Want to feel more relaxed and prepared for birth? Here's when, why and how to try prenatal yoga.
Prenatal yoga may just be the ideal exercise for pregnant women. Why? It’s not only low-impact, but each move is created with pregnant women in mind. Here’s an FAQ of what you need to know before starting a prenatal yoga routine.
What is prenatal yoga?
Yoga is a form of exercise and meditation where breath and specific body positions are used to help connect the mind and body. Prenatal yoga focuses on positions that are specifically designed for pregnant women’s bodies.
How is prenatal yoga different from regular yoga?
Common positions in regular yoga — such as those where your feet are spread far apart — may be too stressful for your joints and pelvic area when you’re expecting. As your baby grows, there’s a lot more weight pushing down on your bladder and pelvis. Pregnancy hormones also loosen your ligaments, making joint and bone problems (especially in the pubic bone) a source of discomfort. In addition to modifying positions for pregnancy, prenatal yoga also emphasizes breathing, stretches and strengthening moves that help your body prepare for labor.
Can prenatal yoga be the first time I ever do yoga?
Yes! You don’t have to be a yogi before you conceive to jump on the prenatal yoga bandwagon. As long as your doctor has given you the green light to stay physically active during pregnancy, yoga is an ideal activity for all expectant moms: It’s gentle and designed for pregnancy, which means it helps prepare you for the mental aspects of childbirth (and beyond). But remember, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise during pregnancy.
What are the benefits of prenatal yoga?
You probably already know that doctor-approved fitness during pregnancy is good for you. Here are some of the benefits of yoga during pregnancy:
- Relief from pregnancy symptoms. Getting active — including during prenatal yoga — helps relieve symptoms including constipation, back pain, bloating, swelling and fatigue.
- Better sleep. As you likely know, a good snooze is extra tricky when you’re expecting — but a good sweat session has been shown time and again to improve sleep.
- Lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that pregnant women’s heart rate and blood pressure lowers after doing prenatal yoga — even more so than after doing other low-impact exercises like walking.
- Reduced risk of preterm labor and other complications. High stress levels have been shown to increase miscarriage and preterm birth rates, and yoga is a great stress-reducer. In one study of 335 pregnant women, half the women did yoga — including breathing exercises, posture positions and meditation — for one hour a day, while the other half of the women walked for 30 minutes twice a day. Though both groups spent the same amount of time active, the yoga group had a lower preterm labor rate as well as lower risk of pregnancy-reduced hypertension.
- Stabilized moods. Another study showed that integrated yoga — that is, exercise-based yoga combined with meditation, deep relaxation and breathing exercises — significantly decreased levels of depression in moms-to-be.
- Weight management. Like all physical activity, yoga keeps you active, which helps you to better manage your prenatal weight gain.
- An improved delivery experience. The breathing exercises you’ll practice in yoga can be calming when it comes time to push baby out. Plus the many stretching and strengthening moves can improve your delivery experience and your recovery (from either a vaginal birth or C-section), since your core and other important muscles will be stronger and more toned. In fact, one small study found that women who participated in a yoga routine involving just six sessions before birth spent less time overall in labor than those who did not. They also reported they felt less pain and more comfortable during and immediately after labor.
In a prenatal yoga class, you’ll likely be encouraged to use accessories (bolsters, blocks, wedges or folded blankets) to achieve the proper alignment. You can typically expect to focus on:
- Breathing techniques
- Gently stretching the different areas of your body
- Gentle prenatal yoga poses that will help you build your strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility and balance
- Cooling you down at the end of your workout, helping you relax your muscles and restore your resting heart rate and your normal breathing rhythm
While there are countless variations of yoga poses an instructor may guide you through, a few of the most popular — which focus on breathing and relaxation — include:
How can I stay safe?
If you’re in a prenatal yoga class, your instructor should design the class to be safe for you — just be sure to never push yourself past the point of comfort.
- Drink enough water. This goes for anytime you’re working out, no matter how much of a sweat you break.
- Stay off your back. Avoid any exercises after the first trimester where you’re lying on your back, since your baby’s growing weight puts pressure on your vena cava (a major vein that brings blood to your heart), interfering with circulation and making you feel dizzy and nauseous.
- Skip hot yoga. Don’t do yoga (or any other exercise, for that matter) in any extreme heat, in part because exposure to excessive heat could result in neural tube defects, and also because it can cause you to feel dizzy and nauseous. That goes for both Bikram yoga and exercise outdoors on a hot day.
- Avoid deep abdominal work, back bends and twists. Your center of gravity can be off during pregnancy, and back bends and twists may cause you to fall. As with most things during your pregnancy, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
- Talk to your instructor. If you choose to do regular yoga, just be sure to let your instructor know that you are pregnant and how far along you are in case any poses need to be modified for you and your growing baby. Practice in a well-ventilated room to avoid overheating.
- Any kind of fluid leaking from your vagina
- Dizziness, shortness of breath or feeling light-headed
- Calf pain or swelling
- If you’re further along in your pregnancy and you feel your baby moving less
- If you feel like your baby is pushing down, or if you feel pressure in your pelvis
- If you have belly cramps or backaches