Breastfeeding and Bikram Yoga: Postpartum Concerns

I’ve had a lot of questions from students lately about postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, and Bikram Yoga. This pose will address a lot of those questions.

When can I return to yoga?

Most physicians recommend you wait at least three weeks postpartum before resuming yoga to allow your pregnancy hormone levels to drop, as they do dramatically at two weeks postpartum, and stabilize.  Some want you to wait six weeks until the placental scar is fully healed. With that said, who wants to look at their postpartum body in the mirror with a pad stuffed in their spandex? You may want to wait until your flow is reduced to panty-liner levels.

You’ll also need to take into consideration how you are feeling, sleeping, and recovering.  If what you’re doing causes your flow to increase that is a sure sign you are doing too much, so slow down. Personally, I returned to classes five and four weeks postpartum with my two pregnancies, but had been doing some yoga in my living room since three weeks PP to help alleviate the Hunchback of Breastfeeding. As long as you are practicing with mindfulness, yoga is an adaptive practice you can make safe at any time.

Benefits

Your yoga practice is a wonderful tool to return you to your body. Not just your pre-pregnancy weight, but to help your spine, joints, hips, rib cage, and abdominal organs return to their normal places, sizes, and alignment. Your practice will help straighten your posture as you strengthen your back and abdominal muscles against the common pregnancy kyphosis (hunchback) and lordosis (sway-back).

Pregnancy is hard on your body, but so is having an infant. It is difficult to find time for yourself and you spend most of your day in ergonomically-compromised positions.  When you’re not hunched over changing diapers and cute little onesies covered in the latest blow-out, you’re hunched over breastfeeding. If you’re not hunched over, you’re probably lugging a car seat over one arm or wearing baby strapped to your body in a wrap or a sling. When you’re not doing that, then you’re probably on the toilet trying to pee and simultaneously breastfeeding and talking on the phone while contemplating what you can stuff into your gob because, Damn!, this breastfeeding makes you hungry. If you formula feed, then kudos to you because you have to wash bottles in the middle of all of this. Your yoga can help to keep you strong so you don’t suffer the aching back, sore neck, and headaches that plague a lot of new moms.

In addition, the practice gives you an incredible endorphin rush that helps to improve your mood. Simply being able to take a couple of hours to yourself, for yourself, by yourself, when no one needs something from you is critical to make Mommy a happy, loving, productive mommy. After my son was born, I remember thinking one day, “Do I have postpartum depression?” The next day I took my first class back and was on top of the world. It’s amazing what a little time to yourself and some exercise can do for you.

Loose Joints

The hormone relaxin that helped your body get ready to open and stretch your pelvis during delivery remains in your body for nine months postpartum. The levels reduce significantly in the first six weeks, and continue to diminish over the first nine months. Relaxin softens the ligaments in your body. Ligaments hold your joints together. Looser ligaments means looser joints.

To be clear, this looseness means your joints are not held together as well as they used to be. It does not mean you will be more flexible.

What this means in your practice is that you’ll need to be aware of the limits of your joints for nine months postpartum. As women, we tend to be more flexible than men and can often skate by in class on our flexibility and put a lot of extra strain on our joints.  This is detrimental to the body (postpartum or not) and now is a good time to erase those bad habits. Instead, concentrate on developing the strength in the muscles that support the joints, especially the weight-bearing joints. This is particularly important in one-legged, standing balancing postures. You must equally contract the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles over a straight knee joint to “lock” the knee. They antagonize each other and result in a strong, stable knee.

It is common (but not normal) for women to experience discomfort in the sacrum and hips after pregnancy. Good chiropractic care can help with any misalignment caused or exacerbated by your pregnancy, but good practice in the yoga room can help to support this area as well. In backward bends, firmly contract the hip muscles to support the sacrum and stabilize the lower back. Don’t try to push through pain in the sacrum in deep back bends or forward bends that rely on strong flexion of the hip joint, and don’t over-do it in hip flexibility exercises like lotus and pigeon before nine months postpartum.

Weak Abdominals

Your abdominal muscles are not just weak from the activities and exercises you couldn’t do while pregnant, but also because they were just stretched over a huge watermelon for nine months. It takes time for them to contract and retract to their normal length, then they still have to strengthen from there. You may notice when you completely relax them that it looks like there’s still a grapefruit or a cantaloupe sitting in there. Be patient. They will tighten up. Concentrate in class on really pulling in on your abs in all of the poses. Picture your abdominal muscles pulling the four corners of your belly (top two hip crests and the bottom of your ribs) together toward your belly button and back toward your spine. This should get them to engage like you want.

