Why practice postnatal yoga with a baby? In a word: self-care. In three, self-care, self-care, self-care.
It's no secret that becoming a new parent is a transformative experience, whether it's your first or fifth baby. Birth is a renewal, and matrescence is very raw and real. Suddenly, we have a newborn whose needs can seem never-ending and whose nervous system is still closely tied to our own. Staying calm through the chaos of it all can be crucial to nurturing new life, but how exactly do we do that? This is where postnatal yoga comes into the picture.
Postnatal yoga has served as a cornerstone of nurturing my own well-being, and I've found it's all the better when I can bond with my little ones in the process. Interested in learning where to being? In this guide, I'll walk you through everything you need to know about practicing postnatal yoga with a baby, from its many benefits to how to find a class near you.
The Benefits of Postnatal Yoga with Your Baby
What are the benefits of practicing postnatal yoga? This could truly be its own blog post because there are just too many to list! And when you involve your baby in the mix, there are only more. Here's a small sampling of the top benefits for you and your baby:
Healing the Body + Embracing the Goddess Energy of Motherhood: After nine months of growing a baby, your body will not be the same. It will be better! Trust me. You've just literally created life, and this is some kind of magic that needs to be acknowledged. Postnatal yoga is NOT designed to help you bounce back to your pre-pregnancy weight. If this is your goal, look for a different practice or at the very least, look for a different teacher. Rather than try to reset your body, postnatal yoga is designed to be a practice of healing the physical wounds from pregnancy, labor, and birth. It's a practice of growing comfortable in your skin and embodying the goddess energy that motherhood is.
Mental Health + Emotional Resilience: The hormonal shifts after childbirth are real, and emotions can feel even more pressing when we're working on very little sleep. Yoga is a process of ultimately quieting the chatter of the mind -- and there can be so much of it in this chaotic phase of life! For this reason, having a regular practice to lean into during the postnatal period can be crucial for our mental health.
Creating a Refuge of Calm + Mindfulness Off the Mat: When we set aside a dedicated space at home for yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, it becomes a refuge of calm we can return to during the hardest days postpartum. Having a physical space for yoga can be critical to establishing a regular practice, but eventually, there becomes less of a distinction between the practice on the mat and the mindful approach it can inspire in parenting and daily life.
Bonding Time With Baby: All the benefits of postnatal yoga become SO much sweeter when we practice with a baby. Although our movements may be limited when holding a newborn, having our baby nearby can be a gentle reminder to slow down and savor these sweet and fleeting moments of the messy new baby days. Don't feel guilty about taking breaks to feed, soothe, or snuggle your baby as you practice! This is yoga, truly.
Posture, Posture, Posture: Pregnancy can dramatically change our posture. And just when we're able to tie our shoes without straining again, we now have this tiny little human tugging us down! Baby-holding and baby-wearing are so lovely and essential, but without movement to counteract all the slumping that occurs day-to-day, our bodies can feel extremely strained. Without a doubt, postnatal yoga is the most healing medicine for the postural imbalances that inevitably occur.
Heart-Opening While Breastfeeding: This is perhaps the most surprising benefit, but postnatal yoga can also be breastfeeding support! I don't think anyone talks about this enough, but you can nurse your baby while practicing yoga. This goes hand in hand with yoga's benefits on posture listed above. My absolute favorite postnatal yoga posture is a supported backbend over a bolster, which I practiced so often with both babies as a breastfeeding position. For me, this has been the only way I can practice Savasana with a baby in the room!
Community + Finding Your Tribe: Having a community of mom friends is essential to postpartum mental health! And since it's SO hard to get out of the house in the early baby days, I've found having a virtual community of like-minded mamas can be just as effective. Find your tribe either in-person or through social media by joining postnatal classes or groups online!
Getting Started with Postnatal Yoga
If you already have a regular yoga practice, you can skip ahead to the next section. But if you are brand new to yoga and don't know how to begin, these tips are for you!
Get Approved By Your Healthcare Provider To Return To Movement: Before starting any postnatal movement routine, consult your healthcare provider to ensure you're physically ready. This is especially true if you had a C-section or complications from birth, such as diastasis recti or issues with the pelvic floor. Once you've been cleared at your 6-week appointment, you're in a good place to begin! Of course, if you did have a regular practice prior to having a baby, there are gentle yoga practices and movements you can do, but if you have any doubts, it's always safer to choose stillness in the first 40 days following birth.
Take Class In-Person First: If you are brand new to practicing, please take classes with a certified yoga teacher rather than starting to practice on YouTube! Your body has been through a lot, and teachers are not always able to provide appropriate, individualized postnatal yoga modifications online. Taking a few private lessons with a postnatal yoga teacher can be an incredible investment to get you started safely. Private yoga lessons can also allow you to involve your baby in yoga under the guidance of someone who knows babies and bodies. If private yoga is not within your means, group classes such as Baby & Me, Postnatal, or Beginner Yoga classes are also great places to start!
