Prenatal Yoga for Bed Rest
So you're on bed rest. That's the pits, especially at a time when you'd love to be out preparing for baby or moving your body. If you're my yoga student, I'm going to miss seeing you in class (but it's ok, because I'll see you at Mom & Me soon enough)!
You can still practice SOME* yoga, although perhaps not a physical practice and not with us in class. It might sound a bit hokey (but that's ok, because I'm a yoga teacher and I'm allowed to sound a bit out there), but you can spend some time sending out good vibes to baby. Let them know they are in a very safe place with lots of people looking out for you two, and ask baby to stay in for a little while longer. You can focus on your breathing... sometimes when things get crazy and you can hear your heartbeat in your ears it is good to think:
Inhale: "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in."
Exhale: "Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out."
Do this over and over again. If someone forwards you an email about something scary, delete it and then do this breath.
Try Ovarian Breath:
Imagine there is a long, golden cord wrapped around your hips and pulling into the center of the earth. That is holding you steady, just like baby's umbilical cord is holding them steady.
Now imagine that little flecks of light are rising up your spine as you inhale. Once start to exhale, allow that light to pour over your face, your heart, and back into your baby. Continue breathing in this way, never holding or restricting the breath.
There is a bit of science behind this... baby's endocrine system picks up on hormones from your endocrine system (and vice versa) so working towards the calmest state possible can have real results.
Actual physical movements*
- Ankle circles (each direction)
- Ankle extensions (push heel, ball, toe, curl your toes like you're grabbing something, and then pull the foot back to starting position)
- Wrist circles (interlace all fingers and make figure eight shapes with your wrists) go both directions
- Slow baby ab hugs. Slowly tighten your belly muscles inwards to hug your baby, then slowly release. Take several seconds for each.
- Arm stretches (using a belt, like a bathrobe belt, hold your arms overhead like the Y in YMCA with the belt between them. Move the belt forwards in front of you, then back behind you. It will kind of look like jumping rope).
- Keep the belt and do tricep stretches. Same grip, but now one hand is overhead and the other is by your low back. Your thumbs will face one another along the belt. Switch sides.
- Butterfly pose (sitting with soles of the feet together and knees open)
- Roll a tennis ball over any tense muscles you can reach, or put it into a sock and use that as a handle. Consider the hands, feet, calves, upper back, and really anywhere you can reach. You might be surprised to learn what is sore.
- Hands and knees, gentle "cat/cow" postures or just stay on hands and knees a bit
- side-lying leg lifts or stretches
*please, for the love of Pete, double check any physical activity with your provider. Bed rest can mean a number of things and can be prescribed for many reasons. Make sure you are doing what is best for YOU and YOUR babe. Take this list to your provider and verify that each and every action is ok before you try to perform it. Your provider may have additional exercises, too.
If your friends want to bring you things, say YES and TELL THEM what to bring you. Here is a fun list of things you may not have considered...
On occasion, I receive correspondence from various people asking me how I know what I know about birth and motherhood, since I have no children of my own. They want to know where I trained and what sort of "hidden agenda(s)" I might have.
I take this as a compliment.
There is a lot of varied information out there about childbirth, motherhood, fashion, and nutrition. I'm so thankful I don't have to know everything there is to know about those things. I don't know everything there is to know about childbirth and motherhood! And if you've ever met me, you know I'm hopelessly fashionless.
My credentials are outlined on my website, if you want to know what all of the fancy letters mean (squat, in fact). So while you're here, please enjoy the laundry as I air out my closet.
The baby will come out.
It's amazing, but true. You will not be pregnant with this baby forever, and you can probably give birth vaginally. If your provider says you can't, and you want to, ask lots of questions and/or get a second opinion.
The overwhelming majority of the time, a women grows a baby/babies she can give birth to.
It does not make sense that we have lived 3.5 million years on Earth by growing babies too big to birth. It's a tight squeeze, and in very rare cases it is not physically possible.
We are lucky to have modern medicine and obstetric care.
When problems arise, babies come early, mamas get sick, or accidents happen, we are incredibly fortunate to have access to lifesaving procedures, medications, and information.
