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What are some of the benefits of practising postnatal yoga after having a baby?

Yoga poses stretch and strengthen your body gently assisting a gradual return to physical strength and encourages a soothing environment for babies to experience their own bodies alongside their mothers bodies. So it perfectly answers the new mother’s needs for a calming yet vigorous way to align and strengthen her body while still having fun with her baby.

It is not recommended to practice a full yoga session until 6 weeks after a normal birth and 8 weeks after a caesarean birth. This is mainly because the body is in a period of healing and returning to its non-pregnant state, the uterus is involuting (shrinking), and there is a discharge (lochia) or post-partum bleeding that occurs for up to 6 weeks. However,

some basic exercises can be practised in this period like deep breathing, Kegel’s exercises (mula bhanda), cat pose and pelvic tilts.

In the two months after birth, the body is slowly returning to its pre-pregnancy state and is in a period of adjustment from pregnancy hormones to breastfeeding hormones, the menstrual cycle can return anytime from 6 weeks after the birth to 12 months depending on how long breastfeeding continues. During pregnancy the hormones progesterone and relaxin have allowed all the ligaments in a woman’s body to be more relaxed or flexible, in preparation for birth. Ligaments aren’t elastic structures, so if you overstretch them they don’t readily bounce back. This can result in unstable joints of the pelvis e.g. symphysis pubis, sacroiliacs and sacro-coccygeal, and it is these areas that are particularly vulnerable after the birth process. It is important to make the muscles strong again to support the joints. Therefore an emphasis in postnatal yoga is to strengthen the abdominals and lower back muscles to stabilise the joints of the pelvis, hips and spine.

Backache is a common complaint after childbirth no matter what type of delivery eventuated, due primarily to the weakening of the abdominal muscles in pregnancy and the new demands of motherhood. Between changing nappies, bending over strollers, lifting and carrying the baby, standing up straight can become a challenging activity. The poses in a postnatal class need to address this and regaining strength in the abdominal muscles will help support the back, therefore it is important to work the abdominals before working into any strong poses like forward bends, back bends or side stretches.

Another area of great importance in postnatal yoga is the strengthening of the pelvic floor – the muscles that line the bottom of the pelvis, from front to back and side to side. The effects of the pregnancy hormone ‘relaxin’ has relaxed the muscles of the pelvic floor during pregnancy, and the weight of the growing baby and uterus have put extra strain on the pelvic floor, causing it to weaken. The Kegel exercise is the common name for the pelvic floor exercises, which were originally developed in the 1940’s by Dr Arnold Kegel. Mula Bhanda (perinial lock) is the same thing that is used in yoga to control and exercise the perinial area, the difference is yoga incorporates the breath with the contraction of the pelvic floor. Mula Bhanda can be done as an isolated exercise kneeling in Vajrasana or incorporated into the yoga poses e.g. cat pose, triangle pose, downward dog pose, forward bends etc., eventually with practice and awareness mula bhanda will naturally happen in most yoga poses. Women after birth can attend any general yoga class, but it is important for the yoga teacher to be aware that the woman has recently had baby. It would be more beneficial though if the new mother can attend a postnatal yoga class from 6 weeks to 6 months. As this class is targeted to her specific needs and designed to support her recovery from the physical and emotional demands of birth, and to empower her daily life as a new mum with a baby. Mother and Baby Yoga is a safe and effective way of ensuring the health and happiness of both.

Yours in Birth & Yoga

Valerie Hamilton

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