Health: Activity which is belly good for mum and baby

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This exercise could ease labour anxieties. Zahra Saeed reports.

Stretching and bending might be a daunting prospect with a big belly in tow, but yoga can actually be very beneficial for pregnant women.

Research by the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle earlier this year revealed that attending a pregnancy yoga class once a week for eight weeks resulted in women having significantly less fear about giving birth, and less anxiety in general. Even a single yoga class during pregnancy cut anxiety by a third.

Cheryl MacDonald, founder of YogaBellies, which offers pre and post-natal yoga classes, says: “Yoga during pregnancy is especially beneficial, because women are undergoing times of great change, stress and anxiety,” she says. “Yoga brings awareness to the body and the mind, and helps you feel calm.”

YogaBellies recently surveyed 700 women who attended pre-natal classes, and found 86 per cent of them had never previously set foot in a yoga class.

The trend’s been given the celebrity thumbs up too – before giving birth to her baby boy, Bobby, earlier this month, Yorkshire-born Kimberley Walsh wrote about attending a class, while heavily-pregnant Hollywood actress Mila Kunis has been spotted leaving a sessions in Los Angeles.

As MacDonald points out though, it’s important that mums-to-be who are new to yoga seek out a pregnancy class.

“It really is a specialist area of teaching, because there are so many things that can go wrong and there are so many different specific conditions. We don’t take anyone in our classes until they’re 14 weeks gone,” she explains. “Extreme back bending and things like that can cause the embryo to detach from the placenta, so the first trimester is actually the time you have to be most careful.”

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a clinical consultant at, also advises caution. “Your ligaments naturally soften and stretch during pregnancy, which makes it easier for your baby’s head to fit through your pelvis, but which also makes you more prone to painful strains,” Jarvis says.

However being active is vital.

“Exercise is important for everyone, but never more than when you’re pregnant. It keeps your heart strong, your muscles toned, and being fit may even mean your labour is shorter,” Jarvis adds. “But your body is going through huge changes in pregnancy, so it’s important to make allowances. Low-impact exercises, designed for pregnant women are great, and pregnancy yoga can help you relax your mind as well as keeping you supple.”

MacDonald points out pregnancy yoga can help build strength and stamina, as well as learn breathing techniques.

MacDonald, 35, a yoga aficionado since she was 17, is a firm believer in the relaxation aspects of the practice.

“Self-hypnosis is quite similar to deep relaxation, or yoga nidra, in yogic terms. When we’re in this state of relaxation, we’re more susceptible to suggestions like, ‘You’re not scared of childbirth’,” she says.

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