Practicing Yoga During Pregnancy
Practicing yoga is often recommended during pregnancy as it's a great low impact activity that enables you to continue moving your body in a gentle way as you grow a new tiny human. However, safety guidelines around pregnancy yoga - even in mainstream face-to-face yoga classes - can often be overlooked.
Traditional yoga was originally created for men, so the ancient teaching cues handed down over the centuries generally don't take pregnancy into account, or the anatomy and physiology of a pregnant woman's body. This is why it's important to learn from a qualified prenatal yoga teacher during your pregnancy if possible, as they will be more well-versed on modern research and safe pose variations for you.
Relaxin and flexibility
You may already know that during pregnancy, your body produces more relaxin - a hormone that allows your pelvis to loosen up in preparation for birth. Unfortunately relaxin can't pinpoint target your pelvis, so it loosens up your other joints as well!
For this reason, it's a good idea to focus on strength, stability, and release without pushing limits. Aiming to increase your flexibility could put you at greater risk for overstretching and joint injuries.
Safety tips for prenatal yoga
Even if you are an experienced yogi and have been practicing for a long time prior to your pregnancy, your body is changing and will continue to be different with each trimester. Even if you feel you're capable of doing the following, it's important to take these safety tips into consideration:
- Avoid lying flat on your back in supine position. The recommendation is typically that you are fine to lie on your back during your first trimester but not from the second trimester onwards as it decreases blood flow to the uterus. We take this a step further and prefer not to lie on your back as soon as you know you are pregnant.
- Avoid deep twists or abdominal compression. Prenatal yoga is all about creating space for baby. Gentle twists are fine, but you'll need to do open twists rather than closed twists to give baby plenty of room.
- Avoid poses that require strong core work. For example, planks (Kumbhakasana) and plank variations, Crow pose (Bakasana), or Boat pose (Navasana).
- Big back bends. These can increase your risk of Diastasis Recti. Avoiding them won't guarantee against developing this issue where the front abdominal muscles separate, however, it's still best to find alternative poses.
- Avoid prone poses that involve lying on your belly. Such as locust (Shalabasana), bow pose (Dhanurasana) or cobra (Bhujangasana). Not only do they reduce space for baby, they'll probably feel pretty uncomfortable!
- Be careful of balancing poses. As baby grows, your centre of gravity is going to shift so you may find your balance isn't as good as it used to be!
- Full inversions. Handstands, tripod headstands, Pincha Mayurasana... while there are many experienced yogis who continue to do these throughout their pregnancy, we prefer to leave these out of prenatal practice. Gentle inversions such as forward fold (Uttanasana) and downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) are better options for now.
Note: If you have a baby in breech position, gentle inversions may be recommended by your LMC closer to birth to help turn the baby around.
- Practice yin yoga with caution. This style of yoga is designed to target the deepest tissues in our body including the ligaments and joints (remember that this is an issue because of increased relaxin?). Bear this in mind and try to avoid overstretching or pushing beyond your body's limitations as you'll likely be more flexible than usual at the moment.
- Skip Bikram/hot yoga for now. Baby is unable to regulate its own body temperature in early development, so it's typically recommended to avoid overheating during pregnancy. Studies have shown that a heightened increase in core temperature may put baby at risk of stress or developmental issues, so it's better to practice yoga in a cooler environment and ensure you stay well hydrated.
Find a new focus
Become familiar with poses that you can substitute for those you should be avoiding, or that feel uncomfortable. If you have a full set of yoga props, you can do a reclined variation of many supine poses.
Being on all fours in cat/cow (Bitilasana) is often a good substitute for plank positions or prone poses and can give you the sensation of gentle core activation with the feeling of 'hugging' baby in towards your spine. A variation of camel can feel great as an alternative to big back bend poses.
Give your belly plenty of room - standing poses such as Mountain pose (Tadasana), Forward fold (Uttanasana) and even Downward Facing Dog will feel better if you stand with your feet wider than usual. The same goes for Child's pose - take your knees further out to the edges of your mat with your toes together.
Restorative yoga feels amazing when you're pregnant, meditations and gentle breathing practices (Pranayama) can help prepare you for birth and have been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Pelvic floor exercises are often recommended, but during pregnancy it can also be helpful to practice pelvic floor release. The difference is that during pelvic floor strengthening we lift/activate the pelvic floor during the exhale and release on the inhale. For pelvic floor release we activate the pelvic floor on the inhale and release on the exhale (as this will mimic what you need to do during birth).
Do Svasana in a side-lying position so that you still get the benefits of relaxation without lying flat on your back. Supine floor work often happens towards the end of yoga classes, so you might like to take a longer Svasana instead.
Remember the end goal
We prefer to play things safe when it comes to activity during pregnancy; it's such a short period in your life to take it easy, and the main goal should always be healthy mum, healthy baby.
Ensure you've had medical clearance from your GP, LMC or midwife prior to doing any physical activity and listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, it's a good indication you need to stop what you're doing.
- Hot Yoga & Pregnancy, US National Library of Medicine. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3994790)
- There are benefits to prenatal yoga, but lingering questions remain, ScienceNews. (https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/growth-curve/there-are-benefits-prenatal-yoga-lingering-questions-remain)
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