I know this comparison may sound a bit absurd but bear with me for a moment. New studies suggest that maternal stress hormones babies are exposed to in the womb, affect child outcomes:
• hyperactivity and inattention in boys
• emotional problems in girls and boys
• conduct problems in girls
(DePietro, 2004)

When a pregnant woman is chronically stressed the baby may be exposed to unhealthy levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. (They are not talking about everyday stress.) These levels can affect brain development, changes in blood flow to the baby which affect developing organs. Moms that are stressed have poorer sleep habits and often-unhealthy diets.

Babies born to stressed-out moms react more severely to the initial heel sticks after birth and tend to be fussier overall (Beddoe, Yang, Kennedy, Weiss, & Lee, 2009). It’s like the perfect storm – a stressed-out baby born to an already stressed-out mom!

The remedy is the most important part of this writing. Moms that have social support, eat well, and exercise daily can lower the effects of stress for both themselves and their baby. Creating that “village” is the prescription for healthy well-adjusted children.

Studies now show yoga as more effective in decreasing anxiety/stress than standard exercise. A series of publications show that women that start prenatal yoga early in pregnancy compared to women who practiced later in pregnancy experience improved sleep patterns in their second trimester (Beddoe, Lee, Weiss, Kennedy, Yang, 2010) and had better psychological health (Beddoe, Paul Yang, Kennedy, Weiss, & Lee, 2009).

Yoga clearly has positive effects for both mom and baby. I have always loved the community that is created in pregnancy yoga classes. I am intrigued with women and their stories. In fact, I published The Colors of Birth, a keepsake of birth stories to honor the process of birth. My mom’s stressed out pregnancy was probably the impetus for me to work with this population.

Every time I teach a pregnancy yoga class, calmness and healing is created for both the participants and me. Each mom connects with her baby throughout the class and through gentle movement and breath creates the dance preparing for birth. In the closing meditation, I refer to the private, peaceful universe of the baby in the womb. Moms also create changes in their world, their universe, by infusing harmony to placate the nervous system. They open themselves up to the silence and stillness, and then something extraordinary happens. The inner wisdom, the inner voice speaks. Women begin to choose healthier options, ask good questions, and bond more deeply. They become knowing mothers joining the ranks of the wise women who have birthed before them.

Community, of course, is good for all of us. In pregnancy, however, there is a deeper, immediate connection shared by those holding a life within. In the busyness of daily life, sometimes this miracle is overlooked and unsupported. In a pregnancy yoga class, women ease into the comfort of movement, share joys and worries, and reset the stress button. As we now know, babies benefit too!

Could it be that simple? What would the world be like if babies and moms were less stressed? If mom knew how to self soothe and babies entered this world calm and receptive for growth. That they would grow up in a generation that chooses calming inversions, deep breaths and soothing meditations over reactive anger, drug abuse, and gun violence.

Yoga can be an inexpensive, accessible, and effective way to manage stress in pregnancy. Yoga trains the individual to be better prepared to cope with daily stressors and improve her overall mood (Marc, Blanchet, Ernst, Hodnett, Turcot, & Dodin, 2010). We now can see how long range these effects may be.

So say, “yes” to yoga, infiltrate our society with this well-studied strategy for a peaceful existence, and give the next generation tools to be happy, healthy, and whole. I envision a more peaceful planet and prenatal yoga may be the magic bullet.

Wellness Within will be facilitating a comprehensive Prenatal Yoga Teachers’ Training
February 25-28 At the STAR campus at University of Delaware. All yoga teachers and nurses are encouraged to attend.
Beddoe, A.E., Yang, C.P., Kennedy, H.P., Weiss, S.J., & Lee, K.A. (2009). The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 38, 310-319. doi:10.1111/j.1552-6909.2009.01023.x
Beddoe, A.E., Lee, K.A., Weiss, S.J., Kennedy, H.P., & Yang, C.P. (2010). Effects of mindful yoga on sleep in pregnant women: A pilot study. Biological Research for Nursing, 11, 363-370. doi:10.1177/1099800409356320
DiPietro, J.A. (2004). The role of maternal stress in child development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 71-74.
Marc, I., Blanchet, C., Ernst, E., Hodnett, E.D., Turcot, L., & Dodin, S. (2010). Mind-body interventions during pregnancy for preventing or treating women’s anxiety. Cochrane PRENATAL YOGA 10 Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD007559. doi:10.1002/14651858. CD007559