Doulas are superheros.
And worth every penny, even if you love your provider, your spouse and your mother and want everyone in the room when you give birth. What's a doula? How do you choose? How do you hire me as your doula?
You are not expected to know everything about birth before you have your baby.
And if you do, it's a waste of time. You are not going to turn around and deliver the next baby, you just need to know enough to feel confident in your team. A birth class will tell you what you need to know.
The internet is for porn.
(That's a line from a musical). The internet is not for birth or mothering advice! There are safe places where you can get good, reputable information, and great places where you can network and commiserate about how long it has been since you peed alone.
Dr. Google is not your friend.
What to Expect When You're Expecting is not worth your time.
This book is about being afraid. Being very afraid. The authors forgot that birth is normal and that everyone walking around was born. I recommend these alternatives.
Breastfeeding is normal, natural, and possible (and comes with some hurdles).
The hurdles are real and without help, it can feel impossible to move forward. Help exists. Learn about it. Please ask me.
Everyone is trying to sell you things, because you're part of a "market."
For instance, I would like you to come to my classes. Other people want you to buy things not because you need them, but because they are selling them. This includes me. You don't need prenatal yoga. You don't need a crib skirt. Right?
Boobs and a carseat are the only things you actually need before baby comes.
If you're pregnant, you're halfway there. You can buy things later, I promise.
Motherhood isn't all roses and rainbows.
Everyone has a different journey to motherhood, with different baggage. You do actually need Mom & Me yoga to form a community where you can remember that you're doing everything right (even when you do something wrong).
There are bad mothers out there, but you're probably not one of them.
Everyone tells me, "I'm such a bad mother!" Then they talk about the time they put junior in mismatched socks, or turned their back and he rolled off of the couch, or gave him formula. Everyone makes mistakes, and mistakes do not make you a bad mother.
You are beautiful.
Yep, you. Even if you're covered in spit up or your ankles are as wide as your hips. Mama lions are amazing and so are you. Rawr.
That's my agenda. I reserve the right to amend it at any time.
What did I miss?
Yoga, Plus One
Photo: Pure Presence Photography
If you're not ready to give up your regular yoga practice, but are not sure how to adapt your practice to accommodate for that bun you're baking, here are my most basic tips.
First, clear your yoga practice with your midwife or doctor AND tell your instructor you're expecting. Basic truths in life: full disclosure yields the most honest relationship and best chance for success.
Do 80%: If you normally practice five days a week, either cut to four or scale back the intensity of your practice. The most important thing you're doing these days is creating another person, so devote some of your time and energy to that, why don't 'cha? If you're relatively new to yoga and attending a non-prenatal class, assume that you will participate at the 80% level. It's ok to get a B- this time.
Don't put an oven in a sauna: My general rule for my own life is to use the past 2,000 generations of humans on Earth to evaluate my own behavior. Have they illustrated great success doing what I'm trying to do? If not, why not? Has this most modern generation demonstrated success? I feel this way about super-heated yoga. Even if YOU have been doing it for a dozen years, it isn't time-tested (the way tofu has been for 5,000 years) nor is it a very popular thing to do (like air travel).
Say Goodbye to Tummy Time: Save it for baby! Do not lie down on your belly. Do not put pressure on your belly. No matter what the instructor tells you to do, if it involves pressure on your belly, just skip it. Substitute neck and shoulder stretches you've learned in a prenatal yoga class. Similarly, if you are instructed to take a forward fold that would put pressure on your belly (either standing or sitting) try bringing your legs wide enough that you can do the pose without hitting your belly.
(Don't) Do the Twist: Twisting your pregnant belly is not a great plan for you later in life. Try not to turn any further than you would if you were backing out of a parking space. Avoid anything that brings the opposite arm to the opposite leg. Often times you can turn the other way, like in the photo listed at the top of this article.
Don't Rock the Boat: A couple of meanings here. First, no core work. None. Any time the rest of the class is doing crunches, sit-ups, or boat pose, get on hands and knees and do spine strengthening exercises from prenatal or take child's pose (no pressure on belly). Additionally, no jumping. You won't want to jump, but you might be in a crazy yoga class where the instructor tells you to jump forwards and backwards or other silliness. No jumping.
