When I did my postnatal yoga training I remember being told that women need to “properly recover from the trauma of birth, whatever kind of birth they had”. This has really stuck with me over the many years that I have been teaching both yoga for pregnancy and birth, as well as yoga for mothers and babies.
Many women are not recovering properly from birth and go back to general yoga
classes and other forms of exercise before their bodies are really ready. The postpartum
period can last up to six months, when muscles and connective tissues return to a
pre-pregnancy state. It is an important phase of recovery from birth, which varies greatly
from woman to woman, and has huge cultural variations too.
In the UK we used to have a period of postpartum confinement which included
bed rest for a period of time. Certainly, my mother’s generation who were having their
babies in the 1960’s, were encouraged to spend at least a week in bed. During this
time the new mother would have been looked after whilst establishing feeding and
caring for their babies.
Different cultures have various approaches to this vitally important time, when women
really need care, support, rest, good nourishment and exercise tailored towards
their particular needs. Taking time to gently regain core strength properly and not rush.
In our modern-day busy culture, there is a huge temptation, and perhaps pressure, to
regain pre-pregnancy weight, shape and be ‘normal‘ again. I think that many women
present the image that they are fine, and don’t perhaps admit when they are
struggling, and feel shy, or postpone asking a GP for help when things don’t feel right in
their body. The danger is that not recovering properly from birth can lead to problems
such as diastasis recti (abdominal separation), pelvic prolapses, urinary incontinence and postnatal depression – all things which many woman suffer from without really understanding the long term consequences in later life. We need to talk about these issues more and address them at the right time.
As a pregnancy yoga teacher, I am passionate about helping women prepare for
birth, both mentally and physically, and aim to give women confidence in their bodies’
ability to birth. We know that yoga is a wonderful way to connect to the body, thus
pregnant women can feel and understand what is happening to their changing bodies
as the pregnancy develops. They can also connect with their babies, become
knowledgeable about the birth process and be with other woman who are experiencing
similar issues. Pregnancy yoga classes can create a real sense of community for a
woman, especially important in a big city like London, a chance to make friends, much
needed in the early days of being a new mother.
Women really enjoy the classes for a variety of benefits, to relax, release tension, stretch,
strengthen birthing muscles and also for support in the period leading up to birth. I
often form very strong bonds with my students, as teaching pregnancy yoga is a
very nurturing and intimate practice, and feel their absence for a while when they
leave and become new mothers. I get many messages from new mothers saying how
much they miss their weekly pregnancy class, and I think it is the emotional support
they miss as much as the yoga.
Many of the women I teach during pregnancy come back to do mummy and
baby classes. This is a lovely way of keeping the community feeling yoga going with the
pregnancy teachers and other mothers. These classes are a wonderful way for
mothers to spend special bonding time with their new babies, do
some postnatal yoga and baby massage, and share experiences with other mothers.
However, I can see that many women cannot relax even when their babies are sleeping
beside them in class; with their babies with them woman naturally put their needs first. The more I thought about it and asked mothers and midwives, the more I realised that there is not enough focus on this crucial time of recovery. There are so many classes for birth preparation, (pregnancy yoga, pregnancy pilates, hypnobirthing etc.), and classes for mothers to attend with their babies, massage, yoga, music… but very few which focus on postpartum recovery per se.
I feel very strongly that many new mothers are not supported enough and not getting enough rest in the crucial postpartum period. There is so much focus on the
pregnancy and birth, and once the baby arrives, and the initial excitement from
friends and families has died down, partners may return to work, and many women are
left literally “holding the baby” at home with little or no time to focus on her ’self’.
The first six months with a baby are precious, time which cannot be repeated. To
be there and present looking after a baby’s needs 24/7 is exhausting, and at times
overwhelming and even lonely. These mothers need a chance to recharge,
repair and share together, without the distraction of their babies. They deserve some ‘mothertime’.