Why Perinatal Yoga is so important during pregnancy and for babies’ healthy development?

Yoga for pregnant

The best time to begin yoga is when you are still within your mother’s womb!  This is because neuroscience now provides clear evidence that it is during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood that we can most strongly affect child development, prevent the toxic effects of stress, anxiety and depression and support the most powerful dynamic of our human development – healthy attachment to our primary caregiver(s).

Here’s a snapshot of the emerging science:

  • During late pregnancy through to the 2nd year of life, the human brain is more rapidly developing than any other time in human life.  Brain growth is experience dependent so what we experience directs its development, or lack of development.
  •  In particular, the right brain is in its most sensitive growth period. The right brain is strongly linked to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which control vital functions that support survival and cope with stress.
  • The right brain also is deeply connected to the limbic system, the hippocampus and the amygdala. The limbic system is the control center of emotions in the brain and the hippocampus and amygdala control both memory and the regulation of emotions, including aggression.

Here’s the bad news:

  • Stress, anxiety and depression affect between 10% and 15% of all pregnant women (Brown, S. & Lumley, 2000) and this can affect their developing babies brains.  
  • If a mother is stressed while pregnant, her child is substantially more likely to have emotional or cognitive problems, including an increased risk of attentional deficit/hyperactivity, anxiety and language delay” (Talge Neal & Glover, 2006, p. 245)
  • High levels of stress, anxiety and depression can also make the mother unavailable emotionally to regulate the babies emotional state when needed.
  • Emotional dysregulation and consequent insecure attachment are strongly linked to a range of negative outcomes https://birthpsychology.com/content/ghosts-nursery-tracing-roots-violence

Here’s the good news: Yoga has been evidenced to be an excellent way to reduce mother’s stress, anxiety and depression  (Rakhshani et al, 2010; Newham et al, 2014) and can encourage an optimal environment for pregnancy, birthing and bonding. All of the below are well researched interventions that can take place safely within a pre and post natal yoga course:

  • Breathing techniques, yoga postures and meditations for pregnant women can turn on the parasympathetic system. This activates the relaxation response reduces maternal stress, increases their resilience to stress (Satyapriya, 2009) and gives the baby in their womb a stress break too! 
  • Learning postures, breathwork and understanding how to set up a natural, supportive environment to birth baby can empower mothers to proactively engage in the birth 
  • Engaging in a peer group of pregnant women through yoga can improve the quality of interpersonal relationships and social support at a time of great change (Rakhashani et al, 2012), especially for first time mothers and for mothers at risk of depression (Newham et al, 2014).
  • Birth outcomes are also improved when women at risk of pregnancy complications engage in yoga, including shorter labour and less need for interventions that risk trauma in the birthing process.  (Rakhashani et al, 2012, p.333).
  • Parents can learn infant massage in post-natal yoga classes which can help parents becomes more sensitively attuned, observant and responsive to their babies’ communication. This supports secure attachment or bonding.

The bottom line is that contemporary neuroscience clearly demonstrates babies need loving relationships just as much as food for their brain and personality to mature safely and well. Research random control trials evidence that perinatal yoga has a very positive impact on mother’s mental health which in turn supports healthy infant development and bonding.  Let’s move one step closer to creating a peaceful world where mothers are supported in pregnancy to move, breathe and relate in ways that help their babies to fulfil their healthy potential.

stress, anxiety and depression as these non-psychotic mental health disorders are the most common mental health issues evidenced to affect between 10% and 15% of all pregnant women (Brown, S. & Lumley, 2000) and therefore to affect their developing babies.  However, it is not within the scope of this current article to consider the wider range of disorders such as bipolar disorders, psychotic disorders, postpartum psychosis and suicidal ideation but it is important to note that these can also seriously impact on child development outcomes, if untreated in the perinatal period.

Lorna Kerin
Lorna Kerin

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