Shaping up for labour

What can a leaping frog, a downward dog or a cat’s pose offer an expectant mum? Quite a lot really, writes yoga teacher and mother Claire Maguire.

AIMS IRELAND 42 weeks campaign  model: Lisa Downing, Co. Dublin photographer: Angela Martin/Redboots photography & design www.42weeks.ie

Childbirth is like running a marathon, you have to train for it.” This is what my local midwife said to me before I gave birth. During my six-hour labour the frog and cat yoga poses came to my aid more than any back rub or hypnobirthing affirmations of the “colours of the rainbow enveloping my body”.

When I began my journey on the yoga path eight years ago I never gave much thought to how it would help me in childbirth, or how it would impact on my unborn baby. Now that I’ve completed the marathon, it’s time for me to share my training tips with all expectant athletes.

Think about packing an imaginary pregnancy bag, based on the principles of packing a hospital one.  Into that bag would go yoga, breathing, relaxation, perineum massage, reflexology and a birth plan.

We all know how good yoga is for us on so many levels, but I believe the benefits yoga can have on both mother and baby are underestimated.  It’s surprising how many mothers have never heard of the word “episiotomy”, only to discover its meaning when they’re unable to sit comfortably for weeks post-birth.

Some might say it’s a fluke, but my belief is that the physical practices of yoga and breath work have shaped my son into one chilled baby

My repeated practice of poses such as the downward dog, leap frog, the warrior and the chair pose impacted greatly on my pelvic region, relaxing it to the point that my perineal tissues were strong and tough enough to let through an almost 9lb baby without a stitch in sight.

The first indication that my son Louis was a contented baby was when he was inside the womb. I practised certain breathing exercises, mainly slow inhales and even slower exhales (through the nose, not the mouth) almost every day and as a result I have earned myself one very placid, happy, non-colic suffering baby. I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say I have not had one sleepless night since he was born.

Some might say it’s a fluke, but my belief is that the physical practices of yoga and breath work have shaped my son into one chilled baby. I did experiment with hypnobirthing, which is heavily based on visualisation and breathing, similar to yoga techiques. While pictures of lotus flowers opening up and picturesque oceans are lovely, it didn’t really serve any purpose during labour.

Expectant mothers will have at least two birth/parent preparation books on their bookshelf. It was only after having Louise I decided to really read them. I was surprised to see how structured the books were. In one, under “breathing techniques”, it listed the order in which different breaths should be used during labour. I wonder did the authors of these books actually give birth naturally themselves?

Labour and order do not work. However the preparation you do during pregnancy will help make the experience a positive one. Nature will kick in and you with breathe and take whatever comfortable position your body will allow.

There is a misconception about birth plans. Doctors and midwives tend to be worlds apart in their opinions. I remember when I brought my birth plan to hospital during one of my antenatal visits. I mentioned it to my consultant and I received an “eyes to heaven” response. My midwife gave me a pat on the back and congratulated me on creating a “realistic” birth plan, telling me not to pay any attention to the doctor.

Labour and order do not work. However the preparation you do during pregnancy will help make the experience a positive one.

A birth plan can be tailored to how the mother sees fit. You can make it as “user friendly” as you want and it’s a wonderful way to communicate with staff when it’s impossible otherwise. Consider what’s important to you and put it down on paper.

For me, avoiding an episiotomy was of utmost importance, and I would only allow for it if medically necessary. I also wanted to give birth in a particular position. Minus an epidural, the birth plan enabled me to birth in the most comfortable position that my body would allow. Three pushes and Louis arrived into the world. A birth plan gave me that freedom.

Pregnancy can be a confusing game and with hormones playing havoc with our bodies, some of us buy into therapies or “must-haves” more than usual for fear of missing out. That’s where the imaginary pregnancy bag comes in. Put whatever works for you into it. Reach for the bag on a daily basis and take out a yoga posture or a relaxing breathing techique. On another day, if time and money allow, have a session with a reputable reflexologist. Whatever happens, just remember to relax, breath and trust your body – nature is a wonderful thing.

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