Pranayama in Pregnancy

Benefits of Pranayama during pregnancy

Pregnant women are literally breathing for two. The mother-to-be provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby and removes waste products from the baby’s blood through the placenta, an organ that develops during pregnancy and attaches to the wall of the uterus.[1]

In response to the challenges and changes of the respiratory system that arise during pregnancy, an effective way to manage vitality is changing the rhythm, depth and pace of breath.[2]

What are the benefits of deep breathing practices for pregnant women?

Some of the benefits of a regular pranayama practice include:

1. Increases breathing capacity

Conscious breathing has many benefits for pregnant women, before, during and after the birth.

Physically, it increases the breathing capacity making the lungs work more efficiently.[3] During pregnancy, shortness of breath is common (especially towards the third trimester) due to the change of volume of the abdominal cavity[4] that results into a restricted movement of the diaphragm.

Breathing fully and deeply rises the oxygen levels for gaseous exchange necessary for nourishment and cleansing of the body cells. Oxygen is needed to build new cells[5], strengthen the immune system, produce energy and detoxify blood.[6]

2. Improves digestion

The expanded movement of the respiratory diaphragm following deep breathing massages the digestive organs improving the digestive process, which is fundamental for foetal growth and the absorption of nutrients of the future mother.

3. Calms the mind

Deep breathing lowers the heart rate signaling the brain to activate the rest-and-digest mode and quiet the nervous system[7] resulting in a more relaxed, calmer state of mind. Emotional and mental life become more balanced.[8] Learning how to breathe fully allows future mothers to optimize the ability to concentrate, centre and access their inner strength.[9]

4. Improves relaxation and sleep

Stress and anxiety reduction are extremely valuable to pregnant women. When the mind is quiet, the body is then able to relax and rest. Deep breathing can then help dealing with exhaustion and restoring the energy levels that drop during the first trimester. It can be useful for promoting restful sleep and improving vitality.[10] Relaxation has enormous benefits for the foetus as well: it prevents low-birth-weight, improves obstetric and developmental outcomes and reduces postpartum complications.[11]

5. Helps bonding with the unborn baby

Pranayama practices are a powerful way to build a bond and connect more fully to the baby[12] from the womb. Babies recognize relaxed breath patterns, the rhythm and sound of the mother’s breath which can be invaluable immediately after birth when women and their babies are getting to know each other.[13]

6. Becomes an essential ally during labour and birth

Deep breathing techniques are extremely useful to manage fear as birth approaches and pain during labour.

In future posts I will be sharing specific pranayama practices for future mamas to do at home.

[1] Placenta: How it works, what’s normal. <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/placenta/art-20044425>

[2] Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017. Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth. Improve your wellbeing throughout pregnancy and beyond. London: Teach Yourself:130-131

[3] What exercises can help increase lung capacity? <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323787>

[4] Kaminoff, Leslie and Matthews, Amy. 2012. Yoga Anatomy. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics:5

[5] Why Your Body Needs Oxygen. <https://www.vitalitymedical.com/guides/respiratory-therapy/to-air-is-human-why-your-body-needs-oxygen>

[6] The Benefits of Oxygen. <https://valeowc.com/the-benefits-of-oxygen/>

[7] This Is Why Deep Breathing Makes You Feel so Chill. <https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/mind/stress/why-deep-breathing-makes-you-feel-so-chill>

[8] Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017:11

[9] Freedman, Françoise Barbira. 2004. Yoga for Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. London: DK:34.

[10] Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017:136

[11] Relaxation during pregnancy: what are the benefits for mother, fetus, and the newborn? A systematic review of the literature. < https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23111717/>

[12] Elkind, Sue. 2019. Dig Pregnancy, Birth and Baby: A Conscious and Empowered Approach to prenatal and Postnatal Yoga. SN Living Yoga, Inc:22

[13] Dinsmore-Tuli, Uma. 2017:11