Yoga-Based Birth Skill #1- Movement (Asana) - The History of Using Movement During Pregnancy and Childbirth

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 Movement including walking, position changes, and upright positions improve the effectiveness of contractions and reduce the overall length of labor without any other intervention usage or negative effects to mother or baby.

Movement is a harmless practice that also improves a mother’s sense of comfort and control.

Movement is a form of labor pain management. It can alleviate suffering and reduce pain.

I say these things about moving during birth now, and the wisdom and adoption of this practice is commonly accepted in this day and age, by almost everyone——BUT…

During the late 1700’s the King of France wanted to watch as his mistress gave birth, so he commanded that she position herself during birth for his viewing pleasure, this recumbent sort of positioning is now known as the lithotomy position (1st devised for surgery to remove gall stones) patient lies on back with legs lifted in stirrups. Doctors came to prefer this positioning as it made their practice of delivering babies much easier.

It is also easier to use forceps and today this position also plays well with the “trash bag of birth” placed under your bum during delivery. Doctors and Midwives are trained using this position. In truth, if for nothing else it does make it easier to see what’s happening.

It is NOT comfortable, it is NOT natural and it is NOT easier for women and babies.

It gets worse as the truth is that the concept of moving and exercise during pregnancy and birth took another hit in the late 19th century. Daphne Adler in her recent book “Debunking the Bump” gave the following perspective:

During the 1880’s pregnant women where encouraged to remain indoors and near term were generally confined behind closed doors. Women were also encouraged to wear corsets to minimize the size of their bumps. Yes, this was the actual “medical” advice given to women by their doctors during this time period and women complied.

In 1985, pregnant women were advised by doctors that their maximum heart rate should not exceed 140ppm, and pregnant women should not engage in strenuous activities for longer than 15 minutes.

In 2002, (yes— almost 20 years later), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) reversed this position and admitted that there is little evidence that exercise guidelines need to be different for pregnant versus non-pregnant women.

2010 even saw pregnant women preparing to run marathons, and in 2011 a mom finished the Chicago marathon, ran to the hospital and had her baby in just 4 hours of labor.

In the 21st century women have been given the green light to exercise freely. Exercise does not divert blood supply away from your baby, it does not cause dangerous fetal heart rate palpitations, raise temperatures to worrisome levels or result in undersized babies according to a recent (as of 2018) report by ACOG.

As a prenatal yoga teacher I was naturally concerned about finding some truths, is a yoga practice during pregnancy and childbirth a benefit or a risk? Especially in regard to stretching, abdominal work, and in using supine postures.

Here’s what Daphne found.

In regards to stretching the concern is about over stretching ligaments—not muscles. Light stretching is fine, in fact, it generally has more benefits and these benefits totally outweigh the hypothetical concern that you “might” over-stretch.

Of the evidence based studies done, light abdominal strengthening has minimal effect on birth outcomes and the health of your baby.

Lots of official bodies suggest that women should avoid doing exercises in the supine position (lying on your back), it turns out that this “advice” comes from sleep studies that show no conclusive evidence that sleeping on your back or your right side causes any harm.

“This is a purely hypothetical concern. There’s little evidence to support it.”

I find this particularly reassuring on several counts, primarily because there are many supine poses in Asana practice that are of genuine benefit during pregnancy. Further, the advice never made any sense to me, as a Birth Doula, especially given that hospitals often encourage women to remain flat on their backs once admitted and their preference is that you remain there.

Yoga in pregnancy is safe and may even improve birth outcomes, but, I do not know what or how other teachers teach in their prenatal yoga classes, I can only vouch for mine which are designed to bring you ease and comfort during your pregnancy.

Further, my classes will show you how to “yoke” together the movement, breath work, birth physiology and the philosophy of Yoga into actual easily accessible birth skills that can be used effectively while pregnant, during labor, and later as parents because they are also life skills.

Particularly, here in America, people are more used to Yoga practices that are structured solely along the physical aspect of this system so it is more than likely that you only have a passing knowledge of the Yoga Sutras, if in fact any awareness. So, a little history is in order…