Should I Take Prenatal Yoga Classes?
Prenatal yoga will prepare expecting mothers for childbirth and can also be beneficial for your baby’s health. It does not matter if you are a beginner yogi or an experienced yoga practitioner, you can still feel the benefits.
Yoga is a dependable way to keep fit while the body changes, but most importantly, yoga will help Mommy-To-Be relax, enjoying the pregnancy more and worrying less.
When Mama is happy, so is her growing baby.
In this article, we will explain some of the benefits of prenatal yoga, what to expect in a prenatal yoga class and advice for you and your baby’s safety.
What You Will Learn:
- When Should I Start Prenatal Yoga Classes?
- What Does Research Say About Prenatal Yoga Benefits?
- Do I Need My Doctor’s Approval to Practice Prenatal Yoga?
- What Happens During a Prenatal Yoga Class?
- How to Safely Practice Yoga During Pregnancy
- Pregnant Yoga Poses to Prep Body For Labor
- Yoga Poses to Avoid While Pregnant
- Prenatal Yoga Breathing Exercises and Techniques
- First Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
- Second Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
- Third Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
- Postpartum Yoga
- Yoga Poses To Help With Breastfeeding
When Should I Start Prenatal Yoga Classes?
You can start prenatal yoga as soon as you get your doctor’s approval, but don’t wait till you are on maternity leave to start.
If you are an experienced yogi, you could continue practicing your regular yoga class until your second trimester. But, make sure to be mindful of belly and inverted pose adaptations…more on that later in this post.
And since your body goes through major changes during the first trimester, you may want to take gentler yoga classes, especially if you have morning sickness.
Now, if you’re new to yoga, the sooner you start practicing prenatal yoga the better.
Prenatal yoga classes tend to be low-impact and slower paced than gentle yoga classes, perfect for a new yogi.
What Does Research Say About Prenatal Yoga Benefits?
Various scientific research shows that yoga is safe, and is beneficial for both pregnant women and their babies.
Here are 5 major benefits expecting moms can gain from prenatal yoga.
Reduce Symptoms That Often Accompany Pregnancy
Studies have shown that yoga helps reduce many pregnancy symptoms such as:
- Decreases morning sickness headaches and nausea
- Eases constipation, gas and bloating
- Lowers risk of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth
- Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarian delivery
Increase Breath Capacity to Deepen Relaxation and Sleep
Deep yogic breathing (pranayama) activates the parasympathetic system which slows down heart rate while also improving digestion and rest.
With the physical changes you go through, pranayama can help you adapt and feel more comfortable with your body.
Yogic breathing expands your lungs so that over time your breath capacity increases, your body absorbs more oxygen, and therefore, functions better and can rest with ease.
Improve Posture and Physical Balance
As your body changes throughout pregnancy, so will your body’s equilibrium point which will impact your posture and physical balance.
Not adjusting to these changes can lead to aches, pains, and other physical ailments that will make your pregnancy more challenging than it needs to be.
This issue becomes problematic if you have pre-existing conditions that may compound from pregnancy symptoms.
Practicing prenatal yoga helps you adjust and reconnect to your changing body, such as, strengthening areas that become compressed from a growing belly and releasing tension from areas that carry more weight.
Better Manage Stress and Anxiety
Many expecting mothers feel drained from the natural hormonal changes that come with pregnancy.
But moms could also feel drained from external stressors from family, friends, or employers.
Yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, calming the nervous system, increasing circulation and energy levels in the body, as well as, coping mechanisms for the mind and spirit.
Practicing prenatal yoga will help you to slow down, connect with your baby and adapt to all the changes in your life, enjoying the process rather than stressing through it.
Combat Postpartum Depression
Recent evidence suggests that yoga can not only manage stress and anxiety but also combat postpartum depression.
The study showed that pregnant women practicing yoga just twice a week lowered anxiety and depression symptoms.
These findings are especially important since another study found potential evidence that the stress hormone cortisol can pass from mom to baby through the placenta, and may affect the baby’s developing brain.
