Yoga Is Beneficial During Pregnancy
By practicing yoga for one hour per day during pregnancy, women can reduce the risk that their babies will be born preterm or of low birth weight, according to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2005;11:237–44).
A normal pregnancy term is approximately 40 weeks; babies born before week 37 are considered premature or preterm. Preterm babies are more likely to suffer from health problems due to their underdeveloped lungs, high vulnerability to infections, and difficulty nursing. A baby’s weight at birth is also a marker of health. Underweight newborns, those under five pounds, have more health problems than normal-weight newborns.
A number of factors can influence a woman’s risk of delivering her baby preterm or underweight. Malnutrition, infections, and pregnancy complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure can all contribute to these poor pregnancy outcomes. Emotional stress during pregnancy has been linked to these same problems. Some studies have further suggested that children born to mothers whose stress and anxiety levels were high during pregnancy might experience long-term behavioral and health problems. Nonetheless, efforts to reduce stress during pregnancy by providing social support including counseling, home visits, and regular phone calls have not been shown to improve pregnancy outcomes.
The practice of yoga, originally an Indian tradition, combines the use of postures and breathing to promote flexibility, strength, calm, and a sense of spiritual connection. Studies have found that yoga can induce a relaxed state and have suggested that regularly practicing yoga might benefit people with asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, and mood disorders. The effect of regular yoga practice on pregnancy outcomes has not been previously studied.
The current study included 335 healthy women between weeks 18 and 20 of pregnancy. Those who lived near the hospital where the study was based were enrolled in the yoga group and those who lived far from the hospital were enrolled in the control group. Yoga was practiced for one hour each day until delivery and consisted of breathing exercises, meditation, and poses that were appropriate for the stage of pregnancy. During the first week these women received yoga instruction in groups, but after that they practiced yoga at home. Women in the control group were instructed to walk for 30 minutes twice per day until delivery. All of the women came to the hospital every 3 to 4 weeks for regular prenatal healthcare. There were 50% fewer preterm and 37% fewer underweight deliveries in the yoga group than the control group. High blood pressure and emergency cesarean sections also occurred less often in the yoga group than in the control group, but these differences were not statistically significant.
The results of this study suggest that yoga practice during the second half of pregnancy might reduce the risk of preterm deliveries and low birth weight. While it is not known how yoga works, it might improve the health of the pregnant woman and fetus by increasing blood flow to the placenta and reducing the levels of stress hormones in the blood. More studies are needed to confirm these findings and to determine the potential benefits of yoga in high-risk pregnancies.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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