Nine months of excitement and anticipation are behind you. The joy of finally meeting the new arrival is yours. As the beautiful moment merges to minutes, hours and days, it may dawn on you... What happens now?
A new baby and a new routine means time to yourself may have gone out the window. Your whole being, physical, mental and emotional, has undergone a huge change. It is important to honour that and accept that it may be another nine months, or longer, until your body has returned to something resembling its pre-pregnancy state. Take it easy on yourself and don’t be in too much of a hurry to get back into your old jeans. After courageously giving birth and bringing a brand new person into the world, now is a vital time to be looking after ‘you’ too. It’s time to ensure you are getting all the nurturing and nourishment you need, so you can be in the best possible condition to take care of baby and, most importantly, enjoy being a mother.
The balancing effects of postnatal yoga
For some mums, fluctuating hormones, lack of sleep and adjusting to new routines may mean they don’t always feel balanced, confident or even very happy. No matter which category you find yourself in, yoga offers positive benefits to bring harmony to your life—physically, mentally and emotionally.
Yoga is a gentle way to keep active and supple. Asana (yoga postures) work the whole body, assisting with weight loss, toning the abdomen and pelvic floor, and helping to free the body from tension, which induces a state of relaxation in the body and mind.
On a physical level, performing Asana tones and balances our vital organ systems, in particular the endocrine system (responsible for our hormones) and the digestive system. During pregnancy these systems are often thrown out of balance. On an energetic level, Asana brings the whole body into balance by aligning the chakras (vital energy points) in the body, helping us feel great again.
Yoga differs from other stretches or exercise through its direct link to the breath. As well as gently reminding us to be in the present, the breath oxygenates the body and brain, which has a profound effect on our overall health, hormones and immunity. Energy levels and mental clarity are also increased—and that’s very helpful when you are living off a few hours of sleep.
During pregnancy, the lungs, intercostal muscles and rib cage move upwards to make room for the baby, therefore it is important to retrain yourself to breath correctly into your abdomen. Upper chest breathing causes us to feel tired and anxious. Yogic breathing techniques, such as abdominal breathing help us to install good breathing techniques, which calm the nervous system and strengthen the respiratory system.
Which type of yoga is best for new mothers?
It’s a real supermarket of yoga out there these days, so shop around and find a teacher that you feel is a good fit for you.
New mums can begin yoga practice six weeks after a natural birth or eight weeks after a caesarian section. I would suggest a slower-paced yoga class, such as Hatha, Yin or Restorative Yoga. Mothers usually have enough on their plate already, so we want to restore energy levels rather than cause exhaustion with an intense, high-energy class.
Yoga helps target key muscles around shoulders, neck and chest. These are the muscles that bear most of baby’s weight while breastfeeding or holding the baby. The back muscles are also strengthened for correct posture. Body alignment is centred through the hips, shoulders and the uterus/cervix, which are often offset during pregnancy. Toning of the pelvic floor and uterus is important after a natural labour to ensure the mother is less susceptible to vaginal/cervical infections and urinary incontinence. Specific yoga postures also support urinary health and tone the reproductive system, helping with prolapsed uterus and conserving the mother’s energy. Digestion is also improved, freeing us from a mentally stuck or cloudy state of mind.
Keeping calm helps mums carry on
When we feel relaxed and happy, we become less reactive to perceived stresses or emotions from baby and those around us. As a general rule, “calm mother = calm baby”. Therefore rest and relaxation for both mum and baby are of great importance. Listen to your body and take cues from it on what it needs. You can develop a plan to minimise overexertion and emotional stress and allow yourself time each day to relax (it may not always work, but do your best). Try to take naps when your baby is sleeping and don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to do it all. Now more than ever is a time where a mother needs to be taking care of herself, to prevent reaching the state of “burn out”. If you find guilt getting in your way of relaxation, remember that by looking after yourself, you will have far more to give to your loved ones.
Just remember, breathe, smile, laugh, do yoga and enjoy your incredible journey of motherhood.
No time for yoga? Don’t worry. Even these two rituals can make a world of difference post-baby.
1. Drink two litres of water a day. Make this something you do religiously as it's not only beneficial for recovery post-baby but it also protects you from the dehydration that comes with breastfeeding.
2. Abdominal breathing twice a day (morning and evening). Lie on your back (Shavasana) and relax the whole body. Place your right hand over your navel and your left hand on your chest. Inhale through your nose, drawing your breath down to your abdomen. On the inhale feel your abdomen rising. On the exhalation feel your abdomen sinking. Your left hand on your chest should remain still. Only the right hand on your navel should rise and fall with the inhalation and exhalation. Keep following your breath as naturally and fluidly as possible—there should be no force. Practice 20 rounds.