Get Off Your Back: There are times when it is appropriate for you to lie on your back during pregnancy and times when it isn't. If you're not sure, stay off of your back. The end of class savasana is a delicious and important time during which your body is focused exclusively on healing. Don't skip this part, but do skip the back-lying variation. You can easily lie on your side and use blankets and blocks to support your knees and head and make you comfortable.
Each woman has the right to make her own decisions about what is best for her body during yoga, and this isn't a comprehensive list of everything a pregnant woman would want to avoid. When in doubt, I recommend choosing something from the vocabulary of prenatal yoga and substituting that for the unknown pose.
Finally, do not allow yourself to compete with others, particularly other pregnant women you see doing something I've recommended avoiding. Yoga is not a competitive sport and each mama is responsible only for her own choices. Don't let others make your choices for you!
I wrote this article for Marmapoints. It has some great suggestions for yoga teachers and students, if I do say so myself!
Benefits of Prenatal Yoga
If you're reading this, someone has told you that prenatal yoga is a good idea. What did they tell you? Most likely they wanted you to feel relaxed, and maybe find a more restful sort of exercise than the six miles you usually run on a daily basis.
Well, great! Prenatal yoga offers some time for relaxation and is indeed less vigorous than running or power yoga. But what are you actually going to get out of it?
When I started teaching prenatal yoga, my answers were: mental preparation, physical strength, and a sense of community. I wasn't totally wrong! Here are what some of my prenatal clients have mentioned.
Companionship: if you are the first of your group of friends to get pregnant, or if you are far away from your closest friends and family, you will enjoy getting to know women who are a few months ahead of you. Not only do you get a preview of what to expect in the next several months, you might even make friends that will support you. And then, of course, you'll end up helping the next group who are a few months behind you.
Mental preparation: I know, I know, you're already mentally prepared for childbirth. Oh, you're not? Well I offer a special physical exercise that helps you prepare for what you might experience during labor. No, we don't simulate labor. And yes, some childbirth preparation classes offer the “hand in the ice bucket” or “safety pin on the ear” exercises, but you only do them once. Each time you attend a prenatal yoga class I put you in a safe yet uncomfortable place and ask you to stay there for several minutes. Each time you go through this exercise, you learn more about how YOU cope with discomfort and pain, what techniques you've learned are helpful and which are less helpful. Do you like to move when you're in pain? Be touched? Talk? Turn inwards? Come and find out. Also, for the record, this is the portion of the class that everyone notes after baby was born as the most important.
Physical strength: It isn't all about relaxation, your body is training for the marathon of labor and childbirth. Rather than relaxing and “saving up” your energy, you need to move (unless your provider recommends otherwise). We use specific exercises to build strength that you will use during pushing. Keep coming to yoga until your provider tells you not to! Most women practice all the way through their pregnancy and are then much more physically ready for the work of labor.
Connection: Some women instantly feel connected to their baby(ies), but most do not. Whether your pregnancy was planned or a surprise, it is important for you to spend time communicating with your baby, or opening up lines of communication. And I'm not a crazy yoga lady telling you that; your baby is affected by your hormones, your emotional response, and your stress. You don't decide when labor starts, your baby does. We spend several minutes in class opening up to this new relationship.
Information: Whether you're learning where the other participants got great deals on their cribs or asking me questions about childbirth or breastfeeding, this is an unparalleled resource of information. The internet is an ocean of details and conflicting information, and sometimes it can be quite scary. I've attended many births, read most childbirth education books, met many local birth professionals, and am pursuing my certified lactation educator credential. While I don't know it all, I'm determined to help you find the answers to your questions (without scaring the bejebus out of you).
Massage: This side perk is probably the reason that most women come back week after week. I'll teach you some techniques to work with a partner to relieve the discomforts of pregnancy, but I also offer a brief shoulder/neck rub during the last several minutes of class.
But what are the benefits of Mom & Me Yoga?
