- Megan McInturff
Get Your Questions Answered: Practicing Postpartum Yoga
Congratulations on your beautiful new baby! As you prepare to reignite your yoga practice after childbirth, we want to provide you with the best guidance to assist you on your wonderful journey. We sat down with our favorite OB/GYN, Dr. Giovannina Anthony, and asked her the most frequent questions we hear at YogaToday regarding practicing yoga postpartum. Since Dr. Anthony has been practicing OB/GYN and yoga for more than 20 years, she knows firsthand the restorative and stress-reducing benefits experienced from a yoga practice. She says it’s a way for new mothers to take care of themselves and reminds us that moms who take care of themselves are better able to care for their babies. Here she answers questions you might have as you incorporate yoga with new motherhood.
How soon is it safe to start a yoga practice after childbirth?
Since every delivery is a different experience, the time to initiate any physical activity, including yoga, will vary depending on the patient. I usually recommend women start doing some stretching and very gentle yoga exercises whenever they are up to it. If the mother had a vaginal delivery, she can begin pelvic floor strengthening exercises immediately and continue with prenatal classes in the postpartum period. The full return to a routine and usual yoga practice can begin at about six weeks.
How can yoga help me emotionally during the postpartum period?
The postpartum period can be anywhere from one day to one year after the baby is born. This is potentially one of the most stressful times known in the human condition. Women who are practicing yoga will experience multiple benefits in the postpartum period which include stress management and sleep improvement during a time when they are most certainly sleep deprived. I believe yoga gives women a very strong sense of doing something for oneself during a time when they begin to feel as though they exist only for the baby. It is very easy for new mothers to lose their sense of self. Yoga is a gentle and positive way for new mothers to re-enter activity, exercise, and special care of self. Empowered moms who can take care of themselves are better able to care for and love their babies. In addition, yoga helps to decrease the elevated cortisol levels that occur in women who experience postpartum mood disorders — including postpartum depression and anxiety. Yoga can be a critical part of treatment of these disorders.
Are meditation and breathing techniques helpful during the postpartum period?
I think meditation and pranayama breathing techniques can greatly calm the mind of a postpartum mother and help her to remain centered as a mother and true to herself as a general matter. Pranayama breathing especially promotes a meditative state and promotes an extremely calm, relaxed state of mind. I would support any stress relieving technique for women who have just given birth, but meditative states that occur with yoga practice are a particularly wonderful centering technique. As a new mother enters this new and dramatically different phase of her life, yoga practice will promote an overall sense of well being for both mother and baby.
When can I start practicing again after a Cesarean (C-section) delivery?
A woman who has just had a Cesarean section will need to limit the use of her abdominal wall including the rectus muscles and core muscles for at least six weeks post operatively. The issue is not that damage will occur by using these muscles; rather it is a matter of promoting healing and avoiding any unnecessary postoperative pain. That said, everyone heals at a different rate. I do believe all patients who have had a Cesarean section can do simple, restorative yoga poses almost immediately postoperatively as long as it does not involve their abdominal wall.
Can I practice yoga while I am breastfeeding?
I can’t think of any reason that a breastfeeding mother cannot practice yoga. My overall recommendation during the postpartum period is really for a woman to listen to her own body. My best advice is to simply try out different poses and see how it feels. If it does not cause pain, does not induce fatigue, does not feel too strenuous and does not cause shortness of breath, I believe it is safe.
Yoga promotes a healthy sense of well being, calmness and peace. In this way it helps to create a healthy environment for both the mother and the baby.
Giovannina M. Anthony, M.D. has been practicing both OB/GYN and yoga for over 20 years. She attended medical school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She completed her OB/GYN residency in Boston, Mass. at Harvard Medical School, specifically at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Anthony began her yoga practice during the rigors of medical training and discovered the many benefits both physically and emotionally. Yoga has continued to guide Dr. Anthony in her counseling efforts and obstetric practice throughout her career. After Dr. Anthony’s residency, she worked as an attending OB/GYN physician in New York City, teaching medical students and residents at Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr. Anthony currently lives in Jackson, Wyo. where she is in private practice.