According to the California Pacific Medical Center’s book, A Guide to Your Pregnancy and Newborn:
“One of the most important contributions to a healthy pregnancy is good posture.”
The principles of posture for a pregnant woman are the same as for anyone else: her natural curves need to be maintained, and all of the same principles of alignment as discussed in the last article on posture still apply. The trick is that especially when it comes to pregnancy, this is easier said than done!
The difference is that a pregnant woman must overcome numerous and ever-changing challenges in order to achieve and maintain good posture throughout her entire pregnancy.
These challenges come in the form of physiological, biomechanical, and psychological changes. Furthermore, the consequences of not maintaining proper posture throughout one’s pregnancy have many more potential complications than for a person who is not pregnant.
The First Trimester
From the very moment of conception, hormonal changes begin to take place in a woman’s body. In preparation for the miracle of birth, hormones carry a host of messages throughout her entire body. An incredible amount of energy is needed to put in place all of the various systems that will support and nourish the baby: placenta formation, increased blood circulation, uterus expansion, milk gland preparation etc. Once all of the systems are in place, the energy expenditure is reduced as each “system” goes more or less on automatic pilot. But until that time, the body’s intense preparations for the new child will normally cause a woman to feel very tired. Indeed, for many women the first hint of a new pregnancy that they experience fatigue.
I particularly remember when I first realized that I was pregnant with my second child—well before a confirmation from a test could be made—while I was on vacation in Arizona with my family. All of the sudden I realized why I was so completely content to sleep late, sunbathe by the pool, take an afternoon nap for as long as my first child would possibly allow me to sleep, and be in no hurry to do much of anything. I was very lucky to be where I was!
Other common conditions are feeling overweight and clumsy, morning sickness (ah, if only it had been just in the morning!), more frequent urination, and mood swings.
It might seem that the effect on posture, however, at this stage would be inconsequential. Think again. What do we all tend to do when we are tired? We slouch. And for those who are nauseated, think “even more slouching.”
And as though that were not enough, for some women, their tummies begin to relax and retain more fluid—they even find it hard to snap their pants at a time when they think they should not be showing yet. They become very self-conscious, which psychologically can result in—you guessed it—more slouching!
Now this is not to say that this will happen to all women. Many will keep their good posture with no problems during this time. Of course there are also those who will keep their same old bad posture at this time! This is why we want to encourage good posture right from the very beginning. First of all, it is not going to get any easier. The postural muscles need to be working correctly so that they will be in tone (and have a good habit established) before they take on the added work of supporting the weight increase that is on its way.
Correct posture also improves respiratory function. Being able to breathe well and fully will increase the amount of oxygen she is receiving during a time when there is an increased need, which can also help fight fatigue and, to some extent, lessen nausea.
Standing upright also makes one feel and look better. Working on having good posture in their standing and seated asanas right from the beginning will be very helpful. While in a prenatal class there is naturally a lot of emphasis on gentle stretches and opening in the pelvic area especially, the value of strength asanas is not to be underestimated. It takes a lot of strength not only to support the weight of the growing baby, but to give birth, and to hold and nurse a baby. The stronger the back, deep pelvic, and abdominal muscles, the easier it will be to maintain good posture during pregnancy, and after birth as well. So this is a perfect time to practice
In case you’re wondering whether Nicole is overstating the strain on the lower back during pregnancy, here she is at weeks 30 and 37 of her first pregnancy. Any questions?
the poses listed in Asanas to Help Improve Posture during Pregnancy.
I remember one day when the constant low-grade nausea (which I experienced for the entirety of both my pregnancies) was making me walk “less than tall” and had me in a less-than-ideal mood. Out of the blue, my one-year-old son began saying, “Happy. I’m happy.” It was such a wonderful thing to hear. It jolted me out of my cocoon of focus on the feeling of nausea and reminded me just how happy I really was! I unconsciously stood up straighter and began to focus on feeling happy instead.
Here is where Ananda Yoga® affirmations can be indispensable! Using imagery and words that keep the mind more positive will help to correct posture under these circumstances. And conversely, the better posture will help increase one’s sense of well being as well as a positive outlook.
Another note on the psychological aspects of the first trimester of pregnancy (and sometimes beyond): keep in mind that not all pregnancies are planned, even among married couples.
So sometimes a bit of psychological adjusting may be going on as well. Even a planned pregnancy can come with its own set of fears: what is happening to my body, without my control? will I be a good mother? will the baby be healthy? And for some, a long-fought-for pregnancy will carry with it the fear-thought: “will it last?”