"We think you look FABULOUS!"
There comes a time for every pregnant woman when the urge to relieve pressure on sore joints and swollen ankles outweighs any trepidation of wandering out in a swim suit.
For your sake I hope this happens earlier in your pregnancy rather than later, because the only thing I recommend more strongly than prenatal yoga for the healthy pregnant mama, is getting into the water. Why? Because it feels great and helps your body get stronger without adding stress
Why swimming makes you feel better:
- You don't weigh any less in water (trust me, I took many science courses in college) but your joints will not be bearing as much weight because the water will support you.
- Everyone is graceful under water. Even if it seems your body is rebelling against you on land, you will be
- You can float on your back and stretch in new ways.
- Baby will move off of your bladder.
- The water is cool.
- You are unable to text in the pool.
You will drink even more water:
- With most of your body beneath the surface of the water, the hydrostatic pressure on your blood vessels increases, making your body naturally want to shed more water (aka pee). This is great for mild swelling, because as the water moves from your blood vessels into your bladder, it pulls more water from your swollen tissues to replace blood volume.
- I'm not saying you should pee in the pool/lake/ocean, I'm just saying that not everyone would notice if you did.
If someone says something nasty to you, or even looks at you with questioning eyes, think of the following:
- They are still evolving. They are currently in the mean troll phase of life and you should pity the fool.
- They are naturally curious because no one teaches anyone anything about sex ed anymore and they want to know what has happened in your life. Offer some education.
- Hear me SCREAMING from across the room/beach YOU LOOK FABULOUS, MAMA! Because I think you look amazing, all the time, no reservations, no exclusions.
Me, with two great conversationalists.
The most common complaint I hear about being a new mama? Abject boredom once the circus leaves town. Don't mistake me, most mamas breathe a sigh of relief once family, in-laws and outlaws ride off into the sunset, but a few days later magazines, Facebook, and daytime TV start to lose their charm.
Some mamas immediately join playgroups or mama and me yoga. But even these outings, as arduous as they can be the first couple of times, don't fill 24 hours.
Suggestions for Things to Occupy Your Mind
Stitcher. Video may have killed the radio star, but bad writing and political commercials killed the TV star. I love listening to podcasts, but know that it can be tricky for new mamas to download new episodes or spend time synchronizing devices. Stitcher is an application for mobile devices that works like Pandora radio. You download the free app and then have access to streaming podcasts. My favorites include This American Life, Fresh Air, Freakonomics, La Tavola Marche, and The Boob Group.
Handheld readers. The beauty of a Kindle in particular is that you can read a library of books with one hand, without turning on a bright light (some phones also work, but the lighting isn't quite as fancy). It is backlit and lightweight, and easy to manage while breastfeeding. Our local library lends ebooks which you can obtain without even leaving home. Bored in the middle of the night? Download something new.
Research. If you have the internet, the world is your oyster (but beware the undertow). Look for positive things, like vacations you'd like to take, graduate programs you might pursue, or how to win big at blackjack. Avoid the rabbit hole of medical websites. Do not research All the Things that Could Go Wrong, because there are plenty of panicky messages on message boards with truly insane recommendations for home remedies. Plan a mythical trip to Sweden, or learn what it takes to get a visa into Bhutan, but don't google "small red rash on baby's booty."
Also, if I may recommend avoiding games. Sure, they make the time go by, but at the end of the day you will have nothing to chat about with your partner or the other mamas at yoga. Learn a thing or two and make yourself an excellent conversationalist because you may end up talking to yourself at times, and don't you want to be interested in what you have to say?
Don't Take This Lying Down
Photo credit: Bob Rebello
Producing an entirely new human is not exactly a cakewalk; it takes quite a lot of work. While my friend Katie Wise of YoMama Yoga in Boulder says “There is no such thing as an unproductive pregnant day,” this is a whole new brand of productivity.
Most of us have been trained to show how hard we work in one of two ways: brilliance or physical discipline. Unfortunately, the rules of pregnancy are entirely different. Rather than divining marketing plans or pushing yourself to take an extra lap on the track, you now get to achieve the most primal and impressive feat, which includes new mental and physical preparation. Each step seems like a lot to chew on, but each phase from pregnancy to birth to motherhood prepares you for what is next and stretches you beyond your previous concept of self.
