• Amy Cuthbertson

Benefits of meditation, mindfulness and yoga for pregnancy

Meditation involves focusing your attention for a set period of time, whether it’s on your breath, a mantra (repeated positive phrase) or the present moment. Meditation and other mindfulness-based exercises can have real benefits during pregnancy, including helping to alleviate a range of stresses, fatigue and sleep disturbances, boosts positive feelings and may even help prevent premature birth. It may also lead to healthier newborns with fewer developmental problems down the line.

Whilst stress is completely normal, studies show that prolonged stress may impact the health of your unborn baby. Cortisol and other stress hormones released over a long period of time prompt an inflammatory response that can result in a baby being born early. According to a 1997 study from the British Journal of Psychiatry, long term stress may have far-reaching effects on your child including hyperactivity and developmental problems. Meditation is proven to reduce physical and emotional stresses, enabling you to relax and lower your blood pressure. And the great news is you can do it anywhere, anytime. It can also help treat mild to moderate anxiety or depression during pregnancy. And practicing mindfulness meditation in the second trimester of pregnancy has even been shown, by Scientists at San Jose State University, to improve sleep for pregnant women.

If you include prayers and mantras into your meditation, the Mayo Clinic claims your baby may begin to hear after week 16. Studies link mantra chants and resonant sounds with calmer, happier babies.

Studies suggest that meditation may even improve the chances of conception. A University of Western Australia study found women were more likely to conceive when they were tranquil. A study from Trakya University, Turkey, discovered that relaxation meditation can also boost male fertility.

Meditation can also be helpful at reducing the fear of the unknown that goes along with labour. And combining deep breathing with meditation during childbirth can help to soften and relax the central nervous system, potentially even reducing your perceptions of the pain.

There are a number of benefits of yoga for pregnancy. If you are new to yoga, start by taking classes to learn under supervision. It is important to consult your doctor or midwife before starting classes to make sure it is suitable for you and notify the yoga teacher that you are pregnant (check they are suitably trained) so they can best support you. It is best to commence lessons during the second trimester, after approximately 14 weeks, since most miscarriages occur earlier than this, during the first trimester. There’s no evidence that practising yoga in trimester one will harm the baby, but most yoga instructors err on the side of caution. Generally, prenatal, hatha and restorative yoga classes are the best choices for pregnant women. Avoid power styles and those that take place in a hot room as this can be dangerous during pregnancy. If you are at an increased risk of preterm birth or have certain pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, then your doctor may advise against it.

Yoga promotes relaxation which can ease stress, reduce anxiety and depression, which is better for your health and the health of the baby. Yoga can improve the duration and quality of sleep, which can be interrupted during pregnancy. It also increases flexibility, which enables yoga mums to adopt various positions in labour. Their ligaments will also be more supple, which can help alleviate labour pain. Pregnancy yoga bending and stretching improves circulation and helps with retention of fluid. Yoga stretches and lengthens the spine and opens your shoulders, improving your posture. This can help ease back problems, which can be common in pregnant women. It also helps pregnant women prepare for birth through enhanced breath and body awareness and reduced anxiety.

Postnatal yoga, that can commence about six weeks postpartum, continues to have benefits through strengthening abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

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