Choose the Right Time: Timing is so important when choosing when to practice postnatally, especially so when you're involving your baby! In the early newborn days, leaving the house even for an hour can feel like a day-long adventure. And there are so many different baby rags to bring! For this reason alone, taking private lessons at home or establishing a home practice can be a healing balm. But community is also important postpartum, so taking our practice to Baby & Me classes can also be incredibly beneficial for our mental health! Either way, when thinking about when to practice with a baby, it's a good idea to take their pattern of napping and feeding into account. If there's a particular time of day when they're fussy, don't do yoga then. Wait until they are well-fed, awake, alert, and engaged. This phase may only last minutes when they're teeny tiny, so take advantage when you see it!
Setting the Stage for a Safe, Effective Baby & Me Postnatal Yoga Class
Safety can be all we think of when we are new parents, and it's equally important to consider when practicing yoga with a baby (for your body as much as for your baby's body!). Here are some tips for practicing with your non-mobile little one:
Start Slowly: Whether you're re-establishing a regular yoga practice or just beginning your yoga journey, it's so important to be gentle with yourself. I really can't stress this point enough! Your body has undergone major musculoskeletal, hormonal, and emotional changes. A practice that is soothing and restful is the most beneficial one in the early postpartum days. Rebuilding the core can come later. To avoid injury and setbacks in your healing, lean into softness first, above all else.
Listen to Your Body: This goes hand-in-hand with the point above, but it's so critical to let your body be the ultimate teacher when you're practicing postnatally! Our body will give us cues about what feels right and what doesn't. Sometimes these cues are loud, and other times they may be whispers. Listen to them all! Never force yourself into a pose, and if something feels uncomfortable or painful, stop immediately.
Look for the Warning Signs: Any pain, pressure, or pelvic floor leaking is a red flag to stop what you're doing or take it down a level or two. Coning or doing of the abdominal muscles rather than feeling a smooth, rounded brace of the abdomen is another sign you may be overly engaging the core or pelvic floor before those muscles are ready.
Breathe, Mama, Breathe: Slow, gentle diaphragmatic breathing is the best medicine postpartum. Breathing is abdominal exercise, and it is the foundation of establishing a sustainable yoga practice. Before doing anything on your mat, it's important to check in with your breath. If you spend the entire practice on a bolster practicing diaphragmatic breathing, that's still strong and important work!
Listen to Your Baby: The goal of practicing yoga with a baby is not to get your little one to learn all the poses before they can speak, but rather it's to gently and gradually expose them to tools to support their physical and emotional development in a safe, supportive environment. Observe your baby throughout the practice, and be with them above all else! Always stop to soothe, nurse, or change your baby whenever they need you, and NEVER force them into any yoga poses.
Wear Your Baby Safely: If you choose to wear your baby in a carrier or wrap during your yoga practice, make sure they are strapped in tightly enough. It's so easy to wear them too loosely if you're new to baby-wearing (I did, plenty of times until I saw myself on camera). Make sure your baby is snug and close enough to kiss as you practice.
Stay Hydrated: Especially if breastfeeding is thrown into the postnatal yoga mix, it can be so easy to get dehydrated! Always have water, tea, or your beverage of choice on hand, and take breaks to sip as needed throughout practice.
Setting the Ground Rules for Postnatal Yoga With Your Baby
Beyond the safety rules of practice, it's curcial to cultivate a positive attitude toward practicing yoga with your little one. Here are some of my top ground rules:
Cultivate Softness: Did I mention it's okay to snuggle your baby the entire yoga practice? These days when they are tiny, delicate, and cuddly won't last long! Cherish the magic while it lasts.
Be Kind to Yourself: It can be so easy to compare yourself to others and to think you will never return to showering with ease let alone doing anything our capitalist society deems "productive". Please remind yourself that caring for a baby is full-time work! Navigating a new chapter of life can be challenging. Be patient with yourself, celebrate small victories, and remember progress and healing are not always linear.
Embrace Imperfection: Understand that very often, practice with a little one won't go as planned. Babies can be unpredictable, and that's perfectly okay. Snuggle your baby! And adapt your practice to your collective moment-to-moment needs. Learning to do this on the mat is a small exercise for what the lifelong journey of parenting will be!
Sample Postnatal Baby & Me Yoga Routine
Ready to dive into a short, sweet practice with your baby? Here are a few sample poses to try under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher or on your own at your own discretion if you have a regular practice.
Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing: This gentle exercise can be practiced with or without your tiny baby on your chest. Start by lying on your back with at least one hand placed on your belly. If you don't have hands free because they're being used to hold your baby, imagine them there. Start by watching the breath as it moves in and out your nose. Notice if the belly is moving with your breath, and if it's not, invite the belly and ribcage to gently expand with each breath in and soften with each exhalation. Begin to make each breath slightly longer and more intentional. For 5-10 rounds of breath, inhale through the nose and exhale through the lips, inviting the entire belly to hug inward as you become empty. Return to normal, natural breathing after completing this exercise, watching the air as it moves through you.
Child's Pose: Just as you did during pregnancy, it's important to avoid overworking the core in early postpartum. So, as you lift yourself to seated, do so slowly, using the strength of your arms to rise up. Come into Child's Pose (Balasana) by bringing your big toes to touch and separating your knees wide enough so that your torso can rest between them. Place a bolster or a block underneath you if the earth feels too far away. Here, your baby can be on a blanket nearby you, and if they are happy, begin to direct your focus inward. Watch the breath once again, this time paying attention to the sensation as the air fills the back of the lungs. As you breathe in, fill the back of the belly and ribcage with air, and as you breathe out, watch this space soften. Stay here for about a minute or for as long as your baby allows.
Cat-Cow: Ease your way into Tabletop Pose with your wrists stacked underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Begin to gently move the spine from here, inhaling into Cow Pose (Bitilasana) and exhaling into Cat Pose (Marjariasana). Repeat these movements for about 10 rounds of breath, either sticking with Cat-Cow or inviting additional free movement to the spine.
Baby Sensory Play: Not only is the yoga mat a great space to bond with baby, but it's also a perfect place for sensory play. If your baby is awake and alert, you can next come to a seat and invite them to join in the practice by playing with scarves or shakers. If you don't have those props available, you can simply make eye contact or play peek-a-boo.
Baby Hug Pose: After your play is complete, shift into a cross-legged with your baby on your lap. Ask them with your words or with your intention if they'd like to join you in a pose, and if their body language says yes, gently snuggle them in. You can slowly or playfully rock side to side, giving them a loving hug and soothing them with the warmth of your body.
Supported Backbend: Now for the grand finale to all my baby and me yoga practices! Ending in a supported backbend on a bolster can be such a sweet Savasana for you and your little. To practice this, set one block to the medium height and a second block to the lowest height. Stack a bolster or firm pillow atop these blocks and lie back on it. Bring your baby to your chest and snuggle them in. Your legs can be stretched out long here, you can bring them into constructive rest, or you can butterfly your legs. Option to breastfeed here if your baby wants or needs it.
Remember, the key is not to have a perfect practice but to create a nurturing and joyful experience for both you and your baby!
Sample Postnatal Yoga Video: Baby & Toddler Yoga
If you'd like a longer guided journey through baby and toddler yoga poses, you can take a look at my Baby & Toddler: Movement vs. Stillness yoga video below:
Here, baby oakleaf is only 4 months, and he's practicing with his 2.5-year-old sister. In this class, the three of us explore how to be still and how to shake out our wiggles in a safe, supportive environment.
Please remember as you're practicing that yoga comes with the risk of injury to you or your little one. Practice at your own discretion!
Finding Postnatal Yoga Classes Near You
As I mentioned earlier, the safest way to begin practicing is with a certified yoga teacher! If you have access to in-person classes, you can weigh them out using these criteria:
Teacher Experience: Find a teacher whose style and approach resonate with you. I cannot emphasize this point enough! All teachers are different, and if one particular person's ethos doesn't resonate with you, please don't write off the entire practice. Keep at it until you find a teacher who makes you feel safe, inspired, and engaged!
Class Format: There are countless different styles of yoga, and there is absolutely no right or wrong. When practicing with your baby is your most important priority, sign up for a Baby & Me Yoga class! But if you're looking for a gentle way to ease back into your practice postpartum solo, consider signing up for Gentle Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yin, Flow & Restore, or Slow Flow. Signing up for a Postnatal Yoga workshop can be the best of both worlds because it can give you a few hours of solo time with new parents as you learn take-home techniques for practicing with baby!
Community: Community is so incredibly invaluable when you are a new parent! Being surrounded by parents with babies around the same age is one of the greatest benefits of attending Baby & Me Classes or Postnatal Yoga workshops because you can trade parenting tips and learn from one another just as much as you learn from the class itself. When seeking out in-person options, look for classes that encourage interaction and connection among parents.
Location: If it takes you an hour or more to drive to your studio of choice, it's likely not going to be one you frequent. This is a fact of reality that is all the more true when you have a young baby! Going to a faraway studio may be worthwhile if you plan to only go once or twice, but if you want a more frequent and regular option, choose one close to your home or place of work.