Yoga can help you to reconnect with your body, especially new mothers who may feel disconnected from their sense of self.
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Do I Need My Doctor’s Approval to Practice Prenatal Yoga?
Regardless if you are pregnant or not, you should always get your doctor’s opinion before you start practicing yoga or any strenuous exercise.
If you have any preexisting conditions, past injuries or have recently had surgery, then you definitely need your doctor’s approval to do yoga.
But if you are unsure about yoga even though your doctor okays you to practice, start off with a gentle yoga class and see how you like it.
Let your yoga instructor know that you are expecting so they can teach you variations of belly and inversion poses.
What Happens During a Pregnancy Yoga Class?
A prenatal or pregnancy yoga class is similar to a regular yoga class except it caters towards alleviating the issues many expecting mom experience like tight hips, lower back pain, and shallow breathing.
Overall, prenatal yoga will give you the space to slow down, which allows you to connect with your baby and better adapt to your body changes.
Here are 4 things that make an impactful prenatal yoga class.
Gentle Stretching to Alleviate Tension and Swollen Areas
Stretching is a given for every yoga class, but for a prenatal yoga class expect to perform stretching poses that focus more on alleviating tight hips, neck, and shoulders.
Also expect poses that will release lower back pain and promote blood circulation in your legs and feet, which are areas that tend to get swollen and sore from the changes that are occurring in your body.
Strength and Endurance Exercises
Along with stretching, strength and endurance building exercises are just as important to achieving physical, mental and emotional balance during pregnancy.
Anticipate practicing endurance poses such as warriors, left lifts, triangle poses, and chair poses or squats to strengthen your glutes, back, legs and upper body. Strengthening these areas will also prep your body for labor and post-birth.
Unlike fast-paced yoga classes, in prenatal yoga expect the pace to be slower which will encourage focused breathing while you practice the poses.
Focused breathing while doing the pose is so important because it requires you to be in the present moment and grounds you.
This means connecting with your body changes, breathing through pain and tense areas, managing your stress during difficult poses, and truly relaxing during breaks.
Pairing the breath with the poses truly helps you accept yourself where you are in this specific moment in time and OWN IT!
If you can practice these things during yoga class, you will be prepared for labor and can cope with the other changes that come when growing your family.
Relaxation and Bonding With Baby
Every yoga practice ends with a 5-10 minute savasana or laying down, to relax your body and steady your heart rate.
Towards the end of practice, your body and mind will be centered and balanced from all the focused breathing and strength/stretching exercises.
So make savasana time an intimate moment to connect with your baby.
How to Safely Practice Yoga During Pregnancy
Even if you are an experienced yogi, there are still several safety measures pregnant yogis should consider while they practice yoga.
Slowly Pace Yourself and Ease Into Poses
The biggest danger an expecting yogi could face is falling out of a pose.
Even though prenatal yoga is slow-paced and gentle, if you struggle with your physical balance, take it easy when transitioning from pose to pose.
If you feel lightheaded from the breathing exercises, then take a break by sitting in the easy pose until you regain focus.
Use Yoga Props to Modify Poses
Yoga Blocks: Use in standing poses like triangles and forward bends to gain stability and balance. Even to use during floor poses underneath your tail bone or lower back to alleviate pressure and tension.
Yoga Straps: Helpful during floor poses such as for hip openers, stretching the hamstrings or glutes to give grip and leverage over your body.
Blankets: Put a blanket under your hips or knees for cushion or leverage in floor poses.
Yoga Wheel: Great for warming up the spine or stretching the lower back since twists are not safe to do while pregnant.
Be Careful Not to Overstretch
The body naturally produces a hormone called relaxin to help the body “soften” as your baby grows. So you may feel more flexible than you usually would.
Be careful not to overstretch by paying attention to your knees, elbows, wrists, and hips so that you do not apply more pressure onto them than you normally would.
Here are some tips to prevent injury during yoga:
Wrists: Spread your fingers wide apart so you are using your entire hand and spreading out your weight on a larger surface area.
