Returning to yoga postpartum is very important to help address a lot of the aches and pains and healing the body experiences after your baby is born. It can also help address issues around sleep and some of the stress and anxiety that arises with being a new parent. However, “regular” yoga classes are not designed with the postpartum body in mind.
I recommend that postpartum, if you can find a postnatal yoga class or a mom and baby yoga class to support you, it is the very best thing that you can do for you and your new baby. Also, consider adding online postpartum yoga classes to your routine, these shorter practices can be easy to fit in when you can't make it to class. I highly encourage you to wait until you get the okay from your doctor or midwife before beginning any exercise postpartum whether it is yoga or otherwise. Here's what a postnatal yoga class can offer you that a regular class cannot.
I can't tell you how many postpartum mamas I've had come to my postnatal classes and say to me “Wow I feel so good after this class! It's interesting, I don't feel this way after a regular yoga class.” Here's how postnatal yoga can make a difference for you:
Abdominal strengthening: the abdominals are quite weak postpartum. They have done almost nothing but stretch for the last nine months (remember my post on ab work during pregnancy?). Because of this, going right back into strong abdominal work can actually cause more harm than good. Postnatal yoga classes can offer abdominal work that is gentle, but specifically focuses on strengthening and healing the abdominal muscles postpartum. Postnatal teachers also know how to address specific postpartum issues such as diastasis recti (the separation of the of abdominal) during a yoga class.
Pelvic floor stabilization: there's a lot that needs to be done postpartum to help stabilize and recruit the muscles of the pelvic floor. If we are doing a lot of strong work in yoga classes and other exercise programs, but not also bringing attention to working with the pelvic floor, we can actually cause further damage to these healing muscles. Postnatal yoga classes will offer specific support for strengthening the pelvic floor. For anyone who has gone through vaginal childbirth, there has likely been stretching and potentially small tears that have taken place. Because of strain and potential damage it is important to reintegrate these muscles into any exercise practice. You need to be able to retrain the muscles to engage and to support and then take that engagement and support into the rest of your yoga practice and other exercises.
Have you heard about women who go back into strong exercise postpartum and find that they are leaking urine if they're doing something like running or jumping? This is a sign that the pelvic floor needs strengthening and support. Postnatal yoga classes teach you how to strengthen these muscles and then encourage the use of this strength in your yoga practice.
Relief for neck and shoulders: pretty much any new mama will tell you that their neck and shoulders are killing them. Long periods of holding the baby, caring the baby, nursing the baby, feeding the baby, picking up the baby and any of the other movements that are involved in caring for the baby involve using neck and shoulders. As a result, these muscles are simultaneously tightened and overstretched, and very, very sore. WIth an awareness to the pain experience in these areas, postnatal yoga classes always include practices to you help release the neck and shoulders in the area between the shoulder blades. Postpartum it is important to be releasing these muscles as much as possible and postnatal yoga classes can provide the support.
Sequencing with the postpartum body in mind: as I have mentioned, there are many changes that have occurred and are now taking shape in a postpartum body. Generally, most postpartum students complain of neck and shoulder tension, weak abdominals, sore low backs and general low energy. Postnatal yoga class sequencing keeps all of these things in mind. If you have significant neck and shoulder tension would you want to do a bunch of push-ups or planks? Highly unlikely. You also won't see abdominal work that is very strong because postnatal yoga classes provide gentle supportive abdominal and pelvic floor work ( visit my blog on abdominal work postpartum for exercises you can do at home). Postnatal yoga classes are designed to meet the energy level of the postpartum mama and address the specific aches and pains that are being experienced.
Addressing low energy and sleeplessness: generally, most postpartum parents are suffering from lack of sleep and low-energy. High intensity yoga classes, or classes where teachers are not providing time for rest and relaxation, do not provide the adequate support that postpartum mamas need. Postnatal yoga classes provide longer times for rest, and meditation and breath practices that can help to reduce anxiety and support better sleep (need more sleep support? check out my blog on better sleep through yoga).
Wisdom and insight with a dash of humor to help guide you on your journey through motherhood.