How Prenatal Yoga Helps
Gestational diabetes is a condition that affects around 10% of pregnant women in the US every year. You can develop gestational diabetes without any sign of the disease prior to pregnancy, and it will usually disappear after birth.
What is gestational diabetes?
During pregnancy, our insulin requirement increases by 2 to 3 times what we normally require. And just to make matters even more difficult, the placenta surrounding a growing baby also produces hormones that make it harder for cells to respond to insulin. As a result of both of these factors, there is a big demand for the pancreas to make enough insulin to keep glucose levels within a healthy range.
Now, usually, this isn’t a problem. But for the 10% of women who’s pancreas is unable to meet the high demand, glucose intolerance takes place and they will develop gestational diabetes.
How can gestational diabetes affect pregnancy?
Most women who develop gestational diabetes will have a normal pregnancy with no complications. However, sometimes pregnant moms can be faced with the following:
A larger baby.
Too much amniotic fluid - which can cause premature labor.
Premature birth - before 37 weeks.
High blood pressure (pre-eclampsia).
Stillbirth - though this is very rare.
Risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Yoga and gestational diabetes
It’s thought that the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes is hugely affected by movement and the health of our bodies. By increasing physical activity before pregnancy, the risk of developing gestational diabetes decreases.
Yoga can help to prevent and alleviate the symptoms of gestational diabetes through the relaxing effect that it has on our bodies and our minds. By connecting the mind and body through yoga, we are also better able to understand and tune into hunger - which could prevent us from ‘boredom eating’ and therefore limit the effects of gestational diabetes.
There is a correlation between stress and elevated blood sugar levels. Prenatal yoga is designed to reduce our stress levels during pregnancy, which will lower your blood sugar levels, and improve the symptoms - or maybe even help to prevent - gestational diabetes.
Yoga reduces hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. When these hormones are raised, so is our blood sugar level. This, in turn, creates a higher demand for our pancreas to produce greater levels of insulin.
When is it safe to practice yoga during pregnancy?
The best practice is to start making yoga a part of your daily, or even weekly routine before pregnancy. This way you will have an established practice and be able to practice yoga from the very beginning of pregnancy - albeit with making a few necessary adjustments to keep your new body and growing baby safe!
If you are pregnant and looking to start a yoga practice, it’s recommended that you wait until the second trimester when there is less risk. This also gives you the time to get past the sickness and nausea that pregnancy often brings with it, and that can make it harder to balance in even the most basic yoga poses.
With regard to gestational diabetes, it’s best to keep active and add some movement into your day as early as possible. So the sooner you feel healthy and ready to start practicing, the better!
What precautions should I take during prenatal yoga?
During pregnancy, you’ll want to avoid the following yoga positions:
Poses that stretch the stomach (such as wheel pose and bow pose).
Laying on your stomach when your bump starts to show.
Typical savasana during the second and third trimesters (lay on your side instead).
If you want to learn more about staying safe or keeping your students safe during pregnancy, you’ll learn everything you need to know from a variety of professionals on our prenatal yoga teacher training course. Our course includes instruction and information from both yoga practitioners and midwives. You’ll also have the opportunity to practice your newly learned skills on pregnant women in various stages of pregnancy!
Beneficial poses for gestational diabetes
Any yoga flow that allows you to spend time in poses, tune into your body, and relax, will be beneficial in preventing and relieving the symptoms of gestational diabetes.
These are some of our favorites that you can practice at home and as often as you want!
Pranayama is yogic breathing. These are two forms of pranayama which are particularly beneficial during pregnancy and that are both easy to practice.
To create ‘ujjayi’, pretend that you’re exhaling through the mouth to fog up a window. Then close your mouth and inhale/exhale in the same way - it will feel like a slight restriction in the back of the throat.
More commonly known as ‘alternate nostril breathing’. Use the thumb and ring finger of your right hand to block each nostril in turn. Start by taking a deep breath in, then block the right nostril with the thumb as you exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, then block the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, then block the right nostril, and repeat. Continue for up to 5 minutes.
Sun salutations are a great way to wake up the joints and connect the mind to the body. Flow through each movement as you inhale and exhale to create a ‘moving meditation’.
Bring the knees as wide as the mat, toes touching, sit back on the heels and bring the forehead to the mat or a block. Reach the arms out in front of you and relax into the pose. This can be a particularly useful pose during times of anxiety. As your baby grows, you may want to bring a cushion underneath the chest to create more room for your belly.
Though not safe to lie on your back for long periods of time during the second and third trimesters, you can still have a very comfortable savasana. Lying on your left side, bring your left arm underneath your head as a pillow, placing a cushion between your knees and under your bump. Stay here for as long as you like.
Yoga is incredibly beneficial during pregnancy and is particularly great at lowering stress levels and stress hormones - both of which can increase the symptoms and the chances of developing gestational diabetes. Always listen to your own body, and remember to take it gently when practicing prenatal yoga.