Mental Strength Training
Release Linear Time as You Know It: If you are a calendar gal with lists of what to do and buy and exactly how to allocate each minute, schedule a little free time this coming week where you will take off your watch, step away from technological things, and make a concerted effort to follow your body. A solo walk sans tunes and podcasts might sound torturous right now, but you'll find that once you get into it you separate yourself from time. This is crucial as you move through the birth process, because as plugged in as you are right now, your uterus obeys no man's clock. Neither will your baby.
Divide and Conquer: Emotions run high during pregnancy because hormones are coursing through you. Your baby gets a hormone bath each time you think of the accidental bender you went on when you may have been one week pregnant. Start to talk to your crazy self like this “Wow, I can't believe the one time I went to Vegas and got smashed was also the same time I probably got pregnant. I have likely done some irreversible harm to Spud.” Self two replies: “Sounds like you're wallowing in regret instead of working on your kegel exercises. Kudos for laying off the booze ever since. Now get clenching.”
Shields Up, Brace for Impact: Know your triggers. If your well-meaning mother in law insists on talking about your weight and you know that there is nothing short of alien invasion that will redirect her, plan your retort(s). It can be fun to plan all sorts of nasty rebuttals to her commentary like “Actually, I wouldn't know what a bowling ball looks like when balanced on two chicken legs, because bowling while eating wings sounds mighty unsanitary,” or, “So we're clear, if you call Spud 'portly' once s/he's on the outside, I promise to feed you to the Children of the Corn.” And then, plan your real strategy, “My midwife/doctor says I'm very healthy and I'm glad to hear you agree.”
Physical Strength Training:
Sometimes your provider will tell you to hold still for awhile, but if they want you to keep moving, here are some thoughts I have about that.
Shoot for a B-: If you were training for marathons before your pregnancy, you may want to scale it back just a tad. Because a good portion of your effort is going towards creating life out of kale salad, you needn't push yourself to accomplish any other magic. 80% effort is your new standard.
Prepare to squat: Squatting during birth is all the rage. Women all around the world do it instinctively, and you probably will to. This is a great time to practice your birth positions by strengthening your squatting muscles. Be careful to do this under the advisement of a birth provider or skilled prenatal yoga instructor *shameless plug* so that you don't injure yourself or negatively affect the position of your baby.
Melt: Learning to unclench every muscle in your body during and between contractions can make labor a whole lot less consuming. Particularly when you are performing a mental exercise, or have some level of stress in your mind/emotional body, soften your physical body and your mind will follow. Practice makes perfect, so start as soon as possible.
Message in a Belly
Pure Presence Photography.
When is the last time you scheduled a regular conversation with your internal organs? For the sake of your mental health, I sure hope your answer is "never" or "last Thanksgiving." We don't have to check in with our spleens or livers, and our digestion seems to march on without our explicit direction. Our bladders are uncooperative and selfish.
Perhaps this is why spending time "communicating with your baby" seems silly. Throughout pregnancy you might spend more one-on-one time with your toilet. In the first trimester, you're engaged in what my college friend Steve called "confessions with Father John" while later on you become a frequent flyer.
So when are you supposed to "connect" with your baby, and why on earth would you do it? My thoughts below.
Preconception: if you're a woman, the makings of your baby are already in you. Not only do you have one half of the genetic material and instructions, but you have the building blocks, too.
1. Start cleaning up your act. Ask yourself "would I feed cheese puffs/diet pills/red dye #492 to my baby?" If not, stop eating it. Your body remakes itself constantly using the materials you put in. And do you know what you make your baby out of? You.
2. Treat yourself the way you'd like the mother of your child to be treated. Get some sleep and cultivate the things in your life that make you happiest.
3. Spend some time in the quiet of life sharing your thoughts and feelings with that bit of mystical magic (or physics) that babies come from. If you're ready for baby, put that sense out there "Open for business". If not, be polite and let baby know you're closed for the season but will be open the day after Memorial Day.
