Calming, strength building yoga helps pregnant women stay fit and minimize risk.
There is currently a broad discussion of a once very private malady. Pelvic floor dysfunction affects millions and now there are therapies that address weaknesses early. Often trouble begins during or after pregnancy and many young women are taking steps to prevent the distress. Pelvic floor therapy through the practice of yoga can help pregnant women prepare mentally and physically for labor, delivery and postnatal recovery. Besides helping with breathing and relaxation, yoga therapy strengthens the pelvic floor.
Yet, statistics show that one out of every five Americans of every age suffer from some type of pelvic floor dysfunction at some time in their life and it’s not just a women’s disorder, men and children also suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction as well. Experts explain, the pelvic floor consists of muscles and other tissues that form a sling from the pubic bone to the tailbone. Pelvic floor dysfunction occurs when the muscles of the pelvic floor become weak, tight, or there is an impairment of the sacroiliac joint, low back, coccyx and/or hip joint. Pelvic physical therapists work with problems associated with the pelvis (sacrum, sacroiliac joints, coccyx). They assist patients in supporting the abdominal and pelvic regions and help control bladder, bowel, and sexual activity. Some pelvic physical therapists specialize in prenatal, natal, and postnatal therapies associated with strengthening the pelvic floor and in some cases, relieving pain associated with pregnancy.
When a woman is pregnant, the payoff for developing strong abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles is worth the effort. Having a strong pelvic floor can help during labor as well as help prevent urinary incontinence later. Lindsay Johnson is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) for HCA Healthcare at Parkridge East. While she also works with men, she specifically focuses on therapies for pregnant women that will strengthen the pelvic floor before, during and after delivery. During pregnancy she works to help alleviate pain women often experience while pregnant such as pubic bone pain, back and leg pain that can be a result of nerve compression. To correct alignment she uses manual therapy as well as a massage-like technique called myofascial release to help stretch and release the connective tissue between the skin and the muscles and bones in the pelvic region; the goal being to strengthen the muscles to hold the bones in correct alignment to relieve the pain. Also, during pregnancy she teaches women the correct way to do Kegel exercises which strengthen the pelvic floor in order to prepare for or recover from childbirth as the delivery process weakens the pelvic floor. There are also other causes of a weakened pelvic floor related to labor and delivery such as multiple births, pushing for a long period of time during labor, large baby birth weight and vaginal tears that respond well to pelvic physical therapy.
Prior to labor and delivery Lindsay also works with women to be able to correctly position themselves if they experience pain or discomfort during delivery. Positions might include standing supported squats, semi-sitting, and sitting positions. Depending on the position, they can realign the pelvis to increase the opening, make contractions feel less painful and more productive, or change pelvic joints to help the baby through the birth canal.
After the mother’s six-week visit with her doctor, biofeedback therapy along with exercises encourages relaxation and strengthening of the pelvic floor. Lindsay says that getting help early, particularly after delivery, can prevent long-term issues involving the pelvic floor such as stress incontinence. Pain associated with scar tissue as a result of a C-section can also be relieved with pelvic floor therapy.
Pregnancy can place a lot of stress on the pelvic floor muscles which can lead to weakness even before the baby is born. Strong pelvic floor muscles help to support the extra weight of pregnancy and heal the perineum after birth by increasing the circulation of blood.
Prenatal yoga postures are geared to recognizing and toning the pelvic floor. Kaylee Frano, owner of Peace.Strength.Yoga, has been practicing yoga for 11 years. She says there are few important differences between regular yoga and prenatal yoga. Important differences in a prenatal class would be modifying certain poses and/or eliminating certain poses. Changes in sequencing of poses also might be also might be incorporated. However, she emphasizes the most important thing before starting pre-and postnatal yoga classes is to get your doctor’s approval.
“Everyone’s pregnancy is a bit different, so having this conversation is necessary to you and your baby’s well-being.” She says yoga as a whole will calm as well as destress the individual and bring more awareness to the body. When a woman is pregnant, the hormone Relaxin which works to open ligaments and tendons in preparation for delivery is more abundant. However, it can cause a pregnant woman to overstretch when doing yoga, “which instructors need to be mindful of.”
Jill Allen, who is pregnant and teaches yoga at High Point Climbing and Fitness, says the benefits of prenatal yoga are strength building and gaining a calming centeredness to prepare for delivery through breathing which she feels is most beneficial during labor and delivery. She cautions to avoid lying on your abdomen, deep twists, and she also personally avoids inversions.
Savannah Stansell, an assistant volleyball coach at UTC, is also pregnant and has taken yoga for two years. She says that while practicing yoga she listens to her body and will modify certain poses such as doing some poses kneeling rather than standing. Her practice has also changed as she has gotten bigger and she takes more breaks if necessary.
Whether through a yoga practice or working with a pelvic floor therapist, women who are pregnant can learn skills such as breathing, stretching, improving flexibility, and pelvic floor strengthening that will prepare them mentally and physically for labor and delivery. There are benefits as well before and after childbirth that help a new mother have a more comfortable pregnancy and recover quickly after giving birth. When women are considering pelvic floor strengthening either with yoga or a therapist, they should check with their doctor to make sure they are physically able. If pelvic floor therapy is suggested, they will need a direct referral from the doctor.
Story by Rebecca Rochat
Photography by Amy Kenyon and courtesy of Parkridge Medical Center