Prenatal yoga can help you through your pregnancy, during delivery, and well beyond! Stretch and center yourself during each stage of pregnancy. Discover how to care for your body and mind with yoga.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re expecting a baby. Pregnant women must plan for life with a brand new human — nurseries, car seats, baby blankets, bottles, etc. — while also taking extra good care of their bodies to ensure their babies are healthy. Practicing good health habits throughout pregnancy can also set you up for a healthy delivery… and to feel your best as a new mom. But what’s a mama-to-be to do with all the information out there about healthy pregnancies? It can be a little overwhelming.
We’ll keep it simple, mamas: it’s time to explore prenatal yoga. Practicing yoga during pregnancy has many benefits for you and your baby. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about prenatal yoga, how to safely integrate it into the months leading up to your baby’s arrival, and how it might improve your overall pregnancy experience
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What is Prenatal Yoga?
Prenatal yoga is a type of yoga designed to accommodate and benefit pregnant women. According to the Mayo Clinic, it “is a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering, and focused breathing.” It’s also a safe approach to fitness during pregnancy that can help women maintain their strength, flexibility, and endurance throughout the nine-month journey to parenthood.
Prenatal yoga classes differ from other yoga classes because they are especially designed for expectant moms. Instructors only include poses that are accessible to and safe for pregnant women, and will offer a range of variations on each pose that practitioners can choose from based on where they are in their pregnancies.
Like other types of yoga, prenatal yoga has benefits for both physical and mental health. Since pregnancy can be a difficult and overwhelming time in many ways, moms-to-be will surely welcome those wide-ranging benefits.
Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
Generally speaking, getting into a yoga routine during pregnancy can set you up for a healthier, safer experience. Yoga has tons of benefits, some of which may even come as a surprise to you! In addition to supporting overall wellness, yoga during pregnancy has specific health benefits, as well.
Support Weight Management
Weight gain is inevitable during pregnancy. In fact, it’s healthy!
According to the CDC:
most women should expect to gain between 25 and 35 pounds over the course of the nine months pre-baby. The CDC also suggests that women maintain at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week throughout pregnancy in order to stay on track with gaining a healthy amount of weight for themselves and their babies.
Prenatal yoga is a great option for moderate intensity aerobic activity. Taking a few online yoga classes each week can help you meet the CDC’s recommendations so you can manage your weight in the months leading up to baby.
Lower Blood Pressure
Per Medical News Today, research has proven that practicing yoga can reduce high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure is good for everyone, but it has some unique health benefits for pregnant women, since high blood pressure presents unique risks for them.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Many women develop high blood pressure while pregnant. Gestational hypertension develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Preeclampsia occurs when hypertension develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy and is associated with signs of damage to other organs, including the kidneys, liver, blood, or brain. When untreated, preeclampsia can cause major complications for mom and baby. Even if a woman isn’t diagnosed with preeclampsia, high blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to other issues, like premature delivery, placental abruption, and injury to other organs.
Taking yoga classes is a great way to maintain a healthy blood pressure throughout pregnancy so those larger problems can be avoided.
Pregnancy mood swings are not a myth. They are a very real thing — it’s science! Healthline notes that mood swings are common in pregnant women because of changes in hormone levels and the chronic fatigue that all too frequently comes with expecting a baby. Since these factors aren’t necessarily controllable, it’s important for moms-to-be to find other ways to regulate these mood swings so they can feel more like themselves.
This is where yoga comes in. Per UC Santa Cruz, “by improving circulation in the endocrine glands, a consistent yoga practice enhances the functions of hormones that play a primary role in the physiology of depression. This results in a reduction in depression and improved overall mood.” It can also help regulate mood.
Being pregnant is no joke. Growing a small human is truly exhausting. Healthline promises that pregnancy fatigue will be “the most tired you have ever felt.” But here’s the irony: being pregnant can also make it really hard to sleep. One study estimates that as many as 80% of women struggle with insomnia during their pregnancies.
