I have received so many questions about prenatal yoga over the years and even more now that I am expecting myself. I have compiled a list of 10 frequently asked prenatal yoga questions so that you can have a one-stop resource for your common questions.
I have been practicing yoga for nine years and teaching yoga for seven years. During this time I have worked with a lot of pregnant students, completed a prenatal yoga teacher training and am now teaching and practicing through my own pregnancy. I’m going to draw on my experience through teaching others, my prenatal teacher training and practicing through my pregnancy to provide answers.
Please remember to ALWAYS check with your doctor before adding anything new to your prenatal fitness routine and if your doctor’s answers differ from anything I outline below, please go with your doctor’s recommendation.
I DON’T PRACTICE YOGA BUT I’VE HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT PRENATAL YOGA. SHOULD I START?
Of course my answer to this is going to be YES! First step…ask your doctor. Generally, pregnancy isn’t the time to add anything new to your fitness routine but most doctor’s are cool with prenatal yoga because of the amazing benefits it has for moms to be. Some of those include…
- Alleviating discomfort. Many women experience discomfort in pregnancy whether that’s back pain, leg cramps, hip issues, sciatic discomfort and much more. Yoga can help relieve these through stretching.
- Establishing good breathing techniques. It’s no secret that proper breathing is key to getting through labor but learning how to really breath can also help with so many other areas of pregnancy like dealing with stress and anxiety.
- Connection to baby. Prenatal yoga classes offer a great opportunity to slow down and check in with your body and your baby. You get uninterrupted time to really focus on the miracle that your body is performing by growing a new life.
- Strengthening the body. Many prenatal yoga classes include a mix of breath work, asana (physical poses) and meditation techniques. The asana portion of the class might include pregnancy-appropriate core work, upper body strengthening, squatting and much more. It’s a great way to get a gentle workout in!
- Better overall well-being. I have found yoga to be an invaluable resource for managing pregnancy from an emotional and heart-centered perspective. It’s helped me to deal with the emotional ups and downs that come with pregnancy and preparing for such a huge life change. It’s also helped me to love and appreciate my changing body and everything that it is doing to support creating a new life. I feel much more steady, present and centered when I’m practicing regularly during pregnancy.
- Meeting other expecting moms. Prenatal yoga classes often include time for introductions, questions and community-building and can be a great place to meet other expecting moms if you’re seeking community and support!
DO I HAVE TO TAKE PRENATAL CLASSES OR CAN I PRACTICE IN REGULAR CLASSES?
This is a great question! If you are new to yoga I would definitely recommend starting in a prenatal yoga class just to get a feel for the practice and to learn appropriate modifications.
I encourage most of my yogis to keep taking regular classes as long as they feel up for it and are able to modify appropriately. I’ve found that students who are accustomed to a strong power flow can sometimes find prenatal classes to be a little too slow. Some also choose to stay in regular classes until their third trimester when they are bigger and ready to slow down a little bit and then transition to prenatal or slower flow classes.
The key to practicing through pregnancy is regular classes is LISTENING TO YOUR BODY and modifying without feeling “guilty” ANYTIME you need to! Seriously, don’t stress if the teacher is calling bow pose and you’re doing supported bridge instead. Do what you need to take care of you and your body! If you feel it appropriate, give the teacher a head’s up before class that you’re expecting and will be modifying.
IS IT SAFE TO TWIST?
YES. This is perhaps one of the biggest myths of pregnancy. One of the most important benefits of twisting is the opening of the middle and upper thoracic spine…which many pregnant women desperately need as their posture might be compromised by their changing body or they’re just feeling tight and tense.
The key with twisting is to avoid any abdominal compression. So you want to avoid closed, tight twists in favor of big open twists. Example, revolved side angle instead of crescent lunge prayer twist. Revolved side angle leaves plenty of room for the belly to hang uncompressed while twisting through the middle/upper spine.
I’ll write another post that shoes actual modifications and variations of poses but keep twisting as long as you keep that belly free!
CAN I PRACTICE HOT YOGA WHILE I’M PREGNANT?
This is a topic where I will direct you to listen to the advice of your doctor or midwife as well as what your own body tells you feels good for your pregnancy. I never tell my students yes or no on this because each doctor is different and each student’s body/pregnancy is different. There is no blanket answer.
Personally, my doctor has been good with me continuing to both practice and teach hot yoga for a couple of reasons. First, I have been doing it for so long. I am super acclimated to the heat as it’s an environment that I spend 10-20 hours a week in. Second, I am able to regulate my heart rate and temperature well. My heart rate rarely gets above 110 when I’m practicing hot yoga and I never allow myself to get to the point of overheating. I know how to breathe properly and how to scale back so that I don’t cross that line.
All that said, many of my students who do continue to practice hot often take the first trimester off just because they are feeling icky and there is so much developing in that first trimester that they feel that avoiding hot is best in the beginning. They also find that practicing in the back of the room near a door offers a cooler experience and easy access out of the room should they need to step out to take a break.
