When we say yoga is for every body, we don’t just mean adults. Yoga is not only for every body but also for everybody of all ages! In fact, if you look at some of the more traditional explanations of yoga, it’s often said to be a practice of presence — and who’s more present than babies?
As internationally recognized postnatal teacher Jane Austin likes to say, “Babies are yoga.”
Parent and baby yoga is a form of yoga in which parents or caregivers use their hands and body to move a baby in a variety of ways that can be both stretching and strengthening. Usually, there’s also an emphasis on play and song.
While movement is instructed within these classes, most parent and baby yoga classes focus on facilitating the bond between the parent and the child. This sometimes includes instructor-led baby massage.
Babies don’t really have the attention span for a full-length yoga class, which can run 60–90 minutes, so baby yoga is often taught within a “mommy and me” setting — or in what are now more commonly called “parent and baby” or “caregiver and child” classes.
In parent and baby classes, the caregiver moves their body through healing poses alongside their baby, who lies on a blanket next to them or beneath them.
The poses taught are often aimed at healing the body from birth but are also used to help with the physical adjustments of parenthood. For example, shoulder openers are taught to counteract the posture that results from holding a baby for long periods.
Because Austin is also a preeminent prenatal yoga teacher, she prefers to focus her postnatal classes on nourishing the parent. As such, the baby spends most of the time on the blanket while the parent moves. The parent then spends a small portion of time later in the class singing to and moving the baby.
Austin says she prefers to teach this way because people hold their babies all day long. Dividing the class this way gives caregivers a chance to move their bodies too.
Other caregiver and baby classes may incorporate the baby like a weight, with the caregiver holding the child while moving through physical postures. You can check class descriptions online or speak with the instructor or studio to find the right class for you.
Baby yoga classes tend to focus more on moving the baby’s body, while parent and baby yoga classes have a shared focus on caregiver and baby. Talk with the studio or teacher before deciding which classes are right for you.
Most birthing parents are advised not to exercise for a certain period after birth. With uncomplicated vaginal births, the clearance to return to exercise usually happens around 6 weeks. If someone has had a cesarean delivery, doctors often recommend waiting until 8 weeks.
Austin reminds parents who have given birth that these are very general guidelines and instead instructs them to pay attention to when they stop bleeding.
After birth the uterus must go through the process of involution, in which it returns to its prepregnancy state (
This takes time, and the greatest indicator that involution has occurred successfully is the cessation of any bleeding, which is called lochia. Austin suggests that even spotting should count as bleeding.
Many parent and baby yoga classes specify a 6-week minimum age requirement for babies, but that is often based on the parent’s healing process rather than the child’s ability. If your pediatrician approves, you can start lightly moving your little one as soon as they come into this world.
Babies naturally start practicing instinctive movements early on, such as craning their neck up for feedings or wrapping their fingers around yours. These are the result of primitive reflexes. Doing gentle leg movements often helps relieve gas and encourages bowel movements, which we will discuss in detail below.
If your baby is born prematurely, please check with your doctors about an appropriate timeline for both you and your baby. Before starting any movement classes, always double-check with your pediatrician that your baby’s movements and behaviors are within normal range.
Babies start practicing the art of yoga as soon as they enter this world, because they live entirely in the present moment.
A parent may receive approval to start exercising as soon as 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery or 8 weeks after a cesarean delivery. But if you experienced any complications during birth, your healthcare team may ask you to wait longer.
In any case, be sure to seek the approval of both your OB-GYN or midwife and your pediatrician before you begin.
Jocelyn Kay Levy is the founder of Wee Yogis Organization, whose mission is to bring yoga and mindfulness to children of all ages. She has been teaching baby yoga for nearly 15 years. While Levy does sometimes incorporate movement for parents or caregivers, the focus of her classes is mainly on the child.
In addition to facilitating a bond between the caregiver and the baby, Levy finds baby yoga to be extremely helpful for baby’s digestion. Newborns have immature digestive systems. This causes many of them to have gas, become constipated, and spit up shortly after feedings.
Medical experts warn that if a baby is vomiting frequently, it may be an indicator of a bigger digestive issue such as gastroesophageal reflux disease. You should always double-check with your baby’s pediatrician to make sure your baby’s digestive behaviors are within normal range.
Moving baby’s limbs also helps improve their gross motor skills, because it helps to fire neuronal connections that help develop movement patterns (2).
That’s often reason enough for most new parents to give baby yoga a try!
