Yoga During Pregnancy - is it Safe?
My patients frequently ask me for general medical advice because they know that dentists are required to have a sound working knowledge of the body as a whole. They also know that if they ask a question about something that doesn’t fall within my specialism, I won’t try to treat them for it – not always an assumption they can safely make with their doctors.
A woman recently asked me if she should continue practising yoga during her pregnancy. My immediate reaction was that of course she should. But I’m neither an obstetrician nor a yoga instructor, and there are few things more dangerous than advice from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
So, in the interests of keeping you safely informed, I took a couple of friends out for a drink and got them to pay me back with advice. One of these friends is a consultant obstetrician and the other is an experienced yoga instructor. This is what they told me:
- As with any form of exercise, it’s basic common sense. If you listen to what your body is telling you and avoid any pose or movement that causes physical discomfort, you will not harm yourself or your baby. On the contrary, yoga can be immensely beneficial during and after pregnancy. It will make you more flexible and make your ligaments more elastic. This enables you to adapt to various positions during labour and will reduce labour pain.
- Yoga improves posture, reducing the incidence and severity of back problems which are common during pregnancy.
- Yoga boosts circulation and reduces fluid retention.
- Stretching exercises help to relieve aches and pains – but you must avoid excessive stretching or twisting of the abdominal area.
- Also avoid any postures that require strong use of the abdominal muscles. Supine (lying on your back) leg raises would be an example of this.
- Be careful with postures involving balance because your centre of gravity changes dramatically during pregnancy.
- Yoga has psychological as well as physical benefits – and you can’t have too many of those. By encouraging breath and body awareness, yoga reduces stress and helps prepare for the birth.
- You should stay well hydrated, stopping frequently for water breaks.
- Avoid ‘hot’ yoga such as Bikram during pregnancy because it can dangerously raise body temperature.
- Don’t force yourself to lie on your back if it’s uncomfortable. During the later stages of pregnancy, a uterus with a foetus inside is a large, heavy lump and your body knows where it doesn’t want this lump to press.
- You may be more prone to dizziness when standing from a sitting or lying position, so avoid sudden positional changes.
- Yoga is also beneficial postnatally because it strengthens the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. It will also help you regain your shape more quickly. Do not, however, attempt it for 6 weeks after the birth because you might tear muscles and other tissues that are in the process of repair.
In conclusion, I asked the experts to sum up their advice.
Obstetrician – ‘Listen to your body. If it feels okay, it probably is. On the other hand, if your body is complaining, don’t ignore it. Physical pain is designed to be a warning sign – not a challenge.’
Yoga instructor – ‘Don’t try to do this alone. Consult a qualified teacher and find a yoga class specifically for pregnant women.’
The governing body for yoga in Great Britain is The British Wheel of Yoga. Check them out at http://www.bwy.org.uk for further advice and a list of local registered instructors. Similar organizations exist in most countries.
Tom Nolan is a dentist with over 30 years’ experience.
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