Yoga’s benefits for sleep have been documented for people across the board, including expectant moms. According to The Sleep Foundation, women who start a mindful yoga practice in their second trimester sleep better and wake up less frequently throughout the night, as compared to women who don’t do yoga. And moms need every minute of sleep they can get!
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Advice for Starting Prenatal Yoga
Just like anything during pregnancy, doing prenatal yoga safely requires a few extra steps and considerations. It never hurts to take the time to make sure you and your baby are as healthy and comfortable as possible.
Ready to start your own prenatal yoga regimen? These suggestions will help you make the most out of your pregnancy yoga classes whether you’re getting on the mat in your first or third trimester.
Check With Your Doctor
While exercise — and, more specifically, prenatal yoga — is generally considered to be a safe and positive thing during pregnancy, you should absolutely consult with your medical provider before starting any fitness regimen. Your doctor will be able to recommend a good workout schedule for you based on your overall health. Your provider will also be able inform you of any risks and to offer suggestions to help you minimize potential danger for you and your baby.
With the full support of your medical provider and the peace of mind that comes with securing this kind of clearance, you’ll be able to jump into your yoga practice with confidence.
According to the pregnancy experts at The Bump, hydration is especially important for expectant moms. Drinking enough water ensures that your body has what it needs to form amniotic fluid, produce extra blood volume, build new tissue, carry nutrients throughout the body, ease indigestion, ease constipation, and flush out toxins. Staying hydrated can even reduce your risk of preterm labor. Healthline recommends that pregnant women drink ten 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
Exercise puts additional demands on your body, making hydration that much more critical. Prior to taking a prenatal yoga, ensure that you’re on track to meet — or exceed — that 80-ounce daily recommendation. Drinking plenty of water will keep you feeling steady and strong so you can complete your practice.
Listen to Your Body
Every pregnancy is unique. Even moms-to-be who have already had children may find their pregnancy experiences to be radically different from one to the next. Your body will feel different from day to day, as well!
Because of this, one of the keys to successfully and safely exercising throughout pregnancy is tuning into your body and resisting the urge to push yourself too hard. Let go of any expectation that you will be able to do the same things when you’re pregnant as you did when you weren’t, or that you’ll be able to do the same things when you’re eight months pregnant as you did when you were in your first trimester.
If you’re feeling like you’ve pushed yourself to your physical limit on any given day, take it easy with a mellow yoga class or a rest day. You can take a longer class on days when you have more energy. Trust yourself!
Looking for more tips on how to get started with a prenatal yoga practice? Check out this post
Pregnancy Yoga for Normal Delivery
Now that we’ve established some of the benefits of prenatal yoga that women can experience throughout pregnancy, let’s talk about how it can also set you up for a smooth, healthy delivery! After all, if you’re expecting a baby, this is probably something you think about approximately 99% of the time.
According to a study referenced by the Prenatal Yoga Center, a regular yoga practice in the final ten to twelve weeks of pregnancy improves maternal comfort in labor and may also facilitate more efficient labor progress.
Study participants who practiced yoga experienced labors that were roughly two and a half hours shorter (in the first stage of labor, specifically) than the participants who did not do yoga.
This may be because of yoga’s emphasis on breathing awareness and muscle relaxation.
It may also be because practicing yoga over time alters pain systems in the body and can condition your body to release endorphins and serotonin during certain movements.
Additionally, the Mayo Clinic notes that prenatal yoga can help boost strength, flexibility, and endurance for the muscles required in childbirth. After a few months of yoga, your body will be more prepared to give birth.
Prenatal Yoga Poses
Various yoga poses are recommended for different purposes for pregnant women, though most can be beneficial more generally. Some poses, for example, are geared primarily toward easing the aches and pains that many people experience while pregnant. Others may help you relax. Others are recommended to help your body prepare to handle labor and delivery.
A prenatal yoga instructor can also guide you through any modifications that might be available to make “standard” yoga poses more accessible and comfortable for women in various stages of pregnancy. They might also make recommendations based on how much experience you’ve had with yoga prior to getting pregnant. Often, yoga poses will integrate props like yoga blocks and straps to make certain movements easier. Prenatal yoga instructors may also recommend that practitioners don’t push their bodies quite as far in certain poses as they would if they didn’t have a baby on board.
