As a yoga practitioner and new mamma, you may be wondering how to re-establish your yoga practice as you navigate the postpartum period.
Childbirth comes with many physical changes, and whether you choose to attend specific postpartum yoga classes or self-practice in the comfort of your own home, there will be some new considerations.
Keep reading for 9 tips to help you ease back in:
- Are you really ready?
- Navigating diastasis recti
- What if I had a caesarean section?
- Understanding the effects of hormones
- Setting realistic expectations
- Identifying your ‘why’
- Involving your baby
- Learning to love your body
- Knowing when savasana is enough
#1: Being ‘cleared for exercise’ doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready
While previous guidelines advised to wait for six weeks post-delivery before resuming exercise, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently changed their guidelines stating that:
after a non-complicated vaginal delivery it is “usually, it is safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth” – AGOC (2022)
In the case of caesarean sections or if there were complications during the birth, it is still common practice in America to be ‘cleared for exercise’ at 6 weeks postpartum.
In my own experience, despite being cleared to practice yoga just five weeks post-cesarean section, I knew that my body simply wasn’t ready for my regular vinyasa practice … more on that later!
It is important to remember that not all ‘exercise’ is made equal and certainly, not all yoga practices are alike.
Whether or not your doctor has cleared you for exercise, it is important to listen to your own body and modify your yoga practice to suit your individual needs.
The bottom line is that there is no rush to jump straight back into your practice if your intuition is telling you otherwise!
#2: Learning How To Navigate Diastasis Recti
Before resuming your yoga practice, one very important discussion to have with your healthcare provider is whether you have a condition called diastasis recti (or ‘DI’ for short).Diastasis recti is a condition where the rectus abdominis thins and separates during pregnancy. It affects up to 60% of pregnant and postpartum women and 40% of women will still have some degree of separation at 6 months postpartum (The Cleveland Clinic).
While some forms of exercise including walking, light resistance training, and pelvic floor strengthening exercises that may be suitable, there are many movements in the yoga practice that can be problematic if they are not practiced with the correct technique.
Common asanas that can worsen abdominal separation include:
- Navasana (boat pose)
- Phalakasana (plank pose)
- Crunching movements and sit-ups
- Deep twists
- Deep backbends
For those who have a regular practice and know how to engage the deep core muscles of the transverse abdominis, you may be fine to practice these but…
If you suspect you have diastasis recti you should seek out an experienced postpartum yoga instructor or pelvic floor therapist.
#3: What If I Had A caesarean section?
A caesarean section is major abdominal surgery and it is vitally important that your incision is given ample time to heal.
Although you may be ‘cleared to exercise’ at your six-week postpartum appointment, the nature of the yoga practice means that the utmost care must be taken so that you do not overstretch your abdomen too soon.
Poses to avoid
In the first few weeks post-surgery, it is best to avoid deep backbends, abdominal twists and postures that require a lot of core strength, for example:
- Backbends – Cobra Pose / Upward Facing Dog / Bow Pose / Wheel Pose / Camel Pose
- Core – Boat Pose / Chaturanga Dandasana / Plank Pose
- Twists – Revolved Triangle Pose / Revolved Side Angle Pose / Half Lord Of The Fishes
What To Focus On
Rebuilding the connection to your core can take time.
Once your incision is fully healed, at least six weeks postpartum, begin with the following exercises:
#4: Understanding The Effects of Hormones On Flexibility and Stability
As the name suggests, relaxin is a hormone that prepares your body for childbirth by loosening the ligaments of the pelvis, and softening and widening the cervix.
Relaxin levels stay high for several months into postpartum recovery and in breastfeeding mothers, it often remains high for as long as you continue to nurse.
It is well-reported that relaxin can cause balance problems, pain, and discomfort due to the loosening of muscles and joints. Because yoga often requires a greater range of motion around the joints, injuries from over-stretching are common in postpartum yoga practitioners.
While no specific asanas are technically ‘off-limits’ (as long as you delivered vaginally and there is no DI present), I generally advise postpartum practitioners to focus on stability and avoid stretching into their maximum range of motion.
#5: Setting Realistic Expectations
Maybe you’re still dreaming of those leisurely morning practices when in reality, you’re lucky if you can squeeze in a few rounds of cat-cow between feedings.
If you’re feeling too tired to practice right now, that’s ok!
The most wonderful thing about the practice of yoga is that it will always be there, and whether you feel inspired to flow through a few sun salutations or simply sit and breathe, now is a great time to take the pressure off.
On the days that you do make it to your mat, let go of expectations and listen to what your body needs.
Maybe today’s daily practice is simply sitting on your mat with a cup of tea while your baby is napping, maybe it’s five minutes of simple neck and shoulder stretches …
Or maybe it’s enjoying a very well-deserved savasana!
#6: Identifying your ‘why’
The postpartum period is the perfect time to be intentional and really think about the purpose behind your practice.
We all come to yoga for different reasons and as a postpartum mother, your ‘why’ may be different from a few months ago.
Whether you are practicing to ease back pain from carrying your baby all day or committing to finding ten minutes of quiet time, setting an intention can help you to get the most out of those precious moments on the mat.
#7: Involve your baby
Before I became a mamma, I used to love my regular morning practice, followed by an unhurried breakfast… bliss!
During busy mornings, the thought of practicing yoga during your baby’s naptime may sound like a good idea but be careful it doesn’t lead to burnout.
Rest is so important for recovery and nap times really are sacred.
For me, the ‘ah-ha’ moment came when I laid my baby on my mat and let her be part of my practice. As an infant, my baby loved having my face close to hers and now, as a young toddler, she will often try to copy my downward-facing dog.
The first time your baby joins you in ananda balasana (happy baby pose) is a magical moment to remember!
#8: Learning To Love Your Body
Your incredible body just grew and birthed a whole new human!
Although we know that birthing a child is nothing short of a miracle, it is still completely normal to feel a little disconnected from your postpartum body.
Yoga can be a wonderful practice to begin to reconnect to your body and take some very much-needed ‘me time’ as a new mother.
While you may not be able to physically ‘do’ as much as you could before, at least at first, it is truly remarkable to witness your body regaining strength and control over time. For this reason, many women find postpartum yoga extremely empowering.
#9: Knowing When Savasana Is Enough
Give yourself permission to rest, mamma!
As we know, the physical practice of asana is just one part of the yoga practice.
On days when you don’t feel like hitting the mat, why not dive into some other aspects of yoga:
- Pranayama: the practice of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) can be incredibly calming
- Meditation: try a simple guided meditation
- Yoga Nidra: it is said that 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra can feel like three hours of restorative sleep!
- Savasana: the simple art of lying down and doing nothing – now how amazing does that sound?
The key here is to honestly ask your body what it needs from your practice and then really listen to what it tells you.
After all, developing and listening to your intuition is the highest form of yoga.
The postpartum period is a special time to connect with your baby and honor the journey you have been on during the past few months.
The practice of yoga can be incredibly supportive in helping you to reconnect to your body, carve out precious time for self-care, relieve stress, and even help with the symptoms of postnatal depression (read a wonderful study on the effects of yoga on PND here).
Your practice may look different depending on whether you had an uncomplicated vaginal birth or a cesarean section, and whether there is any abdominal separation present.
If in doubt, consult your doctor or a pelvic health expert and choose a yoga teacher with experience in guiding postpartum mothers.
To find a specialized postpartum yoga teacher, I highly recommend www.mayoga.com