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Strength for Birth

by Elise Bowerman 

"Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers - strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength."
- Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Physical fitness is a common concern for mommas-to-be. Many women who are already physically fit according to the World Health Organization seem to place an even extra emphasis on their changing bodies, too. 

As women we are bombarded with images and "ideals" of someone else's definition of what "strong" looks like. My favorite video promoting the truth of women's power is this one of the belly jelly

So, how strong do you need to be to go through childbirth? It's an answer only you will know. 

Childbirth can be equated to the iceberg theories of communication and that of the yoga practice itself.

Beginning with communication's old saying, "10% of communication is verbal while 90% is non-verbal." There's truth in that; however, the numbers may be slightly off. 

Then the physical practice (asana) we participate in by “going to yoga” is usually just one out of eight aspects of the yoga practice. The eight limbs of yoga were put into writing by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (ashtanga.) 

We may see with our eyes what a strong birthing woman looks like; it’s common to wonder- what's really behind her strength? Is it mostly physical or mental or both?

In my experiences of teaching prenatal yoga since 2009, and having two natural childbirths of my own - it's both... majority being mental.

The Challenge

We live in a society of numbing our pain. Whether it's through food, shopping, alcohol, working out, watching TV, avoiding much needed conversations, overuse of prescription medication, living in denial about a certain subject (like birth!) or whatever else may be treated as a way out of facing what's on our path at this moment. 

The more we ignore the bump in the road, the bigger the hurdle becomes. 

Defining Strength

At Sweet Momma Yoga (my new brand/website to be arriving soon) we pride ourselves with an all encompassing physical exercise program; along with mental/emotional challenges to prepare expecting moms for the trials not only of pregnancy, but of childbirth.

You’ll find a variety of prenatal yoga classes around. Some emphasize the vinyasa style of sun salutations or more of the work-out concept. Those certainly do the job of getting the work-out in. Does she really need it? Maybe.

What I don’t see enough offerings are prenatal yoga classes finding the balance of teaching the momma-to-be how to find the stability of pushing/doing while allowing/releasing. That’s the Sweet Momma Yoga difference.

During birth the woman will be working at her greatest capacity physically and mentally. But, and this is a big BUT – she has to release and allow baby to come into the world. No one learns this in a work-out type class.

Prior to just becoming pregnant did you participate in:

  • Yoga (vinyasa, hatha, etc.)
  • Barre
  • Swimming, running or biking
  • Triathlete
  • Aerobics
  • Cross Fit
  • Martial Arts
  • and any other form of physical exertion…?

If you have, then you’re likely physically fit for birth. However, now is the time to release the ideals you once had about your work-out routine to be strong and re-define your definition of strength… at least during pregnancy and the first year postpartum (but we’ll stay focused on pregnancy in this article.)

If you’ve been living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, meaning sitting or lying for the majority of the day, have no fear – you can find the strength you need for childbirth in Sweet Momma Yoga’s prenatal yoga classes! Key movements like squatting and circling of the hips will release common discomforts and are ideal options during childbirth.

Those who’ve had a regular work-out routine or active lifestyle will benefit greatly of developing the mental state of mind of “less is more.” I say this because there’s energy in our culture for more, we seem to never be or do enough. Keeping up with the Jones’ only creates greater stress. Less is more allows self-reflection, self-compassion and the ability to prioritize effectively.

Sometimes the greatest challenge is trusting the process of allowing the body and mind to not push (placing expectations), but rather allow events to unfold.

The Secrets of the Birth Canal

Baby is entering the world (in a vaginal birth) through the root chakra, called muladhara in Sanskrit. Mula = root; Adhara = support or base. Basically, the energy point encompassing what sets the foundation of stability in your life. This may include on the emotional level the following, but certainly not limited to:

  • How we think of ourselves
  • How we think others perceive us
  • The traditions we uphold
  • Our belief system

These are deeply rooted thoughts and feelings. For many of us these may be unconscious ideas, thought patterns or ways of viewing ourselves and the world we live in. Sweet Momma Yoga’s prenatal yoga program will help bring some of these topics to light so that the expecting woman can develop self-inquiry and perhaps come to acceptance or even change something that may not be supporting her current phase of life. Not all mommas are ready or open for this type of self-work when they come to our program. And that’s completely OK!

As previously mentioned this program is all encompassing. Sometimes the greatest benefit is being amidst the community itself... or for the work-out.

New Body New You

Not being in control of the growing body can cause serious paranoia to the expecting woman. The body is supposed to grow larger. It completely goes against everything we’ve been raised to think about our bodies! I get it! You are not alone if you feel this way.

As a former dancer with a critical inner monologue I had a tough time wrapping my head around the idea that there was no possible way I could get any larger. My hips, thighs, belly, arms and even my face kept puffing up and out! Somehow my body knew what to do, just like women’s bodies have been growing little humans and birthing for thousands of years.

This is an extremely temporary time in life for this transformative change in body. The rest of your life can be devoted to your child(ren) while recognizing where you are doing an excellent job at remaining healthy for yourself, and for the family.

What helped me honor this great change was reminding myself that not all women who want to carry children get the opportunity to. This gift had been bestowed to me, and maybe even you, too. Finding thankfulness in the discomforts, annoyances and bountiful body you’ve been given may open space in the mind that you are doing a wonderful job at housing this precious little human until their next phase. As baby grows, so do you.

You will never be the woman you once were before baby existed... on the outside and on the inside. A new life awaits as you enter motherhood.

As a prenatal chiropractor, I have worked closely with Elise and many of her prenatal yoga students in the past 2 years. I consistently find that the women under my care that are also attending regular prenatal yoga classes with Elise experience less discomfort in their pregnancy, report stronger emotional connections to their bodies, and they consistently state they feel better prepared for labor and delivery. If you are looking for a way to safely exercise but also want a beautiful way to connect with your body prior to delivery seek out classes with Sweet Momma Yoga. Lastly, Elise goes above and beyond to create a sense of community for her students. She has created a thriving group of moms that support one another outside of the classes and virtually. - Kelsi McClure, DC, Lone Tree CO
I’ve participated in Sweet Momma Yoga during both of my pregnancies and have benefited each time. Even on days when I feel tired and just wanted to put my feet up, I always felt better after class knowing that I am taking the best care of myself and my baby. Elise does an amazing job of making all of the moms feel welcome and comfortable no matter what previous yoga experience they’ve had. I got more out of Sweet Momma Yoga than I ever expected, benefiting both my pregnancy and birthing experiences. I would recommend to any expecting momma! - Deirdre L., Livonia MI