It may not feel or look like much is happening, but it’s repeating the action that leads to strengthening and results whether you can see it today or not. The only posture you don’t use the abdominals in is wind-removing pose.

You may also notice that postures you didn’t realize your belly affected are significantly harder. The abdominals stabilize the lower back. When they are weak, this makes postures like balancing stick and locust much more difficult. They also flex the spine and rotate it. You may find your depth is limited or more challenging in the head-to-knee postures, rabbit, triangle, spine twist. Again, don’t worry. It’s hard, but its just what your body needs. Remember, you’ve got to have a strong belly to avoid the postpartum back pain that so many women suffer unnecessarily.

Breastfeeding

Once baby can go 2-3 hours between feedings or is taking a bottle, you can resume your practice (with the support of your care providers, of course). You’ve probably already learned how much more water your body needs when breastfeeding. The same applies in the hot room. This is not the time to test your mental strength to refuse water. You may not need it mentally, but your body is making milk the whole time and needs water to fuel the process. Make sure you’re drinking a minimum of 16 ounces of water in class and more before and afterward. This may require you to have certain points where you stop and remind yourself to take a drink.

But they’re sore! Your breasts, I mean. It takes six weeks for a breastfeeding mother’s fluid levels to stabilize (in the entire body, not just your breasts). That’s why pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome bothers women until then and why the bra you bought when your milk came in is a little too big when your baby is two months old. Your breast size increases due not just to milk production and mammary glands, but also because of inflammation in your breasts in the beginning of each new nursing experience. Even for mothers who nursed a toddler their entire pregnancy. As this recedes, the soreness in your breasts usually follows and you can return to normal execution of the postures.

If they’re sore and you can’t lie on them, do the pregnancy Savasana or even the pregnancy modifications for the belly-down series. Some women with recurrent blocked ducts, mastitis or supply issues may need to do the pregnancy Cobra series for the entire breastfeeding period. If you’re not bothered, you can try the Cobra series, but may want to start the postures on your elbows while the rest of the class sets it up. Continue like this until your breasts are no longer sore.

Losing Weight

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want to lose the “maternal fat stores” from pregnancy. Madonna used a regimen of Bikram Yoga to lose the baby weight from her pregnancies.

It is a rigorous series and burns a lot of calories, so it makes sense to use it to aid you in your quest. Online calculators and testing done at Stanford University indicate a per-hour calorie consumption during Bikram Yoga of 350-650 calories for a 150 pound woman. More in-depth study done in 2013 at Colorado State University showed the level of metabolism during class is closer to 330 calories per class. If you are breastfeeding, please remember that it is not recommended that you consume less than 1800-2400 calories per day without adverse effect on your supply. On the days that you practice, you will need to supplement your food supply to reflect an additional 300 calories at a minimum.

With that said, for some women, the weight falls off them while breastfeeding. For others, they hold onto their fat stores the entire time they are nursing. This seems to be a genetic phenomenon. If you’re eating well, exercising and not losing please be easy on yourself. There’s not much you can do about it. You’ll be rewarded in long run by all of the benefits your children receive along with your sweet milk.

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Pregnancy Blog 2: Six Weeks Postpartum

The Standing Bow Challenge is back on! 

I figure, to make it more of a challenge this time I have to start it when I’m still building stamina again. It would be too easy to wait until I’m back to feeling good in it. The work is to hold it when I feel like junk body. When you’re pregnant, there’s so much you have to take it easy doing or skip that I feel like my mental stamina needs some work, too. I fell last Thursday, so starting today, not again.

My standing head-to-knee has fallen to pieces. I can barely reach my foot. They say your recovery from subsequent pregnancies is harder each time. When I came back after having Bella, I had my head on my knee in the first class. This time, I can barely get my fingers to touch under my foot and with a hell of a lot of effort lock my knee when I kick out. Oh well. It is what it is. I know I could do it, so my body will remember in time.

I am comfortable this week laying on my belly for Savasana. Six weeks is usually when mommy’s fluids level out anyway and the excess swelling recedes and milk production in her breasts stabilizes. I can definitely feel the difference. My head can touch the ground, even if its not with my ear flat to the towel. Locust is still a lot of effort, but I can feel my legs are at least no longer only an inch off the floor.

I feel so lucky this time that I have a baby who can go 2-3 hours without nursing and will happily stay with Daddy or Grammy or whoever. The hardest part with Bella about practicing was that she nursed every hour or two for the first 5 months and she only wanted to be with her mama. Already at six weeks, I’m able to practice a good three times a week without question.

