Is it safe to do yoga while pregnant? How is yoga different during pregnancy? What are the benefits of a regular yoga practice while pregnant?
This article will address all of these questions, show you how to keep safe and give you a downloadable sheet of top tips. (See link below.)
We wrote this to help all of our pregnant moms continue to enjoy a consistent vinyasa yoga practice during pregnancy. Specifically we offer you accurate, helpful information about practicing yoga while pregnant in a safe and conscious manner.
The Internet is of little help.
A search for pregnancy and yoga quickly gives you a lot of anecdotal information, some very general tips on exercising while pregnant, and some confusing and often bad information. (We thought everything was true on the internet.)
So we decided to put together our own panel of experts. We are grateful to each of them for volunteering time of out of their busy schedules to help you out.
Here’s our panel:
- Tami, MD in the OB/GYN department of UCSF
- Maya, mom of two and MD here in Sacramento
- Hilary and Joanna—moms
- Jane, mom, doula, mid-wife, director of a pre-natal yoga teacher training program in San Francisco
All are yoginis with a regular, multi-year practice. We also want to thank Bethany for being such a great model.
One more thing—always consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program. This article is for informational purposes only.
All of our moms wanted you to know it’s going to be ok. “Our culture can be so fearful of pregnancy, but women have been pregnant and giving birth for eons.”
Yoga While Pregnant—Is Still Yoga
I did the google thing the first week I found out I was pregnant because I was worried. But then I felt like, “You know this—this is yoga. You listen to your body. You should always be listening whether you are pregnant or not.
Yoga during pregnancy gives you the opportunity to soften around the hardness and to be kind to yourself.
It’s not about doing—you can just be.
You find out you’re pregnant and suddenly you feel like you’re made of glass. Then I realized that I could practice—and it felt good!
Continuing yoga seemed like such a natural thing to do.
If you are going to practice yoga—listen.
This came up over and over and over again with our entire panel. Listen to yourself.
Really listen to your body during practice.
You have to have the humility to listen.
Yoga helps you tune into your instinct—to tap into that inner knowing. It’s the opportunity to slow down, listen and pay attention.
Become familiar with your body.
Lots of people will tell you how you’re feeling. There are all kinds of expectations. Listen to yourself.
There is someone else on your mat with you.
It takes a bit to wrap your brain around the fact that there’s a baby inside.
I think that probably the biggest thing I had to modify was the mindset that I had a baby.
There is fear if you open up and be vulnerable you might feel joy…but you might feel sorrow and sadness deeply as well. This is motherhood.
It’s ok to fall in love with your baby.
What is the purpose of your practice while pregnant?
Yoga was baby and me time. I wish I could tell women that yoga practice while pregnant gives you time with your child. We don’t always stop and enjoy being pregnant consciously.
Yoga while pregnant is a choice to have an intimate bond with your child—not for the workout or to prevent yourself from gaining weight.
For me, yoga felt more spiritual during pregnancy.
Yoga was a great way to reduce the stress I felt while pregnant.
Yoga is a refuge—taking time out of the day for me.
A knowledgeable teacher is important
One thing that is beneficial is having an instructor who helps with some modifications and can help you maintain your practice.
Find an instructor who offers you a modification and is familiar with how alignment is modified for pregnancy.
About Prenatal Yoga
The moms who tried them described a more gentle, stretching focused physical practice.
Prenatal yoga teachers are knowledgeable on modifications.
Mama centered language is built in.
Biggest benefit was being around other pregnant women going through the same thing I am.
Drink lots of water and rest as needed.
Sometimes I would just rest on my mat and listen.
Yoga can help you with the changes you experience while pregnant.
It supports you during this time of transition. Your body is on overdrive.
You feel like your life is changing and your body is not your own. Yoga helped me feel empowered.
At some point your body limits how much you can do. Listen.
Keeping moving in practice helps with physical changes and adjustments. (And it helped tremendously with my lower back pain.
It’s possible to practice all the way through.
