The Benefits of Prenatal Yoga & Meditation

Prenatal Yoga: The Evidence

Recently, I put together a handout reviewing the research supporting the benefits of Prenatal yoga.  I am often recommending these modalities to patients for self-care during pre-conception, pregnancy and post-partum and even I was surprised by the wealth of evidence out there. It is important to remember that in this article and many of the studies, the term "prenatal yoga" represents a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching (asana), mental centering (meditation), and focused breathing (pranayama).

Research suggests that in this way, prenatal yoga is safe and can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies:

  • Improved sleep 1, 6
  • Reduced stress, depression and anxiety, which can affect >15-30% pregnant women and Compared to non-depressed women, depressed pregnant women experience higher rates of pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, and pre-birth complications, and infants of depressed mothers are at higher risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Antenatal depression & anxiety is compounded by hormone changes, discomfort, sleep problems  and often precedes postpartum depression, which is associated with cognitive and emotional problems in children 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18
  • Improved immune function as evidenced by increased immunoglobulin A 10 
  • Decreased heart rate variability, indicating increased parasympathetic: sympathetic functioning more than relaxation or exercise alone 2 
  • Increased the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth 2
  • Decreased lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, headaches and shortness of breath 1, 2, 5, 6, 14, 21
  • Decreased rates of gestational hypertension and diabetes in obese women 5
  • Significantly decreased duration of first stage of labor and the total duration of labor 2, 5, 11
  • Decreased frequency of labor induction & C-section 11
  • Decreased rates of preterm labor, intrauterine growth retardation, low birth weight all of which can be increased by maternal stress 1, 2, 10, 11, 13, 19
  • Improvement in quality of life  & self-efficacy measures 1, 2, 5, 13
  • Increased rates of comfort during delivery and post delivery through the increased production 0f endorphins and dopamine 2, 5, 15, 21
  • Decreased risk of perineal tears & episiotomy and post delivery use of analgesics 15, 21
  • Prenatal yoga can also help you meet and bond with other pregnant women and prepare for the stress of being a new parent. 2, 3, 4, 5 as evidenced by decreased levels of cortisol 10, 12, 14, 18
  • Increased cord blood cortisol level of babies indicates positive health status of the newborns verifies that prenatal meditation can influence fetal health and better temperament at fifth month reflecting the importance of prenatal meditation in relation to child health. 17
  • We suggest that infants prenatally exposed to higher levels of maternal mindfulness devote less in-depth processing to frequently occurring irrelevant stimuli and/or they habituate faster to these stimuli. In contrast, infants prenatally exposed to higher levels of maternal anxiety process such uninformative sounds more extensively and/or they habituate slower to these stimuli. This difference might stem from infants prenatally exposed to higher maternal mindfulness pre-attentively forming more accurate perceptual representations. The current study contributes to the field of prenatal programming by showing that negative traits and experiences of the mother during pregnancy are not the only ones to have an effect on the child, as is often emphasized in the literature. Positive traits of the mother during pregnancy may also ‘program’ the infant. 18

When to start and what to do

Starting at 18-26 weeks gestation, weekly to three times per week for 30-60 minutes; most benefit seen in the integrated yoga interventions (mindfulness + asana) 9


Possible negative consequences of physical activity in pregnancy, such as uterine contractions, maternal-fetal transfer of catecholamines, decreased oxygen, premature labor, nutrient flow attenuation, decrease of fetal heart rate, but none were seen in yoga interventions 2, 6, 7, 8


1. Yoga during Pregnancy: A Review, American Journal of Perinatology; 2012.

2. Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions;Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012.

3. Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2010 .

4.  Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 2008.

5. [Effects of prenatal yoga: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials]. Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi.2015.

6 .Yoga in Pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2016.

7. Potential for prenatal yoga to serve as an intervention to treat depression during pregnancy.Womens Health Issues. 2015 . 

8. Mindfulness yoga during pregnancy for psychiatrically at-risk women: preliminary results from a pilot feasibility study.Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2012.

9. Yoga for prenatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis, BMC Psychiatry. 2015.

10.Effects of prenatal yoga on women's stress and immune function across pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017.

11. Yoga during pregnancy: The effects on labor pain and delivery outcomes (A randomized controlled trial).  Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2017.

12. The effect of prenatal Hatha yoga on affect, cortisol and depressive symptoms. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014.

13. The Effects of Prenatal Yoga on Birth Outcomes: A Systematic Review of the Literature.. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health. 2013.

14. The effects of mindfulness-based yoga during pregnancy on maternal psychological and physical distress. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2009.

15. Benefits of preparing for childbirth with mindfulness training: a randomized controlled trial with active comparison, BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017.

16. CALM Pregnancy: Results of a Pilot Study of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Perinatal Anxiety. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2014.

17.Prenatal meditation influences infant behaviors. Infant Behav Dev. 2014.

18. Maternal mindfulness and anxiety during pregnancy affect infants’ neural responses to sounds. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,2015. 

19. Meditation for preterm birth prevention: A randomized controlled trail in Udonthani, Thailand. International Journal of Public Health.  2016.

20. Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2008.

21 Brain mechanisms supporting the modulation of pain by mindfulness meditation. J Neurosci. 2011.

leigh Lewis