Parent and baby yoga is great for facilitating the bond between baby and caregiver. It’s also helpful for the baby’s gross motor skills development and digestion.
Of course, spending time with your baby can help facilitate a stronger bond in the postpartum period. But beyond that, yoga can also help with some specific postnatal concerns:
- Can facilitate the healing process necessary after birth. This includes uterine involution and pelvic floor strengthening. Austin advises birth parents to really take their time healing after birth, reminding them that the time frame is personal (4,
- May lessen symptoms of postpartum depression. A 2015 study found that postnatal yoga significantly lowered the rate of postpartum depression in participants (
- Reduces stress and anxiety. A recent study observed that yoga may be an effective complementary treatment for anxiety and depression (
In addition to listening to your postpartum body and observing lochia, as Austin suggests, another thing to be mindful of is relaxin. This is the protein hormone that loosens the connective tissue throughout your body. Your body begins producing relaxin upon conception (
As a result, people who are both pre- and postnatal have increased flexibility in their joints. Postpartum parents are still impacted by relaxin as well — some experts say it may take 3–5 months after birth for relaxin to completely leave your body (9).
Diastasis recti can occur when the necessary separation or stretching of the linea alba that occurs during pregnancy does not come all the way back together. Austin suggests getting the approval of a pelvic floor therapist or postpartum healthcare expert before returning to certain movements.
Still, postnatal yoga classes can be helpful for easing new parents back into movement, as they tend to be less intense than a typical flow class.
Check with your healthcare team to see what types of movements are appropriate given your personal healing timeline. Most importantly, listen to your body.
As every new parent quickly learns, being prepared for anything is the key to a successful outing. Here are some things to consider bringing to class with you:
- A yoga mat for the caregiver. This probably goes without saying.
- A thick baby blanket. Bring a cozy blanket or mat so your baby can lie on floor in front of you.
- Diapers. Levy jokingly calls her baby yoga classes “poop classes” and warns that due to the digestive benefits of the postures, a diaper change will likely be necessary during or after class.
- A favorite stroller toy. Some classes incorporate objects for baby eye-tracking activities.
- Food for baby. Another sign of healthy digestion is hunger. Be prepared to feed your baby during class, and do not be embarrassed if you have to breastfeed. This is exactly the place to do so!
- A change of clothes for baby. Maybe two!
- A swaddle cloth and burp cloth. Probably a few!
- A water bottle for the parent. Hydration is important, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Don’t forget the diapers! A well-packed diaper bag is essential.
Before moving your baby’s body or even placing your hands on them for massage, Austin recommends taking a moment to connect and ensure the child is ready for such contact.
For example, if the baby is sleeping or crying, it may not be the right time. Similarly, if the baby becomes visibly upset, follow their cues. This is why parent and baby yoga can be so helpful at facilitating the bond between caregiver and baby, as it teaches us to follow their lead.
- Place your baby on their back.
- Draw your baby’s thighs into their chest by bending their knees and pushing lightly on the front of their shins.
- Holding their ankles or shins, very lightly extend their legs back out to straight.
- Move back and forth for a few rounds, maintaining eye contact and engagement.
- Place your baby on their back.
- Holding your baby’s shins or ankles, start to pedal their thighs toward their chest one knee at a time, bending at their knees like a bicycle. This tends to have immediate results, so don’t be alarmed if your baby passes gas in the process!
Alternating legs and arms
- Place your baby on their back.
- Holding their right arm with your left hand and their left leg with your right hand, stretch the limbs apart lightly.
- Switch sides and repeat.
Songs performed with hand gestures
- Place your baby on their back.
- Sing a song, such as “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” that involves hand motions and observe your baby tracking your hands’ movements.
Parent and baby yoga teachers tend to offer unique takes on which movements to perform, but feel free to get creative. There are also several videos on YouTube that teach different movements.
You can move your baby’s limbs in all directions, as long as you work slowly and stay tuned in to baby. Singing songs that involve hand movements helps improve your baby’s attention.
Yoga can be physically and psychologically beneficial to people of all ages, but classes that involve infants have the added benefit of bonding caregiver and baby.
Some classes are designed for babies who are not yet crawling, while others are focused on crawlers and, later, toddlers. Be sure to the check your studio’s schedule to find the class that is right for both you and your baby.
But remember — at the end of the day, you don’t need the perfect class or all the right yoga gear to do parent and baby yoga. You simply need to be present with your little one.