How to practice Yoga safely during early pregnancy and while TTC

If you are a regular yoga practitioner, continuing your practice can be made safe for the time of conception and the first few weeks of pregnancy – by knowing where to make adjustments and ensuring a deep and continuous awareness of how your body feels in the practice .

The first twelve weeks after conception is a time of great transformation and immense work for the body, so it is not the time to try push your limits. In fact, this period is a time of re-negotiating them and slowing down, which for many of us can be a challenge in itself. This is why continuing to attend your regular class when so many other fundamental things are changing can feel important. However, there are some considerations to be aware of in order to make your practice prenatally friendly and safe.

Let yourself be moved by Awareness – Your own awareness of the sensations of your body and the flow of your breath will deepen your practice, while also keeping it within the boundaries of what is safely available for you. What feels good and right and available in your practice may change from day to day. Continue to listen and back out of anything that feels too intense. Straining of the breath, feelings of dizziness or hot flushes are all reasons to slow down. 

Always tell your teacher that you are pregnant – Including if you are taking the class online. This is especially important if you are new to the teacher. 

Drop any form of ego or competition – Don’t compete with the other students in the room or with your non-pregnant self. 

Follow these pregnancy safe considerations in your practice: 

  • Know what is safe for you personally. Check in with your midwife or obstetrician that practicing or continuing your practice is safe for you. If you have a history of loss or are in a high risk group, this may limit any kind of yoga practice for the time being to gentle pranayama, meditation, restorative, yin prenatal or chanting.
  • Avoid Asanas that put pressure on your lower abdomen such as Bow (Dhanurasana), Locust (Salabhasana), Boat (Navasana), planks or crunch-like movements. Also breath work and Pranayamas that engage the core in a demanding way are to be avoided in this time, such as Kapalabhati Shatkarman + Pranayama and Bhastrika Pranayama. 
  • Avoid deep abdominal twists that lock the area from the waist down to the hips. Gentle and open twists focused only in the upper clavicular and cervical spine can be beneficial for spinal comfort and health. Make sure that there is no twisting below the bra-line. 
  • Unless it is part of a daily routine you depend on, you may want to put your inversion practice to the side for now. Headstand (Sirsasana) and its different variants, shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) and forearm stand (Pinchamayurasana) all engage profoundly through the deep abdominals and there is always a slight risk of falling over, which in this time and throughout all of pregnancy is to be avoided. 
  • Be mindful of certain Pranayamas. All kinds of prolonged breath retentions should be avoided – both full and empty retentions (Kumbhaka). Extensive clavicular breathing or hyperventilation should also be absolutely avoided. Pranayama is an incredible tool for your birth, in fact maybe the most important one if you are looking to have an unmedicated birth, but make sure you practice with a teacher who has experience and competence to work with pregnancy. 
  • Jumping back, unless done with absolute grace and precision, is contraindicated to the stability that is needed at this time. 
  • Generally, yoga over all stiles and lineages doesn’t work with jerky movements, but if you would find yourself in a class with an element of free movement or shaking, keep it on the gentle side. 

Find the answers – If you have questions about a certain movement, asana, pranayama or technique ask your teacher and if they don’t know, reach out to a prenatal specialist. Not every yoga teacher is trained in prenatal considerations. 

Most importantly – Remember to trust yourself and make your yoga practice a place to cultivate that trust.

Emma Preisler, CD, CLC.

Gentle weaning – a soft approach to stop breastfeeding

Closing the breastfeeding chapter is often not as straightforward a process as it might first sound. It involves challenges for both parts of the breastfeeding dyad: mother and child. Yet not many supportive resources are readily available. There are different approaches to how and when to begin the weaning journey and whatever path you choose, make sure that you feel ready and supported when you start.

This article outlines a few of the things to consider when beginning the weaning process. Before looking at them, we need to outline the different approaches there are to weaning, to understand the different paths ahead. Additionally, it is always helpful to consult your paediatrician, a lactation counsellor or your midwife as you begin this journey. 