Elbows: Always have your elbows tucked in against your ribs or in alignment with your shoulders, never extended out to the sides.
Knees: Keep your knee at a 90-degree angle (or more) when performing lunges, triangles, and warrior poses. Do not overextend your knee, or go too deep into the bed. It’s better to slightly bend than over-bend.
Hips: Use a yoga blanket or yoga bolster to prop hips up during floor poses. Consider keeping your knees hip-width apart or wider during standing poses for more stability and comfort.
Other Warning Signs
Stop if you feel the following symptoms during yoga practice.
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Chest pain
Pregnant Yoga Poses to Prep Body For Labor
Here is a prenatal yoga sequence to prepare your body and mind for labor.
A study showed that with doctor’s approval pregnant yogis can practice with no harm to their baby, as long as they stay within these types of yoga poses shown below.
Prenatal Yoga Standing Sequence
- Downward Dog
- High Lunges and Side-Angle Poses
- Chair Pose
- Standing Side Stretch
- Eagle Pose
- Triangle Pose
- Goddess Squats
- Wide-leg Forward Bend
- Warrior Poses
- Tree Pose
Prenatal Yoga Floor Sequence
- Childs Pose (spread knees apart)
- Assisted Frog Pose
- Knee Balance Poses
- Shoulder Stretch Pose
- Leg Lifts
- Butterfly Pose
- Easy Bridge Pose
- Pigeon Pose
- Rabbit Pose
- Easy Camel Pose
- Heart-Opener Pose
- Forehead-to-Knee Pose
- Assisted Savasana
Yoga Poses to Avoid While Pregnant
Most prenatal yoga classes avoid these poses, but if you are practicing at home, be sure to not do the following poses while pregnant.
- Spinal twists or chair twists
- Pose where you are on your belly, like cobras, locust, sitting forward bends, bow pose
- Excessive abdominal exercises
- Inversions, even shoulder stand
- Fast or rough pranayama breathing exercises like fire breaths and belly pumps
If you have any questions about what poses to avoid, then make sure to ask your yoga instructor or reach out to us.
Prenatal Yoga Breathing Exercises and Techniques
You’ve heard of Lamaze breathing classes, right?
It may sound silly, but yes, you may need some training on how to breathe properly, and this becomes important when coping with the stress of pregnancy.
We suggest practicing these breathing exercises to help you alleviate stress or when experiencing bodily aches or pains during your pregnancy. You could also do these breathing exercises before meditation for deep relaxation and peace.
Full Yogic Breath Exercise
This is a preparatory, basic breathing exercise to help you calm your nervous system, slow down your heart rate so you have the patience and focus to perform the breathing exercises.
Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise
After you are calm from full yogic breathing, your airways are now open to breathe alternately through your nostrils. This exercise helps calm your left and right sides of your brain, settling your restless mind.
Cooling Breath Technique
This is a calming breathing technique if you are feeling heartburn or indigestion, symptoms that commonly occur throughout pregnancy. Since you are unable to do belly poses or inversions, this breathing technique is a dependable alternative to calm those inner fires.
First Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
Though your body may not physically look different during the first trimester, your body does go through a lot of hormonal changes, so focus on “listening” to your body.
Listening is an intuitive skill that takes patience and concentration.
When you practice slow down and notice if poses feel different. Does a pose bother you now compared to before, or do you feel new areas of tension or flexibility?
If you feel fatigued or nauseated, do not force yourself to practice prenatal yoga. Excuse yourself from physical activity and prioritize rest for a few days.
The first trimester is a time of major transition where you make dietary changes or cutting back on lifestyle habits to better your growing baby. All of these changes happening at once may feel overwhelming, and that’s when prenatal yoga can help you cope.
When you practice remember to take it easy, focus on deep breathing to keep yourself calm and relaxed throughout your first trimester.
Second Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
The second trimester is hopefully a little more comfortable now that the worst of morning sickness has passed.