I literally practiced the morning I gave birth.
I wish I would have continued the practice. I stopped around 35 weeks but looking back, the last seven weeks were the most challenging physically, mentally and emotionally.
This is highly variable.
Helps you prepare for labor.
We did a natural childbirth class and yoga complimented what they were saying in it. Listen and trust yourself—and advocate for yourself.
Labor is an athletic event.
It is physically and emotionally demanding. My spirit probably would’ve broken because labor is tough. Yoga definitely helps in that aspect.
With my second child, I was a little more concerned with how much mental strength labor takes.
People were commenting on how calm I was while delivering.
My focus in delivery was the same as in yoga—stay calm. Listen to my breath.
Questions for our OB/GYN
Is it safe to practice yoga on a regular, consistent basis during pregnancy?
Is it a good idea to start a practice (brand new) during pregnancy or is better to start before or after pregnancy?
It’s totally fine to start in pregnancy no matter your fitness background. The goal of any practice is not to push your limits to the point of injury and in pregnancy a new practice should be gentler.
What do you think about pre-natal yoga classes versus regular classes?
My concern is that women with a regular yoga practice in a regular class won’t self modify enough and their teachers won’t know good modifications. It also really depends on the stage of pregnancy.
Is it a concern if a mother becomes breathless or fatigued while practicing?
Women have lower lung volumes in pregnancy and it's easy to become breathless. Later in pregnancy this translates into changes in oxygen for baby, which you don't want.
That being said, healthy women do cardio work up until the end of their third trimester and do just fine. Data shows blood flow in general is good to baby in healthy active women.
Is it safe to do yoga in a warm room?
This makes me nervous as I get concerned about vasodilation and overheating. High 80s with a relatively vigorous practice is going to cause more risk of fainting. Women who are prone to this in early pregnancy are especially at risk. If someone is used to it then most likely ok, but any symptoms of fatigue, significant breathlessness should signal them to stop immediately. They should always drink plenty of water
How far along (weeks) would you advise modifying the practice?
Twelve is a reasonable number. In the 2nd trimester, women start to show and the uterus is growing a lot.
At what point are “abdominal exercises" not recommended.
I would be a bit hesitant starting in the 2nd trimester. Increased abdominal pressure can be problematic in women who have risk for preterm birth. You don't know who those women are and, though rare, you wouldn't want to contribute. Now what I think would be ok is plank and other core positions that don't involve significant increases in intraabdominal pressure. In the first trimester it should not be a problem.
Is it accurate to avoid deep abdominal twists (to avoid pulling on the broad ligament)?
I would avoid this especially after 2nd trimester. Open twists should be fine.
Is bending backwards safe?
There is a high risk of decreasing blood pressure leading to fainting from vasodilation. You would need to be very careful. Also your center of gravity is very different in pregnancy. Backbends are probably fine very early on.
Can jumping (e.g. from downdog to the front of the mat) potentially dislodge the fertilized egg during early stages of pregnancy?
No, there is nothing you can do to "dislodge" an embryo or cause a miscarriage
At the end of practice we often lie on our right side. Is this ok? Lying on back? (We’ve heard it decreases blood flow to the uterus. Why is that not good?)
Back lying later in pregnancy is bad because it compresses the vena cava, affecting blood flow to mom's heart. Usually women are put on left side later in pregnancy to keep good flow to mom's heart, I would lie on the left side for savasana in the third trimester.
In general, how many weeks from birth is recommended before a woman starts back practicing/exercising?
It depends on practice and delivery type. If cesarean, then 6 weeks. For a vaginal delivery 2 weeks, unless there is a large perineal tear, then 6 weeks.
Anything else you think is important to emphasize?
The key thing is listening to one’s body. Everyone has a different practice and goals for yoga. I think the best aspect of yoga in pregnancy is to prepare for labor. Quieting the mind, listening to the breath, knowing discomfort will pass will help a lot during contractions. So it's less about pushing the body (which many people tend to use yoga for) and more about getting in touch with the breath.