By Dorene Internicola
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Yoga teacher and fitness expert Hilaria Baldwin practices what she preaches and credits her easy pregnancy and labor to exercising - every day and sometimes during the night.
During her pregnancy, the wife of Emmy award-winning actor Alec Baldwin and new mother to 5-week-old Carmen Gabriela, said she gave up spinning classes for a less vigorous fitness regimen that included jogging.
But yoga, the 3,000-year-old practice that marries movement to breath, was the 29-year-old's primary thing.
"When I had aches and pains in the middle of the night, I'd just get out of bed and stretch," said Baldwin, who teaches at Yoga Vida in New York and will release a fitness DVD, "@Home with Hilaria Baldwin: Fit Mommy-to-Be Prenatal Yoga," on Tuesday.
"A lot of people are so afraid to exercise they do damage by becoming sedentary," she added.
In the absence of complications, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days for pregnant women.
Dr. Raul Artal, an expert on exercise and pregnancy who helped develop the ACOG guidelines, said women who are physically active have easier labor and recovery than sedentary women.
"There are also positive effects on mood that may prevent depression," said Artal, a professor and chairman of the department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women's Health at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
Artal said women should not hesitate to do yoga, as long as any movement is moderate and hydration is encouraged.
"Pregnancy is one of the main contributors to obesity," he noted. "Obese women have a higher incidence of infants with birth defects."
Exercise physiologist and yoga instructor Jessica Matthews, of the American Council on Exercise, said experienced yogis don't have to abandon their practice during pregnancy.
But there are necessary tweaks and modifications.
"In the first trimester most standing poses (and) balancing postures are still accessible," said Matthews. "As the belly starts to grow, some balancing may require the support of a wall."
As pregnancy progresses, she urges women to use pillows and other props, and added that during the second trimester the body really starts to change and aches, pains and discomfort sets in.
"In the third trimester yoga's greatest benefit is not so much asana (postures) but focus on relaxation and breath work that can help with the whole delivery process," she said.
Matthews has seen the egos of even the most daring, arm-balance and inversion-loving yogis recede during pregnancy.
"They really do already have the instinct to protect their child. Ego starts to take a back seat," she explained. "And often those who came with a more physical focus find that after pregnancy they connect to yoga in a different way."
Baldwin plans to pass on her yoga expertise to her daughter, who already has two baby yoga mats.
"She's going to totally do yoga," she said, "I have high hopes for her."
Baldwin's 55-year-old husband, who appears in her DVD, practices with her.
"We do yoga together. I think we should do more," she said. "She is (Carmen) going to tell her father to get off his butt."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)