This may seem to be going a bit beyond the bounds of “tips for pregnancy posture,” but it is a potential reality (although I suggest that you do not bring it up), and having a sensitivity to this possibility can be helpful. Again Ananda Yoga affirmations, plus your ability to project that your classes are a safe and nurturing environment for all, will be indispensable aids for your pregnant students. Couple this with helping them maintain good posture throughout their pregnancy, and you will be giving them an enormous gift.
The Second Trimester
Moving into the fourth month of pregnancy, many women begin to feel more energy than they did during the first trimester. For most women, if they had morning sickness during the first trimester, it will now be gone. And they are definitely “showing” by the second trimester. Now is a good time to reinforce the strength needed for good posture.
The abdominal muscles, which certainly are stretching during this time, also need to stay strong, as do the deep pelvic muscles. If these muscles are not strengthened, the weight of the baby will pull a woman into a swayback position, which will cause back pain. In addition, the more toned a woman’s muscles are before giving birth, the easier it will be for her to get her body back into shape afterward— and to withstand the postural demands of holding and nursing a baby. It is also important to keep the upper gluteals strong to support the sacroiliac joint, which will soon be loosening up (along with other joints) from the hormone aptly named “relaxin’.”
As for checking posture from a teacher’s perspective, we do just as we would normally do: start from the feet and work our way up. The points of alignment remain the same: the center of the ankle joint, knee, hip, shoulder joints and the ear should be in a vertical line. Be especially diligent in checking for hyperextension in all joints. As the hormone relaxin’ begins to take effect in a woman’s body, hyperextended joints become even more vulnerable to injury due to increased elasticity.
In addition, there will be a general tendency for the lumbar spine to hyperextend from the pull of the weight of the growing uterus and baby. Also, the weight of the breasts as they enlarge may cause rounding of the upper back. Both of these can cause various back problems. With the weight of the growing uterus, baby, and breasts, it takes more strength to support good posture—all at a time when good posture is increasingly important for preventing injuries and helping one stay as healthy as possible.
Balance may become more of an issue at this time as well. Generally speaking, the more active a woman is while pregnant, the easier it will be for her to adjust to an ever-changing center of balance. Less active women may find that their bodies are hard to balance because they have not been keeping up with the changes in a timely manner through activities that would naturally require balance. They are also more susceptible to being dizzy. During standing asanas, have them stand near a wall or chair, as needed.
Now the fatigue tends to return. The growing baby usually causes mom-to-be to get up at least once a night for a run to the bathroom, and staying comfortable for a good night’s sleep becomes more of a challenge! All of the postural challenges from the second trimester continue, perhaps more acutely for some, and a few additional ones arise, too.
For example, the breasts are taking on extra weight (approximately 3 pounds). Increased blood flow to the breasts to aid in the production of the milk, plus growth of the milk glands themselves, contribute to enlarged breasts. This extra weight demands stronger muscles to prevent slouching forward. Again, the regular practice of good posture can prevent slouching, as the muscles daily get a little stronger from the increased effort. As I mentioned, slouching can also be due to the psychological fact that a woman may feel self-conscious about this new shape of her body. As always, creating a safe nurturing atmosphere in your class, while encouraging good posture, can alleviate these potential feelings.
The average weight gain in a normal pregnancy is 22 – 35 pounds. Imagine beginning a weight training program. Your trainer straps some belts around you and begins adding one pound of weight each week into these belts. You must carry these weights with you, 24 hours a day. Even if you choose not to work out one week (perhaps you were too nauseated, or your two-year-old child was keeping you up for several nights because she had a fever and earache), your trainer will nevertheless continue to add a pound a week to your regime.
You can now begin to understand the challenge imposed simply by the gain of weight during pregnancy. It can be either a difficult challenge or an opportunity to get in really good shape. With my first child, I was probably the strongest I have ever been, because I kept up with the “weight training program” throughout the entire pregnancy! During my second pregnancy, the loving demands of my toddler made me unable to repeat the same feats of strength.
No matter how much I learn about the science behind how a child is conceived, grows, and is born, the entire event seems to me even more miraculous when I consider the additional knowledge about all that is happening for both mother and child. Pregnancy is a beautiful, hopeful time. There are many complications and disappointments that can happen at this time as well. And as I’ve described, it certainly is physically demanding.
As yoga teachers, let us be informed, but not intimidated, by the pregnancy process. If a pregnant student walks into your class, try not to let your first thought be something like, “Oh, my, I hope I can remember what the warning signs for premature labor are.”
Instead take the attitude that you are being blessed to be in the presence of one of God’s newest creations. Feel further blessed that you have been given the opportunity to serve both the mother-to-be and this new child about to be born. With this attitude, pray for guidance, take one step at a time, and feel the blessings for serving, through yoga, during this special time.
And don’t forget to have good posture yourself!