Child-led weaning

Most breastfed children across all cultures naturally wean themselves off of breastmilk between two and four year of age. The process is slow and gradual and the child tends to drop one feed at a time, often leaving the first and last feed of the day the longest before finally stopping completely. The immunological health benefits of breastmilk and the emotional and developmental benefits of breastfeeding continue for as long as the baby or child breastfeeds. Self-weaning rarely happens to babies below the average age 2-4 years and almost never before 12 months. In cases where babies refuse nursing, it is most likely the case of a passing nursing strike. 

Parent-led weaning

When the mother or the breastfeeding parent decides to initiate weaning, this means that the process is parent-led and this can be a gradual or abrupt process. 

  • Partial weaning

Partial weaning essentially means slowing down the pace of breastfeeding over a more or less extended period of time. This can mean to cut down on the number of feeds per day and/or the length of the feeds, going gently, at a pace of dropping maximum one feed per week, but often slower. 

  • Abrupt weaning 

This may be necessary in extreme circumstances, such as in the case of medical intervention incompatible with breastfeeding in the mother. Abrupt weaning from one day to another comes with greater risk of discomfort, engorgement and mastitis and can also be stressful and emotionally challenging for both mother and baby, as the time to adjust isn’t there.

Is your baby or toddler ready to wean?

  • Your child has been eating and drinking enough solids and fluids throughout the day for some time. 
  • Your child is healthy, within average weight and height range. 
  • Your child isn’t currently going through a big milestone or period where they need extra support. 
  • Mama feels ready. 
  • There are support people available to mother and child. 
  • The family as a whole is in a period of little stress and not too much demand, as weaning can disrupt sleep and rhythm for some time. 

Gentle Weaning

Gentle weaning is an approach to weaning where the dynamics of child led weaning are mimicked, while the process is in fact initiated by the mother or breastfeeding parent. Gentle weaning does not translate into easy weaning, even if on a larger perspective this approach may be easier on everyone involved. The goal is that even though weaning isn’t initiated by the child, they manage the changes well and that bonding between breastfeeding parent and child doesn’t suffer. 

Rather than switching to bottle feeding, a gentle weaning path means that we do not immediately look to replace the breast with something else such as formula or cow’s milk. Gentle weaning is an approach especially for toddlers and children from 12 to 18 months and older – at an age when you can observe that your child’s meals of solids cover their daily intake of calories, making it completely safe to cut back on nursing without giving a breast milk substitute.

Drinking out of a bottle has some disadvantages that breastfeeding lacks, such as higher risk of cavities and dental issues in the child and more frequently occurring ear infections. So ideally we do not want to switch from breast to this less optimal option. Instead, a bottle of water can be given – making sure it is the same one during the day and night, as this can help the child get attached to it (make sure your little one can drink out of it on their own and that the bottle doesn’t spill, so that they can drink out of it independently during the night).

The breast-feeding parent also has benefits of going slow with weaning. Although the process may need more work because of its slow and gradual nature, it also avoids the shock-like sudden change on the lactating system that comes with abrupt weaning that can lead to blocked ducts, engorgement and mastitis. Hormonally speaking, the absence of those continuous spikes in oxytocin that comes with breastfeeding can also effect how we cope with a sudden vs. gradual weaning path.  The body on all levels has time to adjust to the changes. 

Some tips on gentle weaning

  • Set an intention regarding the pace you think suits you and your little one or give yourself a time span, which includes regression if needed, such as in the case that baby strongly resists weaning or if they get ill/start teething. Be clear about why you want to stop, but also know it’s okay to slow down the slowing down in case it feels rushed in anyway.
  • “Don’t offer, don’t refuse,” this is a good first step on the weaning journey, where nursing is gently limited to the times baby initiates it.
  • Distractions. Distract baby with a toy or snack when they want to nurse. You can delay nursing by explaining to them that you will nurse later, just not now. 
  • Supportive surroundings. The father and/or other supportive adults can play an enormously supportive role to the mother and child in this process. It may be easier for the child to accept soothing from another person than the breastfeeding parent in the more critical phase of weaning. 
  • Embrace physical and soulful closeness with your baby while weaning. Baby wearing is excellent. Give your baby a massage. Keep loads of eye contact and talk to your little one, also about your feelings and thoughts about weaning.
  • Herbs. Avoid herbs known to increase milk production, such as fennel and fenugreek. Introduce mint or sage tea, which reduce lactation. Consider speaking to an herbalist or TCM practitioner to add this dimension of plant powered support.  
  • Essential oils. Some studies have shown that compresses with diluted jasmine essential oil helps reduce milk supply. 
  • Wear clothes without easy access, including while you sleep. Do not let your baby see your breasts for the time being. Be prepared that if they do, they might feel quite emotional about it. 
  • Be gentle with yourself and your child. Weaning is a big step that requires letting go. Remind yourself of the positive aspects with taking this step. 

