7 Ways Yoga Can Help Your Labor & Delivery

There are multiple benefits to practicing yoga during pregnancy.There are multiple benefits to practicing yoga during pregnancy.I was never really much of a yogi until back labor with my second baby had me down on the floor in the classic "child's pose" when nothing else worked to provide relief. Since then, I've learned so much about yoga's benefits for childbirth that "sign up for prenatal yoga" is now my go-to tip whenever a preggo pal comes looking for advice on how to prep for the big day. Are you planning a natural birth-or just want an easier birth? Check out these seven ways prenatal yoga help with labor and delivery.

1. Yoga Focuses Your Breath
One of the main benefits of practicing yoga leading up to your big day is the ability yoga gives you to tune in to your breath. According to Viji Natarajan, a DONA certified doula and certified yoga instructor from Fremont, California, "Yoga, by its very meaning is the union of body and mind. Through the branch of pranayama or breath control, yoga allows us to achieve control over our breath and subsequently, over our body. During labor and delivery ... our breath is a means to surrender and allow the muscles to relax to in order to facilitate the process and lessen pain." Natarajan also points out that focused breathing, especially belly breathing, helps to reduce labor-slowing stress hormones.

Want to give it a try? For a position that encourages breathing practice, try the half-Lotus position (shown here). Bring your right leg and place the foot over your opposite thigh. If possible bring your left leg over your right thigh. "Straighten your spine and stay steady, focused on your breath." Instead of shallow breaths, allow your breath to drop into your belly. "Close your eyes to increase your connection. Don't overdo it all at once. The first day, sit in the pose for a few seconds. Next time, try for a little longer. Keep increasing the duration till you can sustain the pose without feeling any strain," recommends Natarajan.

Related: 12 ways to relieve back pain during pregnancy

2. Yoga Shortens Time in Labor (!!!)
According to a recent study that looked at the average length of time women spend in labor, taking a prenatal yoga class can shave almost TWO HOURS off labor and delivery. In comparison groups, women who took a third trimester prenatal yoga class spent 559 minutes in labor vs. 684 minutes for women who didn't practice yoga.

Want to give it a try? "The kali asana [shown here] is a great way to tone your thighs and increase hip flexibility. "It enables you to relax your pelvic floor all in preparation for the labor and birth," says Natarajan. During delivery, the pose can help widen and shorten birth canal and utilizes gravity to facilitate delivery. "This can translate into a much quicker, easier and less painful birthing process, and reduce the stress for both the mother and the child," she adds.

To move into the position, start off by standing with both feet about 4 feet wide, making sure your feet are slightly wider than your hips. Make sure your feet are turned out slightly with your heels in line with one another. On the exhale, bend your knees until you come into a squatting position. Many women find it more comfortable to use blocks, a ball, a wall, or another person for support. Your thighs will end up angled down from your knees to your hips. As you move, make sure to keep your spine long and straight.

; 3. Yoga Opens the Hips and Pelvis
Preparing your body for birth means taking all those newly loosened joints and ligaments (thanks, pregnancy hormones!) and working them into proper alignment for birth. Prenatal yoga helps with this by opening the pelvic bones and hips -- and toning the inner thighs to help support this alignment.

Want to give it a try? Prenatal yoga instructor Jennifer Pettit, E-RYT500, RPYT, recommends the Supta Baddha Konasana or reclining tailor's pose (shown here) using props to support the body in this classic posture believed to open the pelvis, unburden the heart, and calm the mind. "The props support the mother so there is no direct weight of the fetus on the vena cava, the largest artery that provides blood flow and oxygen to the baby, allowing her to safely recline," Pettit notes. Use of props in helping the body achieve a posture is called "restorative yoga." Your prenatal yoga instructor can show you (and your partner) where to place props for maximum comfort.

4. Yoga Optimizes Baby's Birth Position
Baby's position during birth is one of the key factors in a smooth and easy delivery. According to Natarajan, yoga asanas (postures) such as Uttana Shishosana, a modified form of the "puppy dog" pose can help to increase the room in the lower area of the uterus and release any tight ligaments. "With more room in the pelvis, malpositioned babies can reposition! This asana helps baby rotate themselves so their head is coming down from an optimal angle," says Natarajan.

Want to give it a try? Start by being on all fours, legs wide apart slightly more than your hips. "Either bring your both hands out in front of you or your hands folded over one another on the ground to support your head," recommends Natarajan. Also be sure to keep your buttocks in the air and your back at an incline with the floor.

5. Yoga Relieves Back Pain
Just looking at this position makes my lower back muscles swoon! When my labor for baby #2 resulted in very painful back labor, I was able to find some relief (enough to make it bearable) by getting into the classic "child's pose" -- and staying there. Related positions, such as the "half tortoise" (shown above), offer similar benefits for muscle relaxation throughout the lower and upper back, and can help open the hips, adds prenatal yoga trainer, Nicole DeAvilla, ERYT 500, RPYT, RCYT.

Want to give it a try? The half-tortoise (Ardha-Kurmasana) starts by sitting down on a yoga mat with your buttocks resting on your heels. Inhale and lift both your arms to the sky. Bring the palms of your hands together and intertwine your two thumbs together. Straighten your back and feel the stretch and then exhale and slowly pivot down from your waist until your fingers and forehead touch the yoga mat. Hold this pose and focus on your breathing. When you are ready, inhale and come back to the starting position with your hands straight up in the sky above your head. Exhale, release your arms, and come back to the seated position.

6. Yoga Strengthens Your Birthing Muscles
Practicing yoga during pregnancy is a natural fit for toning the body's "birthing muscles," including the abdominals, the all-important pelvic floor muscles, and the legs. When you need to summon the power to push, you will be glad you signed up for prenatal yoga class. Plus, keeping these muscles strengthened during pregnancy can also mean bouncing back with a little more ease after birth -- and not peeing when you sneeze!

Want to try it? The Warrior II pose (shown above) helps to strengthen the birthing muscles and also helps to increase flexibility in the hips and groin. To get into position, stand with the feet at hip width apart, grounding the four corners of the feet into the earth. Extend the right foot back, lining up the heel of the left foot with the arch of the right foot. Gently tuck the tailbone under so that the back is not swaying and gently engage the abdominals and pelvic floor. Keep the back straight and the chin parallel to the floor. Bring arms up parallel to the floor and extend then straight out from the shoulders. If needed, stand against a wall or use your partner for support.

7. Yoga Improves Your Stamina
It takes energy, focus, and strength -- of both body and mind -- to make it through the marathon of birth. Because yoga focuses on each on these aspects, it can be a powerful way to train for the big day. As with all things during pregnancy, make sure first that exercise and practicing yoga are safe for you by checking with your prenatal care provider. Once you get the green light, think about joining a prenatal yoga class for pregnancy-friendly postures and instruction -- and a chance to bond with other yogi moms-to-be.

Want to try it? Once you have the focus and control to strike a tree pose (Vrksasana), what's a few contractions? To move into this position, begin with your feet together and your arms by your sides. Rock slightly back and forth to evenly distribute your weight and find your optimal point of balance. Slowly lift one leg from the ground, placing the palm of your lifted foot onto the standing leg. Place the foot anywhere from your calf to your upper inner thigh. Bring the palms of your hands together at your chest or lift your arms over head like the branches of a tree.

-By Andrea Wada Davies

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