Now that your belly is growing, you definitely should adjust your yoga practice to avoid deep twists, belly poses or inversions. If you practice at home, you can refer to our suggested list of prenatal friendly yoga poses.
Though the morning sickness symptoms may ease off, a new set of symptoms may start trickling in. Common complaints include leg cramps, heartburn, and congestion.
Since your belly is growing, you may feel more tension in your lower back and hips which is natural.
Focus on yoga poses that strengthen your glutes and release tension in the hips and back. Heart openers and power poses like warriors and squats will break up sinus and chest congestion. Do these breathing exercises to cool down heartburn and indigestion.
Also during the second trimester, doctors test for gestational diabetes (GDM). Numerous studies have shown that yoga can manage diabetes by reducing stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones have shown to worsen blood glucose levels that lead to GDM.
Many expecting moms begin prenatal yoga as a response to combat GDM, but do not wait till then to start. Prenatal yoga and regular exercise help prevent GDM and other physical ailments that occur during pregnancy.
Third Trimester Pregnancy Yoga
Preparing your body for childbirth is the main focus during the third trimester.
At this point, you may be seeing your doctor more frequently and making final preparations for your newborn child.
During your prenatal yoga practice, be mindful in taking wider stances in yoga poses. Avoid any inversions and poses that compress your uterus. Placing your legs up against a wall (be sure to use a yoga blanket or pillow to cushion your lower back) can alleviate swelling (edema).
You may be concerned about whether to continue practicing prenatal yoga at this final stage of your pregnancy. As long as your doctor okays you to practice, prenatal yoga in the third trimester has shown no evidence of fetal distress.
Another issue expecting moms may face during their third trimester is insomnia and finding relief and comfort to restless nights. Yoga has shown to improve sleep quality, reduce feelings of fatigue, and lower stress levels in those who practiced 75-minute sessions twice a week.
As we mentioned previously, the poses matter but more importantly, the breath is what brings peacefulness and calmness to yogis (and their babies).
Feel free to use yoga bolsters or practice prenatal yoga poses on a chair for added precaution if your concerns are balance and fatigue.
Doctors usually recommend 6-8 weeks of recovery time for new mothers after a vaginal birth and even longer after a Cesarean section. So do not feel you have to rush back into yoga practice or other physical exercises.
Besides caring for your new bundle of joy, remember to also take care of yourself. You may not be ready to start moderate-impact exercise, but you can at least practice meditation and breathing exercises to manage stress, energy levels, mood, and emotions.
Practicing meditation and yoga is ever more important for new moms who suffer from depression. A study conducted in 2015 observed that postpartum mothers significantly improved their anxiety and depression symptoms when they practiced yoga twice a week for 8 weeks.
Always make sure to get your doctor’s approval before returning back to yoga practice. If you are experiencing postpartum depression symptoms, tell your doctor immediately to discuss treatment options and therapy.
When you are ready to get back into your yoga practice, do take it easy.
We suggest that you continue taking prenatal classes since the areas targeted in prenatal yoga are still in the recovery phase. Use props to make your practice comfortable and soothing.
Yoga Poses To Help With Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding has a host of health benefits for mom and baby, and can also be an extremely rewarding experience.
Nursing moms, even mothers struggling to nurse, can benefit from practicing these yoga poses.
Below are a few poses that relieve common postpartum issues including poor posture, back pain, hip, and neck tension, and will help promote breastfeeding.
Posture Alignment Poses
- Downward Dog
- Triangle Pose and Its Variations
- Wide-legged Forward Bend
- Tree Pose
- Rabbit Pose
Lower Back Relief Poses
- Upward Dog
- Happy Baby
- Forward-to-Knee Pose
- Supine Twist
Upper Back Relief Poses
- Standing Side Stretch
- Easy Cobra
- Locust Pose
- Shoulder stand
Hip Relief & Glute Strengthening Poses
- Goddess Squats
- Chair Pose
- Warrior Pose and Its Variations
- Modified Garland Pose
- Pigeon Pose and Its Variations
- Frog Pose
Prenatal Yoga Accessories