Benefits of baby yoga aren’t a stretch: How it helps moms and babies

Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital(WHEATON, Ill.) — Susan Korver and Amy Casoglos spent some of the first weeks of their daughters’ lives with them on the yoga mat.

The once-strangers, who gave birth on the same day in the same hospital, bonded with their babies and with each other in a baby yoga class, a postpartum option that is being offered to more and more moms.

“I knew that I wanted to do it just as a way of getting out while home on maternity leave and socializing with other moms,” said Casoglos, the mother of 5-month-old Mia. “I also wanted to spend quality time with Mia outside of feeding her and fulfilling her basic needs, just a time to bond with her.”

Korver, mom to 5-month-old Gracelyn, also saw baby yoga as a way to bond with her daughter, who like Casoglos’ daughter, is her first child. She ended up getting another benefit from the class, one that is a particular draw for baby yoga: helping to ease her baby’s stomach troubles.

“Gracelyn had a little bit of colic so I learned different poses to help ease her stomach and different ways to hold her,” she said. “You’re doing actual yoga poses but with the baby and she liked that instead of just being on her stomach for tummy time.”

Korver and Casoglos took a class offered through Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Wheaton, Illinois, where they both gave birth. The baby yoga classes there are taught by Patti Ideran, a pediatric occupational therapist who is better known at the hospital as “the baby whisperer.”

Ideran has taught infant massage classes for more than a decade but began offering baby yoga last year as an antidote to what she calls “container babies,” the babies who spend time in items like walkers, bouncy seats, strollers and car seats.

“In this day and age babies are not on their tummies a lot so we’re seeing developmental delays and problems with their head shapes, so this was something I saw that I could do,” said Ideran. “We always say that every time the baby is awake they should be on their tummies, and that includes day one from the hospital.”

Babies should be spending one hour per day on their stomachs while awake and supervised by the time they’re three months old, according to Ideran. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that babies need to spend more time on their stomachs as they get older to increase their strength.

The “tummy time” recommended by experts can include time babies spend lying flat on adults’ stomachs or legs, moves that parents learn in Ideran’s class.

“My class is different than a ‘mommy and me’ yoga class in which the mom does yoga and the baby lies,” she said. “We do very gentle stretches of the arms and legs, some tummy massage, tummy time exercises and a lot of playful games.”

In addition to missing developmental progress when in a car seat or stroller, babies also miss out on touch from their parents or caregivers, according to Ideran. The one-on-one time in a baby yoga class helps with the parent-child bond and gives a quiet space for parents or caregivers to learn their babies’ cues.

“As a working mom I only have so much time in the evenings and the weekends [with Mia] and the class showed me how in just a few minutes I can spend time with her and have it be meaningful,” said Casoglos. “[Baby yoga] was the guaranteed time we could just focus on each other.”

Both Casoglos and Korver said when they told friends and family they were taking baby yoga classes during their maternity leaves, the most common response was along the lines of, “What? Baby yoga?”

Baby yoga classes, though, are offered in hospitals and clinics across the country. Dr. Randolph Thornton is a board-certified pediatrician in Jacksonville, Florida, with Baptist Health, a healthcare provider that also offers baby yoga classes.

“My impression of it is fantastic,” he said, noting that baby yoga techniques can help with everything from babies’ muscle tone and tummy time to range of motion and stretching, as well as muscle and nerve development.

“Babies are in that high-contact environment especially in the last month or two of pregnancy where they’re all curled up in the uterus, and when they’re born you see their legs and arms kind of tilted or curled,” he said. “It’s great to do anything to improve stimulation and the range of motion of the arms and legs.”

Though the exercises in the baby yoga class are focused on the babies, the parents in the class benefit perhaps even more, especially moms, according to both Ideran and Thornton.

“Postpartum is such a stressful time and there can be postpartum depression so it’s so nice in a class like this to be reassured that you’re doing a good job,” Thornton said. “And it gives moms a chance to bond with other moms.”

Ideran ends each 45-minute class with a meditation for the moms, where she watches the babies and they can lay down and have five minutes to rest and reflect. She also starts each class with an intention, like patience and forgiveness.

“The meditation is my favorite part because the moms are so busy and they never have time to just take a breath,” she said. “There are absolutely no distractions.”

Baby yoga classes are typically designed for babies who are at least six weeks old — the age when they start to get head control and are ready for movement activities — and not yet crawling, according to Ideran.

Any type of “safe, gentle stretching” is fine for babies to do, according to Thornton. Parents should also make sure the person teaching the baby yoga class is appropriately certified and trained.

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