain control options on hand: Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc. Don’t forget the hemorrhoid cream just in case.
4. Constipation Relief / Stool Softener - Going to the bathroom for the first time after birth can be unsettling. Help make things more comfortable with a stool softener - be sure to have some on hand when you arrive home.
5. Water Bottles – Leave a water bottle in every room. You thought you drank a lot of water when you were pregnant… Wait until after baby comes!
6. Ice Packs/Heat Packs/”Padsicles” – Use cold or heat for pain relief and to assist in healing.
7. Late night snack basket beside your bed – Quick one-handed snacks will fill you up while you are feeding baby.
8. Prepared Frozen Meals – No need to think about what to make, have several options of ready-to-eat meals ready to go before baby comes (make your own or head to somewhere like simply supper).
9. Dim night lights – Make sure to have dim lighting for both your room & the nursery to make those late-night changes/feeds easier.
10. Baby Carrier – Baby wearing is a great way to cuddle your baby and be hands free to eat lunch!
11. Personal Journal &/or Baby Journal – Document both of your journeys, thoughts, emotions and changes.
12. POSTPARTUM DOULA - Hire someone to provide physical, emotional, and informational support that you need to understand your own physical/emotional recovery, and how to best care for your baby on your own terms.
Say YES to help when it’s offered, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Say YES when people offer to bring food, say YES to someone holding the baby so you can eat or shower. Also, don’t be afraid to say NO to playing hostess to others, and NO to visitors when you aren’t ready for them and would rather be catching up on sleep. Be PATIENT & KIND with yourself, you are amazing and it takes time to adjust.
Here are some light-hearted tips to help you have a positive experience through labour, birth and postpartum:
1) If you are having a hospital birth it may be hard to turn away from the contraction monitor. Try not to get too hypnotized by that monitor! This can distract you from mom and can make the experience less connected for her. Avoid comparing the monitor to her pain level, and steer clear of phrases such as “these contractions aren’t nearly as big as they were two hours ago” or “here comes a contraction.” She knows.
2) Be mindful of your words and body language. She is working through the most intense, all-encompassing experience of her life. Here are some examples of things not to say: “Does it hurt?”, “Are you okay?” You have every right to be tired, hungry, sore and anxious. But for the love of love, act like you are perfectly fine! Nothing you are experiencing is as intense as what she is going through, so be strong for her.
3) A labouring woman may quickly tune in to how others are feeling and acting. If you think you aren’t coping well, don’t let her see it. If you can, leave the room until you feel more composed. Be mindful of your expressions and body language.
4) Don’t ask open ended questions, especially late in labour. Stick to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, if at all. Instead of offering her three types of juice, just put one to her mouth, she will let you know what she wants. Instead of asking her which type of massage she wants, just try one! Labour is literally taking every bit of energy and attention she has. Asking questions that don’t end in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will likely irritate her and break her focus. Avoid speaking to her during a contraction.
5) Don’t interrupt a labouring woman who is coping well. Encourage what is working for her instead of trying to introduce too many new ideas or tips. Her intuition and instincts are strong. She knows what to do.
6) Do not encourage her to do things that do not fit into her birth plan. For example, if she really wanted to avoid pain medication, do not suggest it because it is hard to see her in pain. Her pain is normal and natural and she knows what she needs. She will tell you what she needs when the time comes. Follow her lead.
7) Sense of smell is heightened during labour and many women become quite nauseous and irritated. Do not eat in front of her as the smell of food might be a big turn-off. If she is not allowed to drink, don’t drink in front of her! If you step out for a bite to eat then brush your teeth before you return. Bring snacks that aren’t smelly. Offer her sips of her drink often.
8) As labour progresses, she will likely want the chatter toned down a bit. Follow her lead. Be silent if she is being silent. Nap if she is napping.
9) Speak softly and be reassuring at all times. Hold her hand, stroke her arm, mop her forehead and try to look at her face rather than what's going on at the other end. There are plenty of other people concentrating on that end - a look into her eyes will calm her down. Tell her she’s doing great!
10) Don’t ask her what you can do to help. She is likely too exhausted to come up with an answer, or she simply just doesn’t know. Instead, just try things that you think might help or perhaps just let her work through it. She’ll let you know if she likes it and if she doesn’t, don’t take it personally. I repeat, DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. She is doing everything she can to cope and that’s all she can manage.
11) Don't leave her alone. Unless she is resting and is okay with it.
12) Pack a bag of your own. Bring a magazine, book, snacks, or anything else to keep you occupied during long waits between any action. Bring a toothbrush and some fresh clothes.
13) Be her guardian and protector. For example: If you know she doesn’t want anyone in the room or that she really wanted to avoid something specifically, advocate for her when she isn’t able to do it herself. This may mean telling Aunts and Uncles that they cannot come into the room. This may mean asking the doctor for some privacy so you can discuss what he/she is suggesting.
14) Consider hiring a doula. Doulas are an invaluable resource who will offer you BOTH support, information, and resources. They will empower you prenatally with tools, tips, guidance and information. And they will support you on the big day so you, as the partner, can actually ENJOY this process, participating wherever you feel most comfortable and taking the breaks you need to recharge.