The Hopeful Place: from the moment you start trying until you make it through the first trimester, I like to think you're in the hopeful place. Most faith traditions set the work of the soul a bit behind the work of the flesh, so focus on your physical well being and set your sights on the hope that everything will turn out as it should.
1. Start to focus your mental worries and fears into physical actions, like walking, knitting, compulsively working the knots out of all of your necklaces, etc.
2. Focus even more intently on your self care by saying no to things you don't want to do and making more time for yourself. You and your baby will fill this space in no time.
3. In the place beyond words is the hopeful place, where you open yourself up to instinct. Every time you say or think "worry" reframe the thought into "hope." For instance: "I'm worried that I haven't felt my baby move" to "I hope I get to feel my baby move soon."
The Investment Place: Once you cross into the second trimester, you're in the investment place. Perhaps you share the news with family, friends and coworkers or start to see that Thanksgiving belly push beyond the limits of an overindulgent meal.
1. Take several minutes a day to put your hands on your belly and showcase your feelings to your baby. She is getting the same surges of hormones you're releasing, so if you're stressed, she can feel it to! Tell her what the stress is about.
2. Open the incoming channels, if you haven't already. Your baby is not tapping in Morse Code on your bladder, but she may still have sneaky ways of sending you messages back. Listen for them.
3. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, you will start to have better intuition about everything. This doesn't mean that you ate bad eggs, or that you should open a 900 number and go into the psychic reading business. This special power will help you navigate your birth with all of the expertise of the millions of women who have come before you.
Pregnant Women Are Hot
As someone who teaches two styles of yoga: prenatal and heated vinyasa, I've come to learn this particular fact quite well. A few weeks ago I inadvertently started heating my prenatal yoga class when I turned on the heater instead of the fan.
The class was not amused.
As a I child I remember countless times my mother told me about how she specifically planned my birth for January so that she wouldn't have to be pregnant in July. This never made a lot of sense to me, as I was literally four years old when she started sharing this particular tidbit. Now that I swaddle myself with pregnant women on a biweekly basis, I've started to realize that she shared with me because my mother is a Virgo. This means her mother must have shared with her JUST how fun it was to be pregnant in Cleveland with an August baby. Before air conditioning.
Having no babies of my own, I practiced my prenatal yoga teacher training with the aid of a microwaved bag of corn which I tucked into my shirt/pants. I believe this to be a close estimation of how it feels to be pregnant (temperature wise, at least). Imagine carrying your laptop in your pants after surfing the interwebs for an hour. This is how pregnant women feel all the time.
Keeping mama cool is so important, because in utero, baby cannot regulate his own temperature. He doesn't get to sweat, or say he's thirsty, or ask for a timeout from the 98 degree hot tub he lives in.
The most uncomfortable times to be pregnant include:
1. Being outside in the heat, especially in a car.
2. Anything that involves exertion (which is why swimming is the BEST). Yoga is a close second.
3. Cooking or being around cooking appliances.
5. All times in-between.
Things You Can Do for A Hot Pregnant Woman:
1. Do not tell her she looks hot (unless you are her partner and you are taking a calculated risk even then, my friend).
2. Offer a cool foot bath and foot massage with a cooling lotion, like aloe vera or a pregnancy approved minty foot rub.
3. Get her to a pool. Swimming, as long as the provider is on board, is cooling and relieves stress on the joints.
4. Cool the car before she gets in, if possible, and park in a shaded area.
5. Take care to keep the bedroom as cool as possible and offer her a cool washcloth to place on her forehead or neck. Sleeping in the basement never sounded so good.
6. Make sure she gets plenty of water to drink. Keeping her fluid levels up is crucial as she's sweating for two and trying to maintain an adequate level of amniotic fluid. Ask her provider if you're not sure how much she should be drinking.
When the going really gets tough, think about taking some time to go see a mid-day movie and bathe in the air conditioning, or try a frozen treat. Chocolate dipped frozen bananas are a personal favorite and are easy to make and relatively nutritious.
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
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