If you’re currently pregnant, you don’t need me to tell you that the pregnant body is constantly changing. One day you wake up and your nausea is gone but suddenly you have heartburn. Another day you abruptly have varicose veins. The benefits of prenatal yoga include helping with all the little (and big) aches and pains that come up throughout pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your body is changing for a few reasons:
- The sudden increase in weight throughout the body, but especially in the belly and boobs.
- The weight of the baby, specifically downward on your pelvic organs (and all of the internal rearranging that baby creates).
- The constantly shifting hormones of pregnancy.
- Increased blood volume, and all of the changes to your heart and lungs that accompany that extra blood.
For example, did you know your blood volume during pregnancy can increase by over 50%. That alone can have effects ranging from swelling in your hands and feet to nosebleeds! Prenatal yoga helps to reduce or even eliminate a lot of the aches and pains that come with pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga for low-back pain
There are two types of low back pain during pregnancy. There is the broad discomfort across the whole low-back or the acute pain right above the butt and below the back (usually just to one or both sides of the spine).
The first kind of pain comes from the belly pulling the low-back into a deeper arch than it’s used to and a lack of support from the abs due the growing baby. This puts more strain on the lower back muscles, which then hurt. Yoga can help by improving core and glute (aka butt) strength and support and gently stretching and releasing the low-back muscles.
The second, more acute kind of pain comes from the pelvis shifting to accommodate baby. As the baby grows during pregnancy, increased hormones make the joints looser. If the muscles and connective tissue around the bones are not well-balanced (i.e. some are tight and some are loose), the pelvis may shift asymmetrically or more than it comfortably can. This can result in SI joint pain during pregnancy or SPD (sympysis pubis dysfunction). Yoga can help by stretching and lengthening the tightened muscles and strengthening or stabilizing the pelvic floor muscles that are too weak.
Prenatal yoga for tight hips
The hips can feel tight for a few reasons during pregnancy. Put simply, looser connective tissue = tighter muscles. As your hormones cause the tendons and ligaments to get looser, the muscles tighten to compensate for them and keep you stable. Additionally, the deeper arch in the low-back causes some women to “waddle,” or turn their feet out more when they walk. This puts much more work into the hip rotator muscles, and less on the larger glute muscles. This can cause piriformis syndrome and even sciatic nerve pain (commonly misdiagnosed as “sciatica”).
Prenatal yoga helps with both by relaxing and stretching the deeper, smaller muscles of the hips that shouldn’t be overworking. And prenatal yoga strengthens the larger, stronger glute muscles that should be working.
Prenatal yoga for upper back, shoulder, and neck pain
I already mentioned those pesky boobs, which seem to be getting bigger daily. The sudden increase in weight in the chest, can do a number on your shoulders, upper back, and neck. (A fact any of our larger-chested friends could have told us.) Sometimes all this tightness even creates jaw pain, headaches, and rib pain.
The reason all of this discomfort happens is that the heavier boobs cause the shoulders and spine to round forward. This puts the muscles of the mid-back into a permanently stretched position (you can learn more about why that causes pain here), which makes them stiff and painful. The rounding forward in the upper back also forces the neck to compensate and arch forward more. That constant engagement can cause neck pain, headaches, and even TMJ.
Yoga can help by opening up the front of the chest and shoulders, stretching the neck muscles, and strengthening the mid and upper back to help hold the shoulders in place.
Prenatal yoga for swelling
During pregnancy, a combination of increased blood volume and hormones reduce blood pressure pretty significantly. What that can mean is that the blood moves a little more sluggishly, causing varicose veins, swelling in the hands and feet, vulvar varicosity, and hemorrhoids. Have a baby, they said! It’ll be fun, they said!
Prenatal yoga can help by getting your heart pumping (safely) and helping move your blood by elevating the swollen areas (arms, legs, even butt and crotch) through many different positions. By getting the body moving, you’ll experience less pooling of the blood in certain areas.
Prenatal yoga for acid reflux, nausea, and other GI issues
While prenatal yoga can’t necessarily eliminate your acid reflux, constipation, or nausea, it may help you manage it. These issues are caused primarily by hormones, so they are in some instances unavoidable.
However, breathing and meditation practices can help you get through the worst of your nausea, and learning to fully release and relax the pelvic floor may help with constipation (or, at least, help you avoid causing hemorrhoids by pushing through constipation). While yoga can’t fully eliminate acid reflux (trust me, if it could, I would have done it!), lengthening the spine and mobilizing the ribs may create a bit more room for baby, reducing the amount of upward pressure on your stomach.
There are so many more symptoms we haven’t even covered, but these are many of the most common. If you have something else going on, check out a prenatal yoga class and see if you can come up with some creative solutions. Learn more about what prenatal yoga is and why you might need it.