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Prenatal Yoga: Community & Preparedness by Brittany Dowell

Brittany Dowell teaches a Tuesday night Prenatal + Postnatal Yoga class, from 5:45-7:00 at the 14th St. Studio. Brittany tells the Yoga District community how she got involved in teaching prenatal yoga and why teaching this class is her favorite hour of the week. She discusses why an expectant or new mother should consider yoga as part of her preparation for and recovery from birth.

When I registered for my 85-hour prenatal yoga teacher training in 2011, I never imagined it would lead me down the road to a new career path. I took my 200 hour teacher training here, at Yoga District, in 2009, and spent some time teaching on and off. When the time came to complete further training, I chose the prenatal training at Silver Lake Yoga in Los Angeles, California, thinking it would be useful to have a yoga specialty.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how much I love working with pregnant women and new mothers. This new passion of mine has since lead to teach prenatal and postnatal yoga, and to pursue further training to become a childbirth educator and a doula (labor assistant) as well.

Through my training, I quickly understood why it was helpful for expectant moms to do prenatal yoga. The benefits of doing yoga are available to anyone, but I believe they are even more potent for this unique group of students. Here are a few reasons why doing prenatal (and postnatal) yoga matters, and why teaching this class is my favorite hour of the week.

1. Alleviate symptoms: Pregnant women often suffer from some form of pregnancy-related discomfort—nausea, low back pain, edema (swelling), insomnia, indigestion, constipation, sciatica—just to name a few. Most of these happen for clear (and in many cases, beneficial) reasons. Digestion slows so that the body has more time to absorb nutrients from mom’s food to pass along to baby. Joints start to loosen to make room for the growing baby, which can cause instability and soreness. Practicing yoga can help with almost every symptom a pregnant woman may experience; benefits include regulating digestion and sleep, stretching tight muscles and stabilizing loose joints, as well as easing anxiety and tension.

2. Connection with other moms: In my yoga class, I encourage everyone to introduce themselves and share what their symptoms might be, as well as what gender their baby is (or if it will be a surprise) and where they’re delivering. We also take a break mid-way through class, and moms often pose questions or give recommendations to the other moms: I love my midwife and her practice—I can’t recommend them highly enough! How did you manage traveling with your first baby? Where did you find your doula? Why did you choose X over Y hospital? Have you taken a breastfeeding class yet? I’ve heard great things about this educator. Which baby wrap do you prefer? Students savor this time of building community and connecting with other women in a similar stage of life. Many DC area residents move here for their careers and have no family nearby. The community time during class gives moms an outlet to share concerns and express joy as they prepare for the life-changing event of having a baby. It’s so much fun to watch moms realize they’re due the same day and get to say, “Me, too!”

3. Prepare for labor and birth: As most of us know, one of the scariest parts of becoming a mom for many women is actually having the baby—labor and delivery. Prenatal yoga helps expectant mothers prepare for this intense experience by strengthening, stretching, and toning their bodies to get ready for the hard work of labor. I use what I have learned as a childbirth educator and doula to make suggestions about movements and poses that moms might use during labor or delivery. To alleviate the pain of dreaded back labor, a mom might get on hands and knees (cat/cow in yoga), allowing the weight of the baby to come off the spine. To use gravity and widen the pelvis during the pushing stage, a mom might choose to squat (malasana). Additionally, we spend a lot of time working with the breath and focus, which will serve a laboring mother well as she works with her contractions to help her baby make his or her journey into the world.

4. Returning to practice: New mothers need lots of support. Many students return to my class with their babies only a few weeks after delivery. It’s beautiful to see moms come back and connect with the pregnant students who were in class with them prior to having their baby; they’re excited to let their friends meet their baby, and the moms who are still pregnant get extra excited when they realize how soon they get to meet their own babies. Postnatal moms often take the opportunity to share their birth story or to encourage the moms who are still pregnant, letting them know that they can handle the intensity of labor and delivery and those first sleepless weeks. New moms get to come back to their practice in a safe and supportive environment without needing to find a sitter for their little one or hand him off to their partner before heading to class. Moms with babies focus on their most important job: being a mother. They can breastfeed, walk around to calm a fussy baby, change diapers…whatever needs to be done to take care of their infant, and they get to fit in a few poses in between. If they really want to practice and can’t find a way to do so and soothe their baby at the same time, sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to walk around with the baby while instructing the class.

People often ask me how far along women join my class. I’ve had moms only 6 weeks pregnant attend, as well as moms a week past their estimated due date. I had one mom who went into labor leaving my class as she hurried to catch the bus, and I’ve had women attend who weren’t even pregnant yet and trying to conceive.

I have learned so much from teaching my students who are expecting or are new mothers, and I’m learning more all the time. One of the most important lessons for me is that women are strong, and mothers need our support and deserve our respect. I do my best to facilitate the relationships between these incredible women, and to help each one get in touch with her own voice. I love seeing how the moms in my class are empowered regarding their own birth choices and how they encourage one another. If there’s anything this city and our world needs, it’s a community full of strong, empowered, and supportive mothers.

Brittany Dowell is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, a prenatal yoga instructor, a doula in training, and currently serves as the Yoga Programs Coordinator at Yoga District in Washington, DC. She completed her 200-hour teaching certificate from Yoga District in 2009, and is currently pursuing her 500-hour teaching certification at Yoga District. She earned her 85-hour prenatal yoga teaching certificate from Silver Lake Yoga in Los Angeles. It was during this prenatal yoga teacher training that she fell in love with working with expectant and new moms, and she has been pursuing a career in mother support ever since.

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