Prenatal yoga

Prenatal Yoga: What You Can Do in Each Trimester

October 01, 2019
5 min read

Yoga during pregnancy can be a wonderful way to reduce stress and prepare your body and mind for childbirth. Prenatal yoga is a specially tailored type of yoga that is safer to practice during your pregnancy.

Before getting started with prenatal yoga, it’s always a good idea to get the all clear from your healthcare provider, even if you’re a seasoned yogi. Plus, your healthcare provider may have some extra advice for you based on your individual situation.

Read on to learn about the benefits of prenatal yoga, the ways your yoga practice might need to change to accommodate your changing body in each trimester, and some prenatal yoga poses you might encounter if you take a class.

What's in this article:

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Yoga? What Are Prenatal Yoga Classes Like? Prenatal Yoga for Each Trimester Some Typical Prenatal Yoga Poses Safety Guidelines for Yoga During Pregnancy When to Stop and Call Your Healthcare Provider When to Avoid Prenatal Yoga

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Yoga?

Research indicates that prenatal yoga can be a safe way to fit and limber throughout your pregnancy.

The classes are structured for your needs during pregnancy, so you probably won't have to guess whether a pose is safe or ask the instructor for modifications. Prenatal yoga classes also offer opportunities to connect with other moms-to-be.

Here are some other potential benefits of prenatal yoga:

  • May decrease stress and anxiety
  • May reduce backaches, headaches, and nausea
  • Can help improve your sleep
  • May lower the risk of health problems like high blood pressure
  • Builds stronger and more flexible muscles that could help during labor and delivery
  • Provides the opportunity to practice breathing and relaxation techniques that can help throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery

What Are Prenatal Yoga Classes Like?

Prenatal or maternity yoga classes are similar to gentle yoga classes like restorative yoga. Your instructor will make modifications to poses to ensure they are safe to do during pregnancy.

In your prenatal yoga classes, you can expect to:

  • Practice some focused breathing techniques, which can help you manage your breath during labor if you give birth vaginally
  • Do some gentle stretching
  • Practice suitable postures for your pregnant body that can help strengthen muscles you’ll need during labor and delivery
  • Learn some helpful relaxation techniques.

Your healthcare provider may be able to suggest some good prenatal yoga classes in your area. Alternatively, contact nearby yoga studios. If they don’t offer prenatal yoga classes, they can probably recommend another studio in your area that does.

Prenatal Yoga for Each Trimester

You can start prenatal yoga classes anytime during your pregnancy, so long as your healthcare provider approves. Here are some pointers for each trimester of pregnancy:

First Trimester

If you did yoga regularly before your pregnancy, you’ll probably be fine to continue with most of the poses you did before, but you may just want to slow things down and gradually start phasing out poses that require deep abdominal stretches.

Second Trimester

As you go into your second trimester and beyond, avoid yoga poses in which you lie flat on your back or on your abdomen. Your growing breasts and belly may affect your balance, so slow things down even more, and consider using props like yoga straps, blocks, and pillows to aid you. If a pose feels too difficult, don’t hold it.

Third Trimester

In the third trimester, consider avoiding balancing poses unless you have the support of a wall or chair. For some poses, blocks or pillows may help you feel more comfortable and supported.

The third trimester is an ideal time to focus even more on your breathing and relaxation techniques as these are the months that can bring new physical and emotional challenges that yoga can help you manage. As always, listen to your body and release poses if you start to feel uncomfortable.

Some Typical Prenatal Yoga Poses

Here are some common prenatal yoga poses that promote deep stretching, strengthen muscles, and help you connect with your breathing.

