In my work as a doula and a prenatal yoga instructor over the last 10 years, 450 births, and thousands of prenatal yoga students, I have noticed a trend.
Most women who regularly practice prenatal yoga, have faster and less painful birth experiences.
Of course there have been many exceptions and circumstances that increase length and intensity of labor, but the correlation is too great to ignore or write off as just coincidence.
I was thrilled when a study from Thailand was released confirming my theory.
Here is a summary of the findings of the Thailand Study:
To see the entire study (may require subscription) click here
This study examined the effects of a yoga program during pregnancy, on maternal comfort, labor pain, and birth outcomes. A randomized trial was conducted using 74-primigravid Thai women who were equally divided into two groups (experimental and control). The yoga program involved six, 1-h sessions at prescribed weeks of gestation. A variety of instruments were used to assess maternal comfort, labor pain and birth outcomes. The experimental group was found to have higher levels of maternal comfort during labor and 2 h post-labor, and experienced less subject evaluated labor pain than the control group. In each group, pain increased and maternal comfort decreased as labor progressed. No differences were found, between the groups, regarding pethidine usage, labor augmentation or newborn Apgar scores at 1 and 5 min. The experimental group was found to have a shorter duration of the first stage of labor, as well as the total time of labor.
I believe there are several reasons for the outcomes observed in Thailand.
- The focus and connection with the breath allows a woman to tap into the rhythm of their bodies and work with them instead of fighting them.
- Yoga can increase lung capacity allowing the woman to take deeper, longer breaths, which bring oxygen to the baby and mom, making contractions feel shorter and more manageable. A woman in a yoga class is encouraged not to hold her breath and tense up but to breathe deeply and right into the tension. When a woman is tense the contractions can feel much more intense.
- Women who do prenatal yoga tend to have more stamina (especially when practicing styles such as Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga which builds strength and flexibility while staying focused on the breath and on releasing tension); therefore they can go a longer time without pain medication. Typically getting pain medication slows down labor.
- Prenatal yoga releases endorphins, or “feel good” hormones, which she becomes accustomed to feeling while practicing yoga. These same hormones are released in labor and are much more identifiable to women who have been practicing yoga.
- Practicing a relaxation at the end of class helps women to get familiar with what their bodies feel like when they are comfortable and free of tension. It also gives them a practice of staying in the moment and focused.
The practice of prenatal yoga provides women with many physical and mental advantages when it comes time for them to give birth. My own experience has paralleled the Thailand study, which has concluded that in many circumstances, women who regularly practice prenatal yoga have More comfort during Pregnancy, Shorter and More Manageable Births, Less Medical Interventions, and Speedier Postpartum Recoveries.