Studies show Prenatal Yoga makes labor easier

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

I was in labor with my son for 4 days. It was intense, long, tiring, and enlightening. Leading up to my birth, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have an epidural or not. I kept going back and forth. While I was in labor at home, I took a shower to try and distract myself from the contractions. With the water pouring down on me, I realized that the reasons I didn’t want to have an epidural were 1. What if the lady who wrote “Birthing from Within” found out I had an epidural 2. I wouldn’t be part of the “natural birth club” and 3. I was going to miss out on some empowering experience.

Luckily I realized that it didn’t matter what Pam England knew or did not know, or thought of me or didn’t think of me. That one was easy to dispel. I struggled with the choice until I had a particularly painful contraction. I was standing at the foot of my bed, the lights were off in my bedroom. I shifted my weight from my left foot to my right foot and back again. I put my hands on the wall, bent at the waist, and made a 90 degree angle with my body, shifting my weight from foot to foot. I breathed, I hummed, I moaned. The contraction lasted for 2 minutes.

I did wind up getting an epidural, and I support all women in whatever choice they make in birth. Whatever your choice, it’s right for you! Giving birth to my son was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my life, epidural or not. I look forward to hearing your birth story!

If a natural birth is a goal of yours - or maybe to avoid a c-section, feel more confident, or experience less pain, then prenatal yoga is a great fit for you. Especially because there are no side effects. Let’s explore some peer-review studies that show how prenatal yoga effects labor and birth.

Less Cesareans

Two different studies have found that women who practice prenatal yoga have less c-sections compared to women who do not practice yoga. If you’re attracted to a vaginal childbirth then prenatal yoga is a great step to take in to make a vaginal birth more likely.

One of those studies in the US found that a group of women who participated in prenatal yoga had significantly less cesareans and more vaginal births. The group of women who practiced prenatal yoga also needed less inductions, less analgesics, a shorter first stage of labor, and their pain tolerance was better. The number of babies with low birth rate was also significantly in the group of women who practiced yoga. In addition, there were no adverse affects from practicing yoga.

An additional study found that women who participated in prenatal yoga were more comfortable during labor and two hours postpartum, had a shorter first stage of labor and total time of labor, and also experienced less pain than the control group.

Less pain during labor

If there is one thing that makes women nervous about birth, it’s the idea of being a lot of pain. A lot of women aim to have a natural childbirth (check out this article) without drugs, epidurals or interventions. If that’s your goal, though, how are you going to deal with the pain? Or even if a natural childbirth is NOT your goal - it’s likely you’re still going to have to deal with labor pains before you receive an epidural.

One of the most effective methods for preparing to deal with the pain of childbirth is prenatal yoga. Multiple studies have found that women experience less pain if they have practice prenatal yoga regularly. They had a higher pain tolerance and could deal with the pain of labor in a way that helped them stay relaxed and calm - less pain during labor!

More Confidence in Labor

In January 2019, a UK study was published that found prenatal yoga increases pregnant women’s confidence and competence for labor.

Women who attended prenatal yoga during this study reported feeling more confident in labor, especially as a result of using what they learned in yoga class a pain management strategy. Many of these women aimed to have a natural childbirth with no medication, and yoga was their method for getting there. It may seem simple, but the breathes learned in their prenatal yoga class were one of the noted helpful tools during labor.

It was really just the breathing; that was really what got me through the entire labour. (Chloe)

Birth is something women can prepare their best for, but it’s still unpredictable - and that can cause worry for some women. Prenatal yoga helped women feel empowered to give birth, and feel confident in their abilities.

Yoga maybe puts you more in tune with your body… I feel quite empowered in a way that birth isn't something that is going to happen to me: I can kind of be active in it. (Terri)

Prenatal yoga empowered women to do what felt comfortable to them during labor. They gained the confidence they need to sometimes go into a different position than what the midwife suggested, because they were practiced in listening to their body and responding.

The midwife and other people were telling me to get into certain positions and I did try… but… it was… more painful… So I chose the positions….Even down to the end she told me I had to lay down to give birth; and I wanted to be in the position that I was comfortable with, and I think that was listening to my body. (Chloe)

As a yoga teacher, I am always encouraging mothers to do what feels good to their bodies. That’s important during class, and is an even more important thing to apply during labor.

I had been practicing yoga and so therefore had built a relationship up with my body… Having confidence in your body, because that's the most important thing: knowing that you can do it, believing that you can. (Paula)

In this UK study, ninety percent of the women’s birth played out the way they had hoped; they felt in control, empowered, and confident. They cited yoga as an important ingredient in their birth turning out the way they had hoped, as well as their feelings about that birth.

I'm really pleased that the actual birth happened the way I wanted it… I generally think of the whole experience with a real sense of calmness… and I definitely think that's from yoga. (Terri)

Overall, this study, as well as this one, found prenatal yoga increased self-efficacy in women during labor. (Self-efficacy is feeling you can accomplish your goal). The four components of self efficacy were 1. Practicing breathing, labor positions, visualization, and other coping strategies 2. Hearing positive stories told by teacher and other class members 3. Positive statements and affirmations spoken by class members and teachers, and 4. relaxation, meditation, and practical work including modeling breathing through contractions whilst noticing and mitigating tension responses.

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