Tools for Teaching Postnatal Yoga
Once a woman becomes a mother, everything changes—her body, her obligations, her priorities. Not only does she need to heal physically, but she's responsible for another human being. It's easy for her to put her needs aside in the interest of the baby's.
"I was surprised at how long it took me to really recover my ability to give myself the time to do a full practice and get out of the house to do it," says Deanna Harris, mother of three-year-old Kai.
If a student is returning to your class after giving birth, you can make sure she's getting the physical work she needs to regain strength and the mental release she needs from her demanding new role as a mother.
Physiology of the Postnatal Period
"Postpartum [six to eight weeks after birth] is a whole different animal," says Debra Flashenberg of the Prenatal Yoga Center in New York City. "Now that she's had the baby, the attention shifts to the baby and away from the mom. I want to get back to mothering the mother—and reminding her to be patient."
The first month after giving birth is a time to recuperate and adjust. The pelvic floor has been stretched significantly during birth and may even have been cut or torn to facilitate delivery. The cervix has to close back down from dilating to 10 centimeters (4 inches) and then stretching to let the baby pass through. The uterus shrinks a lot in the first few days, but it will take at least a month to return to its postpartum size, and the internal organs have to settle back into position after being crowded for so long. If the mother had a Caesarean section, the pelvic floor will be intact, but she has had a major abdominal surgery that will take several months to heal.
Perhaps one of the most surprising (and possibly disappointing) aspects of the postnatal period for a new mother is that she still looks about four to five months pregnant. The baby and the afterbirth add up to only about 15 to 20 pounds of weight lost immediately. In the first week or two after giving birth, she still has a lot of extra fluids in her system that are slowly being flushed out or reabsorbed. Her abdominals and the skin over the belly are loose after being stretched out for nine months.
These first few weeks can also be hugely emotional as she learns to take care of her new baby and adjust to her role as a mother. This intense responsibility, combined with hormones that are still present in the system (and will remain for months if she is breast-feeding), can lead to mood swings and even depression.
A perfect remedy for all of this soreness and mental stress is a yoga class, but remember, your job as a teacher is to make sure your student is not rushing back into a practice her body is not ready for.