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Yoga During & After Pregnancy Benefits Mom & Baby, Research Shows

Yoga During & After Pregnancy Benefits Mom & Baby, Research Shows

The number of Americans practicing yoga is at an all time high. In a recent national health survey “approximately 21 million Americans were noted to practice yoga during the past year” 1. The reasons people cited for participating in yoga were increasing energy, enhancing immune function, and health and disease prevention.1

Trend or Underlying Truth?

So is this increased popularity of yoga just a fad or is there some truth to be found in why so many people are starting to appreciate this ancient form of movement and mind-body connection?  To determine scientific backing and validity, yoga research has significantly increased since 2000 and has surged since 2007, to include a significant number of randomized controlled trials 1.

Popularity of Prenatal Yoga

As more pregnant women in the U.S. continue to question the highly interventional, over-medicalized, technocratic model of obstetrics care, more women are turning to more whole-person focused care like yoga for self-care before, during, and after pregnancy.

Safety of Prenatal Yoga

Trending with the popularity of prenatal yoga is a focus on evaluating safety for the mother and the fetus. In one study, the monitoring of maternal and fetal heart rates showed no change in pregnant women’s heart rate or temperature or fetal heart rate and there were no falls or injuries. None of the participants reported fetal movement changes, contractions, or vaginal bleeding, thus ensuring the safety of prenatal yoga even as late as 38 weeks gestation. 2.

Lower Stress, Anxiety, and Depression During Pregnancy

The beneficial effects of yoga, while many mothers over the centuries have likely well appreciated, are now starting to emerge in science. Data reports in pregnancy show lower incidence of prenatal disorders 3, lower levels of pain and stress for mom 3, 4, lower sleep disturbances 7, higher relationship scores 3, greater gestational age offspring 3, 4, and reduced anxiety and depression 5, 6, 7. Even a single session of yoga has been noted to decrease state anxiety as well as cortisol levels in depressed pregnant women 8Yoga has even shown to be a more effective exercise than walking or standard prenatal exercises in terms of fetal growth measures 9.

Reaping Benefits During Postpartum Too

One recent study focused on mindfulness based cognitive therapies for perinatal depression (MBCT-PD) and incorporated sitting meditation, yoga practice, and breath focused meditation. Findings support “MBCT-PD as a viable non-pharmacological approach to preventing depressive relapse and recurrence among pregnant women with histories of depression” 10. Such results extended through 6 months postpartum. 10 Additional studies confirm clinically significant decreases in postpartum depression and anxiety as well 11, 12.

Future Path

While more research is needed to further and deeper explore effects of yoga on mother and baby during and after pregnancy, current research has already started to show yoga’s beneficial effects. The path for yoga to become a widespread best-care practice in prenatal and postpartum care may not be far off.

About the Author

Dr. Ginger Garner PT, DPT, ATC
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Ginger is a passionate, unapologetic advocate of improving access to healthcare, mother to 3 sons & a 20+ year veteran in Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine in women’s health physical therapy & athletic training. She is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, founder of ProYogaTherapy Institute and most recently uprooted to Greensboro, NC with her family after 21 years of beach living, where they are wildly joyous about their new hometown.

This and all blog posts related to yoga and/or physical therapy on www.gingergarner.com are not a substitute for medical advice and are not a prescription or program for individualized physical therapy. You must seek the advice of your health care provider and, only after a thorough physical examination and clearance, participate in any movement or exercise program. 

References:

  1. T. Field. Yoga research review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. (2016) 145-161. Epub 2016 Jun 16. 
  2. R.L. Polis, D. Gussman, Y.H. Kuo, Yoga in pregnancy: an examination and fetal responses to 26 yoga postures, Obstet. Gynecol. 126 (2015) 1237-1241.
  3. Q. Jiang, Z. Wu, L. Zhou, J. Dunlop, P. Chen, Effects of yoga intervention during pregnancy: a review for current status, Am. J. Perinatol. 32 (2015) 503-514.
  4. T. Field, M. Diego, Maria Hernandez-Reif, L. Medina, J. Delgado, A. Hernandez, Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity, J. Bodyw. Mov. Ther. 16 (2012) 204-209.
  5. K.M. Sheffield, C.L. Woods-Giscombe, Efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of perinatal yoga on women’s mental health and well-being: a systematic literature review, J. Holist. Nurs. (2015) (Epub ahead of print).
  6. H. Gong, C. Ni, X. Shen, T. Wu, C. Jiang, Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis, BMC Psychiatry 15 (2015) 14.
  7. T. Field, M. Diego, J. Delgado, L. Medina, Tai chi/yoga reduces prenatal depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, Complement. Ther. Clin. Pract. 19 (2013) 6-10.
  8. J.J. Newham, A. Wittkowski, J. Hurley, J.D. Aplin, M. Westwood, Effects of antenatal yoga on maternal anxiety and depression: a randomized controlled trial, Depress Anxiety 31 (2014) 631-640.
  9. A. Rakhshani, R. Nagarathna, A. Mhaskar, A. Thomas, S. Gunasheela, Effects of yoga on utero-fetal-placental circulation in high-risk pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial, Adv. Prev. Med. (2015) (Epub ahead of print).
  10. S. Dimidjian. et. al. Staying well during pregnancy and the postpartum: A pilot randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the prevention of depressive relapse/ recurrence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. (2016) 134-145.
  11. M.M. Buttner, R.L. Brock, M.W. O’Hara, S. Stuart, Efficacy of yoga for depressed postpartum women: a randomized controlled trial, Complement. Ther. Clin. Pract. 21 (2015) 94-100.
  12. S. Bershadsky, L. Trumpfheller, H.B. Kimble, D. Pipaloff, I.S. Yim, The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms, Complement. Ther. Clin. Pract. 20 (2014) 106-113.

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