The most important thing to remember if you continue practicing hot yoga through pregnancy is to HYDRATE like you’ve never hydrated before! You know pregnant women already need to drink more than normal and hot yoga takes that to a whole new level. I also recommend adding electrolytes through something like Ultima or coconut water.
WHAT CORE WORK IS SAFE TO DO IN YOGA CLASS?
Personally, I stopped doing all crunches and traditional ab work around eight weeks. My body gave me a clear sign that it was time to stop! You don’t have to stop as early as I did but I would definitely say to start avoiding traditional ab/crunching stuff by the end of the first trimester.
Here are the things that I recommend instead.
- Planks. Full planks are okay in the beginning/first trimester, then I recommend taking them on your knees in second and mostly avoiding in the third trimester. You don’t want to feel pressure on the abdominal wall.
- Side planks and modified side planks.
- Spinal balance. ALL HAIL SPINAL BALANCE! I think it’s one of the best core exercises for pregnant women.
- Hip bridge lift and lowers as well as static holds.
- Single leg glute bridge lift and lower.
- Sitting on your knees on a block and practicing drawing everything in the pelvic floor in and up, hold for a count of five and release. Repeat 10 times.
WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES FOR BACKBENDS?
This is going to vary depending on your practice and your pregnancy. Generally, all backbends are safe in the first trimester including those performed on your belly such as sphinx, cobra, locust and bow.
In the second trimester you may wish to no longer be belly down but you will probably feel pretty good in your body. You might lean more towards backbends like up dog, camel variations, bridge, supported bridge and wheel.
In the third trimester, it might become time to begin avoiding super deep backbends such as full expression of wheel. Again this will depend on the yogi and their practice but generally if a) it feels like too much stretch through the abdominals or b) you are experiencing some instability due to the hormone relaxin and putting your low back at risk it is time to reduce the intensity of the backbends…especially as you get into the latter part of the third trimester.
And as far as incorporating vinyasas into your practice that involve the typical chaturanga through up dog and down dog, this again will depend on the practitioner. In my prenatal classes I see some mamas still doing up dog late in their third trimester and others begin avoiding it much earlier.
I am at 32 weeks now and the backbends that feel best for me personally are camel, up dog or placing a block under the shoulder blades and reclining back over it. Many really enjoy supported bridge at this point but it sometimes makes me feel nauseous. Wheel stopped feeling good about 4-6 weeks ago but other students have had different experiences. I can’t say it enough, listen to your body.
CAN I STILL DO INVERSIONS?
I’m going to be such a broken record here. 1) Yes, if you had a strong inversions practice pre-pregnancy and 2) Yes, as long as they feel good for you. I can’t stress enough listening to your body and moving intuitively…from both a mental and physical standpoint. Even if you feel physically fine to invert but mentally you drive yourself crazy with worry, you may want to skip them.
I have inverted throughout my pregnancy on days where my energy feels up to it (first trimester included through now at 32 weeks) with my doctor’s blessing. I have had zero negative side effects from it and it actually feels so amazing to get my feet over my head to take some of the pressure off my legs.
The advice given in my prenatal yoga teacher training regarding inverting was to invert against a wall for safety as balance changes greatly during pregnancy. Also, wrap up your inversion practice late in the third trimester when you are ready for energy of baby to start moving down and out. This is the “upana vayu” and once it’s time to start focusing on birth, you want everything you do to promote this movement down and out.
One of the best inversions for pregnancy for those who are not comfortable in headstand/handstand/shoulder stand/etc is legs up the wall.
IS IT SAFE TO BE ON MY BACK?
Most of my students find it comfortable to be on their backs until about the halfway mark…some shorter, some longer! Pregnant women are told not to lie on their backs as pregnancy progresses due to the uterus placing pressure on the vena cava. It can cause nausea, numbness, fluid retention and muscle twitching to name a few.
Through working with pregnant women through personal training and yoga, as well as in my own pregnancy, I’ve found that short periods on the back are fine for most women even later in pregnancy. You just don’t want to stay there for a long time. Your body will alert you if you’ve been there for too long!
Another difficult thing about being on your back as pregnancy progresses is getting up! Most women find it hard to sit up from a supine position in the third trimester and need to roll over to one side first so that they can push themselves up.
WHEN SHOULD I STOP DOING POSES ON MY STOMACH?
Generally after the first trimester, give or take a few weeks depending on how you are carrying. Remember, we want to avoid compression of the abdomen during pregnancy so once you start showing, stay off your stomach!
HOW DO I TAKE SAVASANA?
After about the 20 week mark, I’d recommend taking your savasana (corpse pose) at the end of class lying on your left side. The left side promotes the the best circulation and blood flow to the placenta and baby. I find it comfortable to put a bolster under my head as a pillow and a block between my knees to support hip/pelvic alignment.
I hope you found this to be helpful. Remember, you are going to hear different advice from different sources and as I’ve said a million times in this post…listen to your body as well as your doctor/health care provider.
Let me know if you have any other questions. I’m super happy to answer them!
Did you practice yoga during your pregnancy? What was your experience like?
Do you have any other questions about prenatal yoga?