Pregnancy Blog 2: 40 Weeks, 4 Days

Well, I’ve spent another week waddling.  Took the nooner today and felt pretty tired.  If my sister hadn’t been with me and Bella signed up for childcare, I might have just gone home and taken a nap.  I actually left class after one set of Pranayama to go eat a granola bar.  I was SO HUNGRY, but class felt good.

Marla, Bella and I headed home after class to take naps, but I couldn’t sleep.  I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions all day.  Not sporadically or when I was active, but even when I was lying down.  While everyone was napping, I “peed” my pants at least 5 times.  I’d just be lying there and suddenly a little fluid would come out.  I’d immediately go to the bathroom and have to pee, so I assumed the pressure from his head or the B-H contractions were just pushing a little urine out.  Well…it turns out I’d been leaking amniotic fluid all day.  I didn’t find out until the midwife checked me that night and there was no sac between my cervix and the baby’s head.

As I was trying to nap, I remember thinking, “I should call Jaylon and tell him not to poke around getting out of work.”  It was Friday and I knew he’d be trying to tie things up for the weekend and his paternity leave, especially assuming a baby was going to come sometime over the weekend.  Instead, I got up and put the eggplant parmesan in the oven for dinner.  By 5:30 pm, I was sure these B-H contractions were working their way up to labor.  By 6:30 pm, I called the midwives to let them know I’d be coming in sometime tonight.  We ate dinner and I tried to make it as normal an evening for Bella so she could go to sleep easily.  I couldn’t believe I was able to eat (putting the plate down during contractions) most of my meal and never felt nauseous.  With Bella, I puked twice.

At 8 pm, the contractions were intense enough that I wanted to be at the birthing center.  We met Val there at 8:30 pm.  After checking my stats (5 cm and 90% effaced), she told me I could get in the tub if I wanted.  I told her I didn’t want to get in the tub too early in labor.  She laughed and said, “This isn’t early in labor, Sara.”  I just assumed I had hours to go because I’d just gotten there.

By 10 pm, I started to feel the beginning of pushing contractions.  Whoever coined the phrase “the urge to push” has obviously never had a baby.  It’s more like the overwhelming, tidal wave, heroin-fix NEED to push.  I couldn’t believe I could possibly be ready to deliver.  “Don’t you want to check me?” I asked.  Who asks for another internal exam?  The midwives just encouraged me to trust what I was feeling in my body and if I wanted to push, then push.

Again, I wanted to be on my hands and knees.  I just feel more in control in that position.  I was able to hang over the side of the birthing tub and grunt his head out in about 5 contractions.  What an incredible amount of pressure from pubic bone to tailbone.  I’d definitely forgotten how hard labor and delivery is.  On the way to the birthing center, I told Jaylon he could have the next one.  It’s a wonderful experience, especially once its over, it just takes all you have physically, mentally, emotionally.   Anyway, his little head popped out underwater with his eyes and mouth squinched up tight.  Waiting for the next contraction to deliver his shoulders felt like forever, but I’m sure it wasn’t over a minute or so.  One more push and his whole little body slithered out at 10:09 pm.

And I mean it when I say little.  He was only 7 pounds, 1 ounce, but he was 21 inches long.  A little string bean.  Bella was 7lbs, 14oz and 19 inches.  He felt so tiny.  And was mellow from the start.  He made a little lambkin ma-a-a sound and then just wanted to relax and look around.  We had to keep poking him to make sure he was breathing and pink up that newborn skin.

Twenty minutes out of the womb, he could already pick up his own head.  My sister says it’s all that yoga.  Who knows?  All I want is a chocolate milk shake…

Pregnancy Blog 2: 39 Weeks, 6 Days

Two days to my due date.  Do these Curry kids love to come on time???  I’m feeling huge and low.  Lots of pressure in my pubic bone.  I am definitely waddling now.  Class yesterday felt great, just a little slower than usual.  I’m trying everything I know to get labor rolling: pedicure, yoga, walking, stairs, cleaned the house, eggplant parm, pineapple, spicy food, massage.  Whenever you’re ready, kid…

Pregnancy Blog 2: 38 Weeks

Two weeks left.  I can hardly believe it. We’re definitely ready to go.  The car’s packed, half of our stuff is at the birthing center and I even vacuumed the heating ducts this week.  Not that I’m nesting or anything…

It’s official.  I can no longer wrap my foot around in eagle.  I don’t know if it’s the spreading of my hips or just changes in musculature adapting to all of the changes in my body, but even second set I can’t come close anymore.

