Just had a baby? You're probably experiencing a mix of emotions right now: joy that your little one has arrived, and maybe even a bit of sadness, anger or irritability (thanks, hormones!) — not to mention the crushing fatigue and the burgeoning concern about the state of your post-pregnancy body.
Although it may seem like you couldn't possibly have the time, starting a regular yoga practice can help. The gentle stretching and strengthening, deep breathing and "me" time a yoga session provides can help reduce stress, strengthen your body and mind and increase your energy level — all of which will boost your self-confidence and make you a happier mom. By taking up yoga after your pregnancy, here are seven things you'll do for your body and mind.
Reduce Stress and Tension
The excitement and anticipation is over, and now the real work begins: caring for a tiny human. This can create a lot of stress and anxiety for new moms, which can dampen your mood and bring down your energy level. Feeling fatigued, moody and anxious can affect both the way you mother your newborn and the harmony in your household.
Taking the time to stretch your body, sit quietly, practice deep breathing and even meditate can do wonders to help. "A yoga practice that includes pranayama, meditation, asana and movements tailored for your postpartum body helps you breathe better," says Catherine Allen, a certified prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher and certified doula in Houston, Texas.
"Conscious, slow, high-quality breathing reduces stress and increases your resourcefulness so that you can make better decisions regarding parenting, caring for yourself and baby, as well as other responsibilities."
Increase Your Energy Level
After nine months of pregnancy, labor and childbirth, your body has undergone a lot. Now you have a newborn at home, and all the endless tasks that being a new mom involves — including some (or many) sleepless nights. Although fitting in more sleep and eating a nutritious diet are two of the best things you can do for your energy level right now, yoga can also help.
While it may seem contradictory when you're feeling fatigued, including more light-to-moderate activity into your day can help pep you up and make your brain feel sharper and more alert. Moving through poses in a postnatal yoga sequence generates body heat and improves circulation. The physical postures, along with specialized breathing techniques, can also increase blood flow and help regulate the oxygen levels in your blood.
Read more: 4 Ways to Slim Your Hips After Childbirth
Fend off Postpartum Depression
It's common to experience the "baby blues" — feeling sad, lonely, fatigued and weepy in the weeks after giving birth. This typically doesn't last long, and it won't significantly impact your ability to function. However, according to the American Psychological Association, as many as one in seven women experiences a more serious mood disorder called postpartum depression, which can last for months and make it difficult to care for a baby.
Studies have shown that in addition to seeking professional help, practicing yoga can also reduce the symptoms of postpartum depression. A 2015 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that women with postpartum depression who attended two yoga classes a week for eight weeks experienced significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life compared to a control group that did not attend yoga classes.
"Self-nourishment through yoga helps make more room for joy, healing and gratitude in your life," says Allen, who is also a Spinning Babies® Certified Parent Educator. "It also helps you navigate your way through any grief, sadness, or mourning that may show up after giving birth or pregnancy loss."
Stabilize Your Core
Your core — the area between your pelvic floor and the top of your ribs — goes through dramatic changes during pregnancy and childbirth. It's common to develop imbalances and muscular trauma that can affect healthy movement and function of your entire body. "Many pregnant and postpartum people have imbalanced cores — excess tension and excess slack in various parts of the core," explains Allen. "This imbalance is what contributes to the formation of dysfunctions such as incontinence, prolapse, restricted breathing, etc."
Postnatal yoga poses aren't meant to help you get your pre-baby waistline back. "Postpartum yoga should be focused on stabilizing and harmonizing the core. It shouldn't be focused on 'strengthening' the abdominal muscles or flattening the stomach; this kind of focus is problematic and interferes with the actual core healing that needs to happen," warns Allen, who recommends modified versions of bride and locust pose, as well as a deep breathing technique known as Ujjayi breathing.
"The appropriate core exercises in a postpartum yoga practice can help restore the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, connective tissues and respiration — and, the most important part, coordinate all these parts together in better harmony so that we can function better physically and emotionally," says Allen.
Strengthen Your Body
You've allowed some time after birth to let your body rest — now it's time to rebuild your strength and muscle tone. In addition to healing your core muscles, building overall strength can help you complete your daily tasks with less fatigue, and it can prevent the muscle soreness you may experience from repeatedly picking up and carrying your growing baby around.
Building muscle can also aid weight loss. When you have more lean muscle mass, you increase your resting metabolism. In fact, muscle contributes 20 percent of your total daily energy expenditure, compared to fat, which only contributes 5 percent.
But since you're probably not ready to hit the weights just yet, postnatal yoga is a low-impact, gentle approach to get you started. Poses such as downward dog, chair pose and warrior II can begin to build a foundation. As you start to feel stronger, you can add in some more challenging poses, practice for longer periods and pick up the pace of your practice.
Put Yourself First
Once you have a baby, much of your time is spent caring for the little one. With all of that feeding, cleaning and nurturing, there's little time left for self-care. "It can be so easy to forget yourself and put others first all the time. This habit will make you sick," Allen says. "Also, you cannot feed others adequately if you're not feeding yourself, too."
"A daily postpartum yoga practice, even if only five minutes to recharge or relax, is your opportunity to nourish yourself and practice self-acceptance and compassion," says Allen. While many moms feel guilty for not devoting all their time to their newborns, what they don't realize is that the more they take care of themselves, the better able they'll be able to take care of others.
Meet Other New Moms
Attending a regular postpartum class at a studio has a fun added benefit: new mom friends! Staying home all day with a newborn baby can make you feel isolated, which can increase your chances of depression and anxiety. You may also have questions, or wonder how other moms deal with the common concerns of new motherhood.
A postnatal yoga class is a room full of women just like you, experiencing the same joys and worries. After you attend a couple of classes, you'll likely find a mom or a group of moms you enjoy talking to. These conversations lead to shared wisdom and camaraderie that can give you the support you need to make it through this exciting — but very stressful — period.
Read more: Return to Fitness With These 10 Postpartum Exercises