Prenatal yoga poses
  • Cat/cow stretch: This pose can help reduce discomfort in your hips, back, neck, and shoulders.
  • 1. Starting on all fours, stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Kneel on a blanket if you need padding under your knees for more comfort. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged to help prevent putting too much pressure on your lower back.
    2. Cat: On a deep exhalation, tilt your tailbone down toward the floor and gently round your spine towards the ceiling as you look downwards.
    Cow: On your next inhalation, slightly tip the top of your sit bones toward the ceiling and gently press your chest forward by rolling your outer shoulders towards your inner shoulders.
    If you feel any pressure or discomfort on your lower back during the cow pose, consider moving from cat to a neutral, flat-back pose.
    3. Continue rolling from cat to cow pose: Exhaling to cat, inhaling to cow.
  • Standing back bend: This pose helps neutralize the forward bending that occurs as your uterus grows during your pregnancy.
  • 1. Standing upright, place your palms on the back of each hip for support.
    2. Slowly lean backwards about 15 to 20 degrees until you feel the gentle stretch.
    3. Hold for about 20 seconds each and repeat the bend about 5 times.
  • Warrior on a chair: This pose can help stretch and strengthen your leg muscles.
  • 1. Sitting on the edge of a chair, turn your left leg to the left and place your foot on the floor, stacking your knee over your ankle.
    2. Straighten your right leg behind you, keeping your pelvis on the chair for stability. If the chair is too low and your feel too much of a stretch in your pelvis, place a blanket or pillow under your hips.
    3. Hold the pose for five breaths, and then alternate the position by switching to the other side, holding for five breaths again. You can repeat this a few times, as you wish.

Safety Guidelines for Yoga During Pregnancy

To help ensure you and your baby are as safe as possible as you practice prenatal yoga, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider. Check that prenatal yoga or any other exercise program you're interested in is safe for you.
  • Ensure the instructor is qualified. As your body changes during your pregnancy, the yoga poses you can execute safely might change. For this reason, it’s best to find a class that is led by an instructor who is trained in prenatal yoga. Before the class, let your instructor know how far along you are.
  • Stay well-hydrated and cool.
  • Be realistic with your goals. About 30 minutes of moderate activity per day is good for most moms-to-be. Listen to your body, and if you feel that you are pushing yourself too hard, scale things back. Even a few light workout sessions per week can still help.
  • Be gentle and pace yourself. During your yoga session, if you can’t speak as you normally would without losing your breath, then you should slow down. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to release a pose and relax.
  • Use props. As your pregnancy advances, your center of gravity will shift. This has an effect on your balance. Use blocks, pillows, or straps to aid you.
  • Avoid hot yoga. This type of yoga often takes place in a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't safe. High heat like this can cause hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when your body temperature gets too high.
  • Avoid some yoga poses and be mindful of your posture:
  • • Bend from your hips rather than your back to help keep the normal curvature of your spine.
    • Don’t do deep backward or forward bends.
    • Avoid lying flat on your back or on your belly.
    • Don’t do inverted poses like shoulder stands or headstands.
    • Avoid yoga poses that require deep abdominal stretches.
    • Your yoga instructor will likely help you modify any poses that require twisting so that you only move your upper back, rib cage, and shoulders.

When to Stop and Call Your Healthcare Provider

There are several warning signs to be aware of during prenatal yoga or any other form of exercise during pregnancy. If you notice any of the following, stop and call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • A headache
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Pain or swelling in your calves
  • Bleeding or leaking fluids from your vagina
  • Muscle weakness
  • Your baby is moving less than usual (Download our fetal movement tracker to keep a kick count.)
  • Any of the signs of preterm labor such as contractions, pressure bearing down on your pelvis, cramps that feel like period pain, diarrhea, or dull lower backache.

When to Avoid Prenatal Yoga

Although yoga during pregnancy is safe for most moms-to-be, there are some circumstances when it may not be safe:

  • If you have a health problem such as heart disease, lung disease, or high blood pressure
  • If you’ve ever had a miscarriage
  • If your healthcare provider has told you are at a higher risk of preterm labor. Preterm labor is when you go into labor before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy. (Your pregnancy is considered early term at 37 or 38 weeks, and full term at 39 weeks and beyond.) Keep in mind, you’re at higher risk of preterm labor if you’re carrying twins or multiples, you have problems with your cervix or uterus such as placenta previa, or if you’ve previously had a preterm birth.
  • Remember, before you get started with prenatal yoga, talk with your healthcare provider to find out whether it’s safe for you.

FAQs at a Glance

  • Q : What can I expect in a prenatal yoga class?
  • Q : When can I start prenatal yoga?
  • Q : Will practicing prenatal yoga help with labor?

Once your healthcare provider has given you the all clear, joining a prenatal yoga class can be a wonderful and safe way to stay active and help you stay connected with your changing body during your pregnancy. You might also find that meeting other moms-to-be at the classes helps you feel more supported as you can share your experiences of the highs and lows of pregnancy together.

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