Postnatal Yoga: Conditions and Cures for Mama and Baby
by Nora Issacs
The morning sickness, achy lower back, and fatigue of pregnancy have passed. But for new mamas, a whole different set of physical conditions often accompanies the bliss of loving your little creation. Luckily, a few simple yoga poses address the most common concerns. “Our bodies are always in transition, so don’t think that you have to be exactly the way you were before pregnancy,” says Jane Austin, a San Francisco-based pre- and post-natal yoga teacher. “But you can expect to be healthy, vital, and strong again.” And moms aren’t the only ones who can benefit from yoga; a few basic moves for the wee one can make your infant more comfortable and calm.
Poses for Mama
Problem: Weakened Pelvic Floor? All of that pushing during labor makes for an understandably compromised pelvic floor. After birth, it’s not uncommon to experience lessened sexual sensation or an annoying leakage of urine after a sneeze or a hearty chuckle. But it’s no laughing matter: a serious weakness could result in an organ prolapse, an organ that shifts outside of its normal anatomical position.
Solution: Kegel Exercises?These contractions correct incontinence and strengthen the pelvic floor. Pick your position: cross-legged position, Child’s Pose, or lying on your back. Then quickly squeeze the muscles that stop the flow of urine. Make the contractions progressively longer: squeeze for five, hold for five, and release for five. Repeat 10 times.
Problem: Aching neck and shoulders? Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, many new moms experience neck and shoulder aches—the result of many hours spent bending forward to feed the baby. The resulting hunched-over position can lead to the dreaded “forward head” position that may cause other problems such as headaches and back pain.
Solution: Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) Arms? While feeding, focus on keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the shoulder blades down the back, advises Austin. For a more active approach, try Gomukhasana Arms: Bring the right arm overhead and turn the palm inward. Bring the left arm out to the side and parallel to the floor and turn the palm outward. Bring palms together behind the back, using a strap if they don’t touch. Hold for five breaths, release, and repeat to the other side.
Problem: Loss of Endurance? After your baby is born, you might notice that running up the stairs isn’t as easy as it was a year ago. With your body recovering from labor, fatigue from caring for a newborn, and a change in your exercise routine while pregnant, a shift in endurance level makes sense.
Solution: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose)? Austin points out that standing poses like Warrior II build stamina and are highly accessible to most women. “New moms like to feel they are building strength, and with standing poses they can feel it in their body,” she says. Try Warrior II, named after the fierce warrior Virabhadra: with legs four feet apart, turn the right foot in and the left foot out 90 degrees. Bring your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, as you bend the left knee over the left ankle. Reach out with your arms and hold for five breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Problem: Weakened Abs?Along with growing and birthing a baby comes weakened and stretched abdomen muscles. Make sure to ask your doctor before starting any ab work: the standard recommendation is to wait four to six weeks after a vaginal birth, and eight weeks after a cesarean birth. Austin also stresses the importance of strengthening your pelvic floor before starting abdominal work; otherwise you could create too much pressure in the pelvic floor, which could lead to pain and complications.
Solution: Pelvic Rocking ?The key to maintaining a healthy abdomen after birth? Starting gently and moving slowly. Austin recommends lying on your back and tucking your belly button in toward your spine; exhale and tilt your pelvis up, inhale and tilt your pelvis back. Continue to rock your pelvis back and forth for gentle strengthening of the abdomen. Repeat 20 times.
Problem: Fatigue ?Waking up every few hours to tend to the little one doesn’t exactly make for a well-rested person. Although you won’t cut out all of your sleepless nights, you can deal with fatigue to make your waking hours more manageable.
Solution: Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)?When you feel exhausted, your breath becomes more shallow. A restorative pose such as Viparita Karani helps open the chest, encourages you to take deeper breaths, and aids relaxation and rejuvenation. Lay with your right hip against the wall and a pillow under both hips. Then slowly swing your legs up onto the wall, bring your arms out to the sides, and breathe deeply. Hold for two minutes.
Poses for Baby
Problem: Upset Stomach/Colic? A baby’s tiny digestive system is a fragile thing, and it’s no wonder they often experience painful problems. When your baby’s tummy is upset, try putting him into a yoga position that will help eliminate gas.
Solution: Knees to Chest? To start, gently draw your baby’s knees to chest so that any bubbles release. Kari Marble, a San Francisco Bay Area yoga and infant massage instructor, also recommends the following for gas relief: place baby on his back and slowly move his knees up into his belly. Hold for a few seconds, then release the pressure, and stroke baby’s legs to help him relax. Repeat several times. Next, bring baby’s knees back to his belly and circle his thighs in a clockwise direction a number of times. You can also try bicycling baby’s legs, alternating bringing one knee in to his belly while lengthening the opposite leg.
Problem: Long Bouts of Crying? Everyone knows that babies cry for a variety of reasons. But if you’ve tried everything and you crave silence, try a simple technique that not only calms baby down, but also promotes bonding with your child.
Solution: Ujjayi breathing? Hold your infant close your chest. Start deep Ujjayi breathing by audibly inhaling and exhaling through your nose with your mouth closed. The deep, rhythmic sound of your breath could very well soothe your baby. And if she continues to cry, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor: Ujjayi breathing will help mom stay calm and centered—even while holding a fussy and crying baby.
Nora Isaacs, formerly a senior editor and managing editor at Yoga Journal magazine, is currently a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who writes about health, fitness, and spirituality for such publications as Alternative Medicine, Natural Health, and Body & Soul. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also a part-time yoga teacher, Nora is eight months pregnant and looks forward to putting the poses into action very soon.