Here are five yoga poses that can be especially beneficial for expectant moms…
Yoga Journal recommends Bridge pose for women in their first trimester, especially. It stretches the chest, neck, and spine and has calming qualities.
Start by laying on your back. Bend your knees, bringing your feet to the floor and your heels in front of your backside. Your knees should stay in line with your ankles and your feet should remain parallel and hip distance apart. Keep your arms at your sides and allow your fingers to graze your heels. Use the strength of your legs to press into your heels and lift your hips and pelvis off the floor. Keep your arms on the floor at your sides, your tailbone long, and your neck straight and long. If you need extra support in this pose, you can place a yoga block under your lower back and buttocks.
Supported Fish Pose
Pregnant women should avoid major backbends (more on that below!), but smaller back stretches can take pressure off the lower back and help you open up your hips.
You’ll need two yoga blocks for this pose. Begin sitting on your mat with one block a few inches behind you set up so it’s at its lowest height and can support the middle part of your back. The other block should be a few inches behind that at its middle or highest height. It will support your neck and head. Put your legs in a butterfly position with your feet touching and your knees out comfortably to the sides. Slowly lower yourself back, allowing your back, neck, and head to rest on the blocks.
It may take you a few minutes to get the blocks into a position that feels comfortable for you. There’s no one size fits all! Once you feel comfortable, let your arms rest at your sides.
To do Cat-Cow, start on all fours. Take a deep breath and look up. Your back should bend naturally. Avoid putting pressure on the lower part of your back or leaning too far into the back bend. When you’re ready, breathe out, round out your spine, tuck your butt under, and curl in so you’re looking at your belly. Move between these positions through several series of inhales and exhales.
Cat-Cow will help take some pressure off your belly, which will feel great throughout your pregnancy.
Swelling and soreness are common symptoms of pregnancy. This pose will help alleviate those issues, especially in the final months of your pregnancy journey.
Sit close to a wall, facing the wall. Lie on your back and raise your legs so your feet face the ceiling. Move your hips until your heels and calves are resting against the wall. If you’re at the point in your pregnancy when it’s no longer comfortable to lie on your back, you might consider using a bolster or pillow so you’re on an angle instead of flat on your back.
According to Healthline, squats are recommended by many doctors to pregnant women. They can help moms-to-be maintain strength and range of motion in the lower body and improve their posture as their bodies change. They might even make labor and delivery a bit easier by building up your muscles and preventing tearing! There are many different kinds of squats in yoga and beyond. Yogi Squats are one of them.
To perform a Yogi Squat, bend your knees until they’re pointing to the ceiling and your calves come close to the back of your thighs. Don’t push yourself to discomfort! Once you’re strong in this squat stance, lean forward, and lift your seat. If your heels lift off the ground, place a blanket or towel beneath them.
Yoga Poses to Avoid
While prenatal yoga is generally a very safe form of exercise for pregnant women, there are some poses that are not recommended for women who are expecting. If you are an experienced yogi, it’s important to understand which movements should be taken out of your practice until after your baby is born.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid deep backbends (Full Wheel, Bow, etc.).
Here are a few other positions to stay away from…
Revolved Side Angle Pose — After your first trimester, you should take exercises that require you to twist along your midline out of your routine. Instead of doing a full twist, you can open up to one side and use your bottom arm to support you.
Chaturanga — You may be able to perform Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog in the earlier months of your pregnancy, especially if you have experience with yoga. As your belly grows and your center of balance moves, this may stop being accessible.
Forward Fold — Your belly will likely get in the way of this pose! As an alternative, try a Wide-Leg Forward Fold to accommodate your changing body.
Twisted Chair — Again, full twists are not recommended for pregnant women, especially in their second and third trimesters. If you’d still like to reap the benefits of this pose, step your feet wider apart and use your bottom arm for support across your knees.
Don’t forget to check with your medical provider if you have questions about specific poses!