Going gently when weaning helps you honour this chapter. It is also a chance to practice asking for help when you need it. If at any time you have questions, reach out to a lactation counsellor for further support.  

Emma Preisler, CD, CLC.

The Postpartum Map: why preparing for this tender time is essential

You have likely heard about the importance of writing a birth plan, or birth map as I define it, as a way to prepare for giving birth. Many of us spend pregnancy trying to imagine how this immense event will play out and how to navigate our needs, desires and the unexpected. This is such essential work of the pregnancy, but the task of preparing should ideally stretch further than the birth and reach into our first chapter of parenthood.

Reflecting on the first few weeks with baby, also known as the fourth trimester, is equally important. Like the birth map, creating a postpartum map helps us to connect to ourselves both rationally and intuitively. In a process of verbalising what our needs are, we get to share these with the world around us and in this way, create a shared set of expectations for this often challenging time. 

Just like when we prepare for giving birth, exactly how things will happen is beyond our control, but when we are informed and prepared ahead of time, navigating the unexpected, while staying connected to our true needs and intentions, becomes easier. This is so important to remember. We do not make a postpartum map in order to try to stay in control – in fact, the key to handling the postpartum period successfully is to let go of the illusion that we are in control and surrender to the flow of this sacred time of healing.

The following three guidelines can help you put together your postpartum map.

  1. Set up a cocoon of care for yourself and your baby.

After pregnancy and birth, the body goes through an immense transformation on every level. We can think of ourselves in this time as  requiring the same amount of tenderness, ease and softness as our newborn baby. What does support mean to you in a period of such profound healing and processing? Be specific about your needs and hopes as you note them down, and be even more specific about how these needs will be met.

Preparation is essential, so if possible, spend some time in the last weeks of pregnancy already making sure that some of your support systems are in place. Stack the freezer and pantry, organise a meal train for the first week or two among family and friends, and get as much of the house and home work sorted. Prepare especially the area where you think you’ll spend most of your time after birth, or even create a new area of your home for this. Think of it as your cocoon of healing and support, and commit to spending your time there doing the important work of resting, recovering and caring for your newborn. 

2. Allow space for this time to be what it needs to be.

We never know exactly the temperament or needs of our little ones before they come along. And even if we did, babies’ needs change constantly as they go through calmer periods and times they need more from us in order to settle. So to hold on to big expectations of outings and social gatherings ultimately often leads to stress.

To also expect that this newborn phase will be all glowing and bonding and getting to know each other in the sweetest ways can lead to us feeling distressed. Let it be hard when it is hard. Let yourself cry if you feel lost or exhausted and bombed with hormones and sleep deprivation. Hold yourself as sweetly as you hold your baby – all of yourself and the parent you are becoming. Some days will be some of your sweetest yet, and some you will have to make it through hour by hour. That’s just the nature of postpartum. 

3. Creating rituals helps us honour this liminal time.

Becoming a parent transforms us in many ways –  birth itself is a rebirth of sorts. But you, this person right here, will not disappear. Your day to day needs, the little things that give you joy, the rituals that create the rhythm of your life and body, might temporarily get less important, but they will not go away, even with the blessed presence of your baby. In fact, finding your way back to these small acts of feeling like yourself is a gentle way to connect to yourself in the often raw postpartum time.

As you write down your intentions for this period, think of the things that make you feel like yourself.