Progressing to Practice Postnatal Yoga at Home
After you've practiced in-person with a certified yoga teacher in a workshop, group class, or private lessons, you may start feeling comfortable enough to bring your yoga practice home. Use the poses you've learned in-person as building blocks, and customize your practice to accommodate your baby's mood as well as your energy levels. Here are a few additional tips:
Create a Safe Space: Baby-proofing your yoga space is the #1 thing you can do to set yourself up for success when practicing alongside a little one. This means clearing out all wires, moving any plants they could swallow, covering all outlets, and hiding away anything you'd mind being broken. Before they're mobile, this may feel like an unnecessary step. But trust me, they grow up fast. Baby-proofing really is just as much about your state of mind as their safety. Because it's really hard to stay calm when you're constantly pulling choking hazards from your little one's mouth.
Gather Your Props: An empty room is best for practicing yoga with a baby for safety's sake, but you'll also want a few cozy things to be comfortable practicing. I'm a strong believer that you don't need a yoga mat. If you're comfortable practicing on a towel or a big blanket, do it. But have lots of soft things around to protect your joints as you move and to snuggle. Pillows, cushions, bolsters, eye pillows, and more blankets are among the many cozy things you can incorporate. In addition, you'll want some fun, baby-safe toys to engage your little one once they're big enough to explore. Sensory toys like shakers and colorful scarves are great for babies, as are simple ones like wooden blocks.
Set the Vibe: In addition to the essential cozy things and toys, bringing in little things to set the vibe can make you want to show up on your mat. It's the little things, right? Create an altar on a shelf higher than baby can reach, and decorate it with pretty things like tea lights, flower petals, and tarot cards. Or string some fairy lights around the space -- just make sure to put them away when baby is big enough to put them in their mouth! Finally, be intentional about your background noise by choosing something calming for you and baby. This could mean incorporating soft piano music or a white noise machine, but you're not a bad parent if you find great joy in practicing every now and then to Drake (I did!).
Dress Comfortably - Or Don't Dress At All: Okay, here's the best thing about practicing yoga at home: You can wear whatever you like! Goodbye, $200 lululemon pants. Hello, nursing bras and $5 sweats that are 2 sizes too big. Or, to be honest, you don't have to wear anything at all, which can really be practical when you're breastfeeding. Even more so when you have a toddler learning to potty train who doesn't love getting dressed after doing her business. It doesn't have to be picture-perfect!
Practice What You Know: A big hurdle for establishing a home yoga practice is it can just be so hard to know what to do when you get to the mat. The truth is, you can do anything you want. You can sing songs to baby, you can be silly, you can do your favorite pose for 30 minutes straight (did I mention how much I love supported backbend?). Begin by showing up to the mat and practicing the poses you know. Then, listen to your body, watch your baby, and make it your own sacred nest.
A 15-Minute Practice Is A Win: The types of fast, sweaty 90-minute practices I did in my pre-baby era were simply not possible without childcare after snowpea arrived. And that level of intensity was no longer what my body needed. What shocked me was how much relief and release I felt from a few heart-openers followed by simple, uninterrupted stillness. Suddenly, a 15-minute practice was a big win. It still left me hungry for more, but it also left me calmer than when I began. And when the rare gem days came when I could practice for an entire hour while the baby napped, I appreciated it all the more. So, make your home practice work for your schedule! You may have a dedicated time, or you can practice when a quiet moment arises at any time during the day.
Embracing Your Postnatal Yoga Journey
At its heart, postnatal yoga with your baby isn't just about the poses or the routines. It's a journey of self-discovery, bonding, and growth. Embrace the ups and downs, the quiet moments and the giggles, the imperfect poses, and the shared smiles. This journey is a testament to your strength as a parent and your commitment to nurturing both yourself and your baby.
So, step onto your mat, snuggle your baby close, and let the transformative power of postnatal yoga guide you through this beautiful chapter of your life. Your baby might not remember these moments, but the love, connection, and well-being you cultivate will resonate for a lifetime.
Ready to Start Practicing Postnatal Yoga?
St. Louis friends, if you're looking for a safe place to dive into your postnatal yoga practice, look no further than my upcoming Postnatal Yoga Workshop at Urban Breath! Here are the details:
Date: Saturday, September 30, 2023
Time: 1-3 PM
Price: $20 for members, $35 for non-members
Register: Through Urban Breath's website, here
This workshop addresses the physical and emotional challenges commonly experienced by new parents while celebrating the incredible journey your body has undergone. Together, we'll move through gentle yoga, progressive core strengthening, breathwork, and meditation. Additionally, we'll cover take-home practices to bond with your baby.
With a focus on self-care and building a supportive community, this workshop provides personalized support tailored to your needs. This workshop is designed specifically for anyone who is at least 6 weeks post-birth and has received clearance from a medical provider to return to exercise, but it is also open to pregnant people curious about the postpartum period.
This will be a transformative experience to learn to recover, thrive, and embrace the joys of the fourth trimester. I can't wait to see you there!