Definitely having a harder time sleeping.  Heartburn, rib pain, restless, but I know it comes with the territory.  I’m just trying to rest more during the day because I know I may not get much at night.  I’m getting very excited for labor.

Pregnancy Blog 2: 4 Weeks to go!

Four weeks (potentially) left.  It’s so hard to believe.  In the beginning of this pregnancy, it felt like forever until the end and now I’m one week away from my safe date. I’m delivering at a birthing center, so I have to make it until at least 37 weeks to be allowed to deliver there.

We’ve been preoccupied with the holidays and recent storms and have done nothing to prepare.  One week left until we need to be ready to go at any time certainly makes it seem so much more real.  We have so much to get together to bring to the birthing center, find the car seat base, wash the newborn clothes, find somewhere to put them…

I certainly feel a heck of a lot bigger.  His head is right on my pubic bone, so the pressure is intense and I’m peeing constantly.  Yesterday I peed 5 times in 2 hours and I REALLY had to go each time.  Other than that, I’m a little slower at everything, but I feel good.  I have occassional heartburn, but nothing like the all day, every day I had with Bella.  I’m fairly comfortable at night and the rib pain is significantly less now that his head is so low.

I’m passing keytones still, so I have to do a better job eating.  It comes from your body breaking it’s own tissue down and indicates low blood sugar.  It’s not that I’m not eating enough; I just think I’m not eating right.  I need to start each meal with some kind of simple carbohydrate, like a piece of fruit to get my blood sugar up right away.  Then, I don’t think I’m getting enough complex carbs to hold me over very long.  I was eating stuff like a smoothie with fruit, yogurt and protein powder or a handful of nuts or something like that, but there are very few complex carbs in a snack/meal like that.  I’m trying to eat more whole grains with each meal.  I definitely wasn’t getting 6+ servings a day.

The yoga still feels so good.  When I start class, I feel pretty silly because I am tired and much more limited in my range of motion and endurance, but I can feel how good it is for my body to keep moving and staying strong.  My whole pelvic girdle is so loose that I have to go really easy in the straddle splits and movements like that, but back bends feel incredible for relieving pressure on my ribs and digestive organs.  It also feels like they put everything back into place and help keep me strong so I can keep the bones in place.

I was looking at my postures from the side the other day.  I don’t feel like I’m swaybacked, but when I look at my alignment from the side in half moon or awkward, I can really see how much my body has adapted to accommodate this growing belly.  Even when I try to contract my abs and realign my pelvis, it’s all in vain because the gut is just too big.  It’s pretty incredible to see.

His movements are still so strong and beginning to be a little more distinguishable.  I could feel him moving his forearms up by his head the other night and I can clearly make out a little foot or a heel poking between my rib cage and hip.  There really is a little baby in there.

I have had a few episodes of cramping lately.  Each one gets me nervous that labor may be coming because that’s how it started with Bella.  Not yet, little guy!  We’re not ready!  I guess that’s normal for a second pregnancy.  I don’t see myself going into labor super-early.  Maybe a couple of days early, I think, but we’ll see, right?

I’ve had a lot of energy the last few days, so I know I’m not at the end yet.

Pregnancy Blog 2: Holy Crotch Pain, Batman!

Oh. I was sitting at my desk in half-lotus yesterday for about an hour, working.  When I went to stand up, I couldn’t walk.  It felt like my pubic bone was going to crack in half.  Jaylon had to pick me up and carry me to the couch like he was bringing me across the threshold.  Poor guy, I’ve got a good 25 pounds on him at this point!  I must have tweaked my pelvis just enough to really irritate my symphysis pubis.  That cartilage is getting very loose.  Hot bath, lay down the rest of the night and I was fine in the morning.  Just a strong reminder to slow down in straddle/split/lotus-type movements from now through the end.  No more toe, even gentle pose doesn’t feel good.  Everything in my groin feels very loose.  Sometimes I still get that clicking in my sacrum when I shift my weight from foot to foot.

I fell out of standing bow again this week, too.  I’m really trying not to anticipate it because I’m tired and I could spend the whole warm-up worrying about doing it.  Once we get there, it’s not that big of a deal.  As usual, it’s the anticipation that’s the worst.

He’s been really active this week, too.  I know it’s supposed to slow down more at the end, but Bella was the same way.  The movements are getting much stronger, too.  He has his feet over between my right ribs and hip and sometimes stretches out so far you can see the lump of his foot.

I have to admit that I am getting really excited for labor and delivery.  It’s such an empowering (and hard) and satisfying experience.  I am looking forward to the challenge again.