  • If you have a daily yoga practice, include in your postpartum plan a moment to spend on your mat, even if you won’t (and shouldn’t) practice a dynamic asana practice, spend some time with your body in intuitive stretches, gentle movement, breathing and grounding.
  • Perhaps you connect to yourself and your surroundings with a daily walk with your dog – include some time sitting outside with your dog playing, for the time when you feel ready to venture out. Baby steps, but still going where you feel yourself connecting.
  • If cooking for yourself and your family is what grounds you, think ahead of time of the recipes requiring the least amount of effort, while still letting you feel like yourself in nourishing and enjoying.
  • Rituals can be as simple as a daily shower or a morning coffee!

A ritual just means presence in what we do, with an intention of connecting and giving kindness and care to ourselves. And this is exactly what we need during this precious, challenging and transformational phase.

Emma Preisler, CD, CLC.

The Birth Map – A multidimensional process of great importance in preparing for birth

Creating a birth map is one of the most profound and powerful processes in preparing for birth. More commonly known as a ‘birth plan’ or the ‘birth preference list’, in short it is a document that states your needs, desires and demands for the time around the birth and shortly after.  I prefer to refer to it as a map, since a plan sounds rigid and controlling, and giving birth is not about being in control – in fact, it is about trusting your body and letting go of control.

In order to do that, we need to feel safe and supported, and that’s the work of the birth map – to find out what support looks like for you, set yourself up to create that setting, while giving us the tools to navigate the unexpected that will always be part of birth and birthing. The word map supports this notion. 

The following four guidelines are helpful in putting together your birth map:

  1. Begin with ‘unlearning’

So much in birth preparation is about ‘unlearning‘. You do not need to worry about learning how to give birth – this is something you and your body already knows. But we tend to hold onto conscious and subconscious ideas of what birth is, what our own limits are and what will happen when we step into this unknown land. Your most important preparation here is to learn how to get yourself – your mind – out of your own way when the day comes, and root down into trusting in this event and your body’s abilities to hold such incredible power. The birth map can help you with this as you peel off layer after layer of your understanding of birth, getting to the core connection of what birth means to you and what support will look like for you in this setting. 

2. Educate yourself on what birth is and know your options.

In order to create a map, you need to know the territory it will help you navigate. Both you and your birth partner need to take the time to study and understand the birth process as a natural physiological event. Let this create the framework for the birth map. The different phases and stages of birth will require very different things from you, so also the support you’ll need throughout the whole journey will have to be diverse.

Educating yourselves also has the important purpose of bringing you clarity in the different modes of care offered by different care providers. If you don’t know what your options are, you don’t have any. Basing your choices on what you consider best and safest for you and your baby in an understanding of birth, will help you trust your intuitive body. Being informed is key to having options and knowing it is your right to have them. Before you go over your birth map with your care provider, go over it with a doula.

3. The way there is as important as the final destination.

It is important that the process of creating the birth map includes the entire spectrum of your thoughts – meaning it should be an extension of your inner world. So when you are reflecting on the birth to come, welcome your fears, your questions and your doubts into this process. Let them come to the surface so that you can look at them in the light of consciousness, rather than hiding them in the back where they risk to build up and then surface only on the day itself.

Look around you for places to share these thoughts – your partner, family members who have given birth, your doula or midwife. Remember that preparing for birth will always contain big questions. It is simply part of it, as much as anticipation and excitement is part of it. If you don’t feel like you have a place to safely discuss your fears, doubts and questions, then that is an important message that perhaps more supportive spaces are needed in your life and process of preparation for this birth and perhaps for the birth itself too. 

4. Let your own wisdom guide you all the way.

Through this process, doubt and questions eventually fall out of the birth map, giving room for the clarity of your preferences, needs, hopes, desires and demands. Little by little, narrowing down, this highlights all that feels important for us in the setting of the birth. Finally, the birth map becomes like a spine of our vision. Process these main points by writing affirmation cards and mantras based on these. Repeat these to yourself as often as you can when birth is imminent and then to keep you floating through labour land once labour begins. 

Emma Preisler, CD, CLC.

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