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Yoga in pregnancy - Q and A with Natasha Harding

When you're pregnant, you may not feel that you have the energy for exercise - especially if you already had a young child or children to look after. It's important to try to keep as fit as you can though as this can help you during labour and will also ensure you get back into shape more quickly after giving birth. If you're not in the mood for anything too strenuous, yoga can be the perfect exercise during pregnancy as yoga teacher Natasha Harding, who has just written a new book YogaMamma, explains. We began by asking her whether yoga was growing in popularity with mums-to-be.

Yes definitely. I began teaching seven years ago in 2006 and have a lot more clients now than I ever did. I think the fact that so many celebrities are embracing yoga and are seen with their mat under their arms while heavily pregnant has influenced the masses.

Can you do yoga throughout your pregnancy?

I'd advise a woman who hasn't done yoga before to wait until her 12 week scan before embarking on a new exercise regime. However, if she's already been doing yoga for a period of time she will be fine to continue with it - as long as she feels well enough. There are certain poses that pregnant women shouldn't do, such as deep twists in the early days.

Is yoga completely safe for pregnant women?

Yes. If there was a history of miscarriage it's best not to do ANY exercise, not just yoga. Other than that if the woman is feeling well then yoga is fantastic to do throughout the pregnancy.

I've taught two women who have come to me in the early stages of labour as they thought a class would help their contractions to build and for them to get in the right mind-set before giving birth. I'm pleased to say that both women had their babies the next day - not during my class.

It's important to go to a class that is specifically for pregnant women as some poses shouldn't be practiced, inversions, deep twists and lying on your back for too long for example. If you go to a regular class, make sure you tell the instructor you are expecting so she can adapt poses for you

If you do yoga already, can you carry on as usual when pregnant or do you need to adapt your yoga routine?

If you've already got a routine, you will be fine to do most of the poses, with a few minor changes. I qualified to teach yoga when I was pregnant with my first baby and am currently pregnant now and am still teaching as many classes as I always did - and just make a few changes here and there. I’m happy to say, I've never felt so well.

Are there different yoga positions suitable for different stages of pregnancy?

Yes you will need to change certain things as you go on. For example most women feel okay lying on their back during the first trimester, and some are okay in the second - but most struggle by the time they reach the third trimester so poses on the back are best avoided towards the end. Equally I encourage my women to squat as it's so wonderful during birth, but deep squats are best avoided until 34 weeks + as you don't want to over-expose the uterus.

Can it alleviate any of the physical symptoms that can accompany pregnancy?

Without a doubt. Back ache is terribly common during pregnancy and yoga massively helps this. It will also helps symptoms of sciatica, swelling and indigestion.

Also if a woman is anxious about birth and becoming a mum, the breath work will really help by calming the mind and body.

Will it help during labour?

It can definitely help during labour - in a normal, healthy labour of course. Over my years of teaching I've observed that yoga encourages baby into the optimum birth pose, which makes delivery easier (hopefully). Often when you hear of a woman having a long, awful labour it's because of the position of the baby – such as being back to back. Yoga hopefully helps to prevent this by encouraging the baby to use all the space in the pelvis and to stay head down and compact. A good teacher will also give poses that a woman can use during labour - if the baby is back to back for example.

Being active during labour is so important. Labour is often shorter and by moving a woman will release endorphins - the body's natural painkillers. Being active also gives the woman control.

During labour the breath has been proved to massively help women. It's amazing how many people don't know how to breathe correctly - and when we panic we tend to hold the breath or to breathe in a very shallow way. This is exactly what you DON'T want to happen, so yoga teaches a woman how to use the breath to manage the contractions, and shows different breaths for different stages.

How long should you wait before doing yoga after birth?

I'd advise waiting until at least six weeks - and once you've had your six week check with the doctor. Before then pelvic floor work and walking is enough. Once you're ready to go back to a class it's important that you tell your instructor you've just had a baby - and that you accept your body will be different, and a bit weaker at first.

YogaMamma by Natasha Harding (£1.99, Endeavour Press) is available to download now from Amazon.

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