Throughout my pregnancy, Yoga was my go-to exercise. I took regular alignment classes up until 36 weeks, with modifications, and practised pre-natal vinyasa and pre-natal alignment all the way up to the day before I gave birth.
My labour ended up being hard and fast and in the back on a NYC taxi (see Birth Story Blog) and it wasn’t until I looked back on my 9 hours hours of hard work (‘cause that’s what it is!), that I realized the positions I was drawn to were all asanas I had been practising religiously throughout my pregnancy.
My body seemed to enter these poses naturally and I strongly believe that my yoga practice helped me find the ‘comfort’ and the body strength I needed to endure my labour and delivery. So without further adieu, here are the Five Yoga Poses I used during labour and delivery.
1.Supta Baddha Konasana/Butterfly Pose
When my contractions started and began to build, the first position I took was Supta Baddha Konasana or Butterfly pose, on the bed, with pillows to support my back and to keep me upright, holding my husband’s hand (and squeezing tight). This pose helps release the pelvic floor, and to be honest I became sick of doing it during my pregnancy but it clearly worked!
You can practise this pose seated or reclined during pregnancy. For the reclined version it is useful to have a bolster or pillows to support your back and blocks or blankets to support your knees. Sit with your sacrum near the bolster, bring the soles of your feet together and separate your knees. Place a blanket around your ankles (or blocks under your knees) and gently lower yourself down onto your support. Make sure your spine is placed evenly with the bolster and your torso is straight. Extend your arms overhead then release them down by your sides, palms facing the ceiling.
2. Wall Uttanasana or Chair Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog
Once the contractions picked up I started to feel pain in my back. I was nervous this might be an indication that baby had his back to my back, so I moved into a position where my belly was facing down, to help get the baby to move into an optimal birthing position, his back to my belly. I used the bed to support my arms and eventually my husband’s thighs. I used a birth ball to sit on during my rest and recovery time.
To enter the pose, stand near a wall and place your hands on the wall just above hip height. Walk back, pressing into the wall, until your arms are straight but not over extended. Feet should be hip distance or more apart. Align your legs so they are under your hips, bend your knees slightly and lift your sit bones towards the ceiling, keeping your feet parallel. Spread your palms and extend your fingers. Extend your thighs back and lengthen your spine, keeping your head in line with your arms.
3. Adho Mukha Virasana/Child’s pose
There was an extra pose I was thrown into when I entered the bath and had my first contraction in water which was excruciating – Purvottanasana – but that was just by sheer force. After exiting the bath very quickly, as it was not working for me, my husband and I resumed a similar position to before but this time on the floor. Child’s pose was my much needed rest and recovery position here. The force of the contractions were lurching me forward and up, pressing all of my body weight into my husband’s shoulder but during those few moments of rest, this was my go-to pose.
To enter the pose come onto all fours. Place your big toes together and separate your knees. Sit back, reaching your buttocks towards your feet and extending your arms forward. Rest your head on the floor or a block depending on the stage of your pregnancy. I used my husband’s thighs.
4. Utkata Konasana/Goddess Pose
I had no idea how my husband and doula managed to get me out of the apartment but once I was on the move and gravity was playing a role, my contractions became stronger. In fact I had a wonderful, powerful contraction in the elevator surrounded by seven people but I was too zoned in to care! All of my standing contractions felt more comfortable in goddess pose. This allowed my pelvic floor to open further and unlike before where the sensations shot me upright, it felt more comfortable to move down into a squat with the pressure. It also helped me to visualize ‘breathing the baby down’.
Stand with legs 3-3/12 feet apart. Externally rotate your legs one at a time so toes point outward. Raise your arms above your head, palms facing each other. Exhale and squat down any amount, bring arms to shoulder height. Inhale, push into the heels of your feet and internally rotate your inner thighs to lift up as you raise your arms. Stay in the pose for 30 sec-1min or repeat the squats.
5. Side lunge
This isn’t technically a yoga pose but it was practised often in pre-natal yoga class as it does open the pelvic floor. It is also a good position to go into to ‘change things up’ if you feel the contractions are not progressing. The first few will be very intense.
Once we got into the cab I could not sit down, so I put one foot on the floor and my knee on the seat and entered the side lunge position. My husband was facing me and I used him to stabilise my body weight until I could feel a little more than just the contractions!
To enter this pose stand on your knees, hips’ distance apart. If you need help with balance use a block to rest one hand on while you bring one knee forward, or place hands on your hips. Plant your foot firmly on the ground. Heel/toe the knee out to the side so your inner thigh is facing forward. Square your hips and raise your arms above your head. You can stay in a stable position or lunge out to the side and back a few times before switching legs.
All of these poses are usually practiced in a pre-natal yoga class and are one’s that you can practise easily at home during those final weeks when it seems too hard to leave the house. In preparing for labour and delivery you are preparing for the greatest physical feat of your life so there is no better time to practice, practice, practice!