When conception takes place the father's sperm joins with the mother's egg and the genes or chromosomes of both intermingle. In this knitting together the egg is fertilized and the sex of the child determined by the father's chromosomes. Four days later the cell has divided to become a bubble-like cluster which flows down through the oviduct into the uterus and attaches itself there. Then the hormone progesterone is produced which stops ovulation; there will be no menstrual flow for at least ten months.
By the second week the cell cluster has formed into an embryo which the placenta guards and maintains throughout the nine month gestation period. When it is just a few weeks old, the limbs of the embryo are like flower buds. After one month the heart starts beating. By the seventh week the embryo is fully recognizable the brain has formed and all organs are coordinated in their right places.
During the first two months the mother will begin to notice changes occurring in her body. The breasts will start to enlarge and become tender because of changing hormones. She may also experience morning sickness caused by a temporary hormonal imbalance, but this state quickly passes. The regular practice of pranayama with concentration is an effective tonic. Taking glucose and a small quantity of pure honey every day is also beneficial. By the third month the hormones will be stabilized.
Husband and wife can practice dynamic asanas together during the first three months of pregnancy. This will strengthen muscles, recondition physical frames and help them both to adjust to then new lives. The best exercises for this period are surya namaskara, shavasana, naukasana, bhunamanasana, yoga mudra in vajrasana, bhujangasana, bhastrika and sheetkari pranayama. All asanas can be safely practiced during the first three months, but this program is recommended for men and women together.
After three months the mother must practice pawanmuktasana, pranayama, relaxation and meditation.
The pawanmuktasana series of yogic exercises releases wind from the joints and makes the muscles flexible. The following asanas can be practiced from the end of the third month of pregnancy: toe bending, ankle bending, ankle rotation, ankle crank, knee bending, knee crank, half and full butterfly, thigh contraction wrist rotation, wrist bending, elbow bending and shoulder socket rotation, neck movement, one leg rotation, rocking side to side, chopping wood, vayu nishkasana, as well as matsya kridasana, majariasana, pranamasana, vyaghrasana and utthanasana (see APMB, a BSY publication).
The foetus becomes active from the third month, floating in a buoyant substance called the amniotic sac. Baby is weightless and moves freely like an astronaut in space, even opening and closing its mouth to swallow. During the fourth and fifth months the uterus expands above the pelvis, and mother is awakened to the fluttering movements of life within her. The realization of pregnancy arises. Baby will be sleeping, waking and adopting favourite positions for his/her little body. By the sixth month hair and toe nails have appeared, baby only weighs one kilo but is very active. During the last three months in the womb baby gains extra weight, some times becoming fat. The lungs mature and coordination improves. Unborn babies have even been known to suck their thumbs and have hiccups.
The mystery of the link between mother and child lies in the placenta, a spongy lining inside the mother's womb. Mother and child have completely separate blood streams. The child's blood flows into and out of the placenta through arteries and veins in the umbilical cord. Wastes such as carbon dioxide and urea are exchanged for oxygen and nutrients which the placenta delivers from the mother's blood.
Eating unwholesome food and lack of exercise are contributing factors to poor blood circulation and emotional stress. Baby receives nourishment directly from the mother's blood so it is important to eat whole foods, preferably cooked to aid digestion. Circulation will be helped by drinking plenty of pure water each day. Simple pranayama purifies the system, removing toxins from the blood and bringing extra supplies of oxygen to release body tensions. The practice of nadi shodhana pranayama or alternate nostril breathing improves general health and removes stale, stagnant air from the lungs.
The placenta produces and relays antibodies from the mother which make the foetus immune to many diseases. In the ninth month or fortieth week the placenta is affected by the hormone pitocin which is secreted by the pituitary gland. This induces labour. The gestation period comes to an end and the baby begins his journey down through the birth canal with the help of his mother's uterine muscles.
The amniotic sac breaks releasing the 'waters', then the cervix expands. Vaginal walls stretch to maximum capacity and baby is born.
A few weeks before the birth, mother's uterus contracts of and on as though practicing. A woman who has flexibility and can relax the muscles while they contract will not feel pain. Being able to consciously contract and relax these muscles helps in the birth. An untrained person may experience fear and anxiety during experience fear and anxiety during contractions. This causes adrenalin to flow into the bloodstream and creates a vicious circle of tension resulting in pain. Then drugs are used or the mother is rendered unconscious so that she doesn't even witness what could be one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. As long as the mother lacks knowledge of her body, she will let the doctor play a much greater part in the birth process than is necessary. Yoga is not against the use of drugs, but the mother should be able to use her own judgment.
When baby is in mother's arms and the strenuous work is finished, both mother and child will rest content, whether the birth was easy or difficult. Yogic childbirth can be summed up as flowing with the contractions, feelings and experiences, not against them.
After post partum which means parting of the placenta, mother often needs to tone her organs of reproduction. Yogic asanas are helpful in tightening and strengthening stomach muscles, the lower pelvic floor, legs and thighs. Each asana or position should be practiced with full awareness. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and internal nerve currents are stretched and relaxed; glandular functions are stimulated by the various positions. Always rest between postures and train your consciousness to go inside your body or become aware of the breath. Feel your heart and listen to its beat. Letting go of all outside thoughts and feelings.
The best exercises for post partum are naukasana, thigh contraction, nauka sanchalana, chakki chalana, namaskara, adarkarshanasana, vipareeta karani mudra, halasana and sarvangasana. Finish with relaxation.
Amazingly enough, the reproductive organs return to normal size and function by the end of the tenth month, particular if mother breast feeds the child. She can still fall pregnant again even though she is breastfeeding her baby.
Pregnancy and childbirth are a study of nature at its most intimate stage. Simple living and a wholesome, nourishing diet give the best help to a mother preparing to deliver her own child. Pawanmuktasana and simple pranayama when practiced with concentration strengthen and revitalise the body, and calm the mind and emotions.