I lived in Seattle during my pregnancies, where practicing yoga is almost as common as drinking coffee. I never accepted my friends’ invitations to partake in a perinatal yoga classes, mostly because I do not know how to do it, and I simply ran instead. My friends reaped the benefits of the meditation and strengthening involved when it came to delivering their babies. Researchers have been trying to measure the physical benefits from performing yoga during pregnancy, both for the mother and the fetus, and scientifically support the efficacy of participating in peripartum yoga.
In a systematic review of studies regarding yoga for pregnant women, Curtis, Weinrib, and Katz (2012) explored the literature on yoga for pregnancy. Six studies were included in the review, only 3 of which were randomized controlled trials. The aspects of yoga included in the trials were postures, breathing practices, meditation, deep relaxation, counseling on lifestyle change, and chanting and anatomy information. The programs in the trials began either between 18-20 weeks gestation or between 26-28 weeks. The yoga was practiced either 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes or 60 minutes daily. Control groups included walking, standard prenatal exercise, or general nursing care. The literature review suggested improvements were noted regarding quality of life and self-efficacy, discomfort and pain during labor, and birth weight and preterm births. Due to the limited number of trials, only a general positive commendation of yoga during pregnancy could be made from this research.
In 2015, Jiang et al. looked at 10 randomized controlled trials from 2004 to 2014 regarding yoga and pregnancy. The authors found consistent evidence showing a positive correlation between yoga intervention and lower incidence of prenatal disorders and small gestational age. Lower levels of stress and pain as well as higher relationship scores were noted with yoga. The studies showed yoga to be a safe and effective means of exercise during pregnancy, but the authors agreed further randomized controlled studies still need to be performed.
A 2015 randomized control trial by Rakhshani et al. examined the effect of yoga on utero-fetal-placental circulation during pregnancy considered high-risk. The yoga group consisted of 27 women who received standard care plus 60 minute yoga sessions 3 times per week and practice at home. The control group included 32 women who received standard care and walked 30 minutes in the morning and evening. The intervention began at the 13th week of gestation and concluded at the end of the 28th week. Yoga intervention involved yoga postures, relaxation and breathing exercises, and visualization with guided imagery. The authors conceded larger studies need to be performed to confirm the results of their randomized controlled trial; however, they concluded yoga visualization and guided imagery can significantly improve uteroplacental and fetoplacental circulation.
Although further studies are needed to make evidence-based claims regarding yoga during pregnancy, the general consensus deems yoga appropriate and safe. As with any exercise program, a tailored approach for each individual is prudent. Yoga includes many components, and current trials consistently indicate the visualization/imagery aspect is safe and beneficial during pregnancy, even when high risk. In retrospect, when I had placenta previa, perhaps I should’ve traded my running shorts for yoga pants!
Curtis, K., Weinrib, A., & Katz, J. (2012). Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2012, 715942.
Jiang Q, Wu Z, Zhou L, Dunlop J, Chen P. (2015). Effects of yoga intervention during pregnancy: a review for current status. American Journal of Perinatology. 32(6):503-14..
Rakhshani, A., Nagarathna, R., Mhaskar, R., Mhaskar, A., Thomas, A., & Gunasheela, S. (2015). Effects of Yoga on Utero-Fetal-Placental Circulation in High-Risk Pregnancy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Advances in Preventive Medicine, 2015, 373041.