Does yoga make childbirth easier?

All you Bendy Mamas out there have felt the same discomfort.

The trepidation and anxiety that goes with giving birth to a child. The potential stress and pain of labour and the trauma of delivery.

It’s hard to ignore, even though it accompanies one of the greatest events in our lives.

I’ve been through it. You’ve been through it. But here’s something I wish I better knew back then, and will remember if me and hubby are lucky enough to have another child.

There is real, bona fide scientific evidence that yoga can help alleviate some of the difficulties of child birth.

I want to caveat that statement. It’s important to recognise that each mama and each birth is different, and every new mama should embrace whatever works for you and your family. And I would never suggest that any mama substitutes yoga tips and tricks for sound medical advice, or the help and interventions of expert birthing partners, midwives, and doctors.

Catherine Otto birth Blog

But if you are considering having another child, learning some simple yoga techniques may help you on the days leading up to delivery, and on the day itself.

When pregnant with my son, I used breathing techniques to control my nerves during my scans and check-ups. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the evidence that it might help. It just felt right. During labour and the birth itself, I concentrated on breathing as deeply and regularly as I could. It helped with the pain, and made me less anxious (my husband tells me that my regular breathing helped focus and relax him too).

Now I didn’t have the perfect birth (can there be such a thing?).

But using yoga techniques did help me. And far more importantly, there is compelling evidence they might help you, if you become a mama again, or any of your friends embarking on the adventure.

Less pain

The evidence is contained in a study published in 2011, that evaluated the benefits of different relaxation techniques used to manage pain in labour. You can read the summary here.

This wasn’t an ad hoc piece of research. It was a review of eleven previous studies, each of which involved a randomised, controlled trial to test what interventions worked. Overall, more than 1300 women were involved.

It found, and I quote: “Relaxation and yoga may have a role with reducing pain, increasing satisfaction with pain relief and reducing the rate of assisted vaginal delivery.”

Otto in wrap Blog

The review looked at three different relaxation techniques, broadly categorised as general relaxation advice, yoga, and listening to music.

It found that women given relaxation advice reported less pain during the latent and active stages of labour. But the effect wasn’t that big, and the women didn’t feel any more satisfied with the pain relief they experienced or the birth itself, and it didn’t reduce the length of labour. 

Women who used yoga techniques had less severe pain, felt more satisfied with their pain relief, and the overall experience of giving birth. Their labour, was on average, shorter.

Interestingly, it also examined the benefits of playing music. The review didn’t find that music helped relieve pain at all. But there doesn’t appear to be any evidence it makes things worse either.

Objective evidence

The research was published by a group of scientists and medical experts known as the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, who run this excellent website, which objectively evaluates evidence on, you guessed it, pregnancy and childbirth.

That’s about as good as it gets, when it comes to objective evidence for what works (I know this in part, as my husband is a science editor in the national media, who reads and writes about this stuff every day). And these so-called meta-reviews can only be done every few years, so the evidence is some of the most up-to-date there is.

So here’s to being a mama.

And if any of us become mamas to more little ones, here’s to knowing that yoga might make it a little easier.

Catherine and young Otto Blog

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