“How can I use yoga to guide my baby into the best position for birth?”
If you’re a pregnancy yoga teacher, it’s very likely you’ve been asked this question by one of your pregnant mamas.
If only there was a magic cure for turning those babies, but the reality is a complex issue.
However, there are small ways in which we can support a woman through the practices of yoga and specifically through asana.
Gail Tully is founder of Spinning Babies and a passionate advocate for supporting women during birth. Gail says that there can often be an internal misalignment, tightness and/or excessive muscle tension around the pelvis. Gail believes that this can discourage the baby from entering the pelvis efficiently due to a lack of space.
Internal misalignment can also inhibit the uterus lining up within the pelvis correctly. What we may see is presentations of the baby lying sideways (transverse lie), diagonally (oblique lie) or one that doesn’t fit as well because the chin is up (extension) instead of flexed (chin tucking in – ideally).
We know from our studies of yoga in a contemporary world, that our modern lifestyle patterns have had a not-so-positive effect on our bodies. Often muscles are shortened, lengthened and tightened leading to an unhealthy distribution and load to our posture and internal organs. The yoga asanas (postures) focus on releasing tight muscles and misalignments in the body.
In pregnancy, consistent practices of body preparation and movement — specifically asana — can make a huge difference to the way a woman’s pelvis functions in the lead up to and at the time of her labour.
Yoga will create space in the body in many different ways (outlined below), but it is important to refer and encourage our women to complement the practice of yoga with bodywork modalities such as osteopathy.
Kate Spiller, an osteopath who specialises in Pre and Post Natal care, explains that “Osteopathy is a wonderful way to address restrictions within the joints, ligaments and fascia of the maternal pelvis”. She goes on to explain that “..once these strain patterns and restrictions have been addressed through gentle techniques, full motion can be restored to minimise the stress to the baby and the mother during pregnancy and birth”.
If these physical limitations are addressed and the pelvis is free and unrestricted, the baby’s movement into the pelvis will be one more of a positive step towards a natural birth.
Bliss Baby Yoga’s Prenatal Teacher Training course, which is held online as well as face to face learning around Australia and overseas, delves deeply into this area with its focus on the ‘Five Posture Groups’ that work to release, support and tone the pregnant body in preparation for labour.
Here are some examples of yoga poses that help with the preparation of the pelvic area during pregnancy:
Cat Pose: Hip Circles on all fours and/or standing
The desired effect of all of these movements is to create a repertoire of movement patterns that may help change the orientation of the pelvis for birth.
Ensure that your student has adequate support under the knees and moves her body in a way that supports her needs at all times.
Prasarita Padottanasana / Standing Wide Leg Forward Bend (supported with hand on chair or block)
Modern life has made the sacrum more vulnerable than it used to be. This particular pose helps lengthen the hamstrings, which are attached to the base of the Iliac Bone (tuberosity). Ultimately this will affect the sacro-illiac joint function, which is essential for correct movement during a vaginal birth.
Notes: add more height to the chair as is necessary, and place her buttocks on the wall behind for extra support. Caution needs to be taken for Pelvic Girdle Pain.
Lunge Pose/ Anjaneyasana. Supported Warrior 1 (with chair)
In yoga we often talk about the benefits of releasing our psoas muscle to ease back pain, rebalance the pelvis, and for general comfort and alignment.
If the psoas muscle has excessive tightness, it has a cascade effect of unbalancing the whole of the pelvis and its associated muscles. By releasing the psoas we can help balance and correct the alignment of the uterus in the pelvis
Notes: blanket under the knees for extra support. Caution needs to be taken for Pelvic Girdle Pain.
Malasana / Squatting
Aside from any contraindications relevant to the individual women’s pregnancy, squatting helps to lengthen the pelvic floor and add flexibility to the soft tissues within and around the pelvis.
Janet Balaskas in her book, Preparing for Birth with Yoga, notes that when we squat the muscles in the back, gluts’ and pelvic floor lengthen and relax encouraging blood supply to the whole pelvic area. The pelvic floor muscles need to be in a state of balance to move the baby out.
We know that squatting is a fabulous position for giving birth, especially in the second stage where the inferior opening of the pelvis is opened to its widest, when in this position.
Note: Squats are considered too stimulating in first trimester in some cultures. Ideally begin squatting from second trimester if the woman has not ever included squatting into her routine prior, and gradually build up.
If you would like to expand your knowledge in teaching yoga for mums-to-be safely and confidently, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course, and Online Extension Modules covering topics including Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health. We offer a holistic approach to teaching Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga, with a focus on safety guidelines and contraindications for safe and appropriate practices to nourish prenatal students and new mothers.
Mari Notaras (E-RYT 200, RPYT, YACEP, Yoga Australia Registered Level 3 Senior teacher) is a senior facilitator for Bliss Baby Yoga and teaches throughout Australia as well as Internationally, and is also a course facilitator for our Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. Mari is currently working on a new online Bliss Baby Yoga Extension Module looking at yoga for Active Birth and couples’ birth preparation. Stay tuned!
Illustrations by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com
Further Reading related to this topic:
- Optimal Positioning with Anna Watts (VIDEO)
- The path of surrender: a key to a ‘good’ birth by Beth Ivy Buxton
- The Fruit of Birth by Nadine O’Mara
- The Sweet Sounds of Birth by Ana Davis
- Chanting, Mantra and Mudra for Pregnancy and Birth by Jennifer Allen
- Batteries included: the best birth support is inbuilt by Rosie Matheson