The Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

Pregnant woman practicing yoga

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Prenatal yoga has many benefits when you're expecting including making you feel better, keeping your body strong, and preparing you for labor and delivery. What's more, prenatal yoga is gentle enough to practice during pregnancy because the poses have already been modified, so there's no need to worry about what is safe and what is not. Here's what you need to know about the benefits of prenatal yoga including what poses are best and what to avoid.

Benefits of Prenatal Yoga

Because yoga practice regulates the autonomic nervous system, it can lower stress as well as promote a better quality of life and better social relations. Clearly, lowering stress and anxiety will obviously make you feel your best, but it's also worth considering that high maternal stress levels can affect fetal development.

Practicing yoga also may help you get better sleep and may alleviate lower back pain associated with pregnancy. There's even research that indicates that yoga can help prevent urinary incontinence. Yoga also may be associated with easier childbirth allowing you to experience more comfortable labor over a shorter duration.

Is It Safe to Practice Yoga While Pregnant?

Some expecting parents prefer to take prenatal yoga classes, which are designed with a pregnant person's needs in mind. With prenatal yoga, you can rest assured that all the moves are safe and also directly support your needs.

"Yoga is generally considered safe during pregnancy. Breath, movement, and meditation can be beneficial to both the pregnant person and their baby," Sage Caprice Abowitt, a certified yoga instructor, birth doula, and childbirth educator who specializes in providing training that is adaptive, creative, and joyful, tells us.

But, there are some yoga positions that need to be avoided or modified during pregnancy for the safety of both you and your baby. In addition to your own research, always let your instructor know if you're pregnant and tell them which trimester you are in.

"[Yoga during pregnancy] is safe but will be difficult to do some moves in the third trimester," Kimberly Langdon, MD, OB/GYN says, "The best forms of yoga for pregnancy are prenatal yoga, hatha yoga, and restorative yoga." Dr. Langdon also cautions against practicing hot yoga during any trimester.

Always check with your provider when it comes to what is safe for you, especially if your pregnancy is considered high-risk or if you have experienced recurrent miscarriages.

Which Poses Are Not Safe in Pregnancy?

For safety reasons, Some yoga poses should not be done during pregnancy. Consequently, it's unlikely that you will see these poses in a prenatal yoga class. But it's important to be aware of them if you are taking a regular yoga class so that you don't do anything that could harm you or your developing baby.

"The major categories of poses to avoid would include deep backbends, deep twists, arm balances, prone poses, and some abdominal work," Abowitt says.

Poses that are done in the supine position, like crunches, bicycles, and Shavasana should be avoided later in pregnancy as well. Also, lying on your back when you are expecting also can be problematic because of the weight it puts on the vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower body back to the heart. Doing this pose can cause complications for both mother and baby.

Meanwhile, balance poses, like crow pose or handstands, come with a fall risk that could put the baby in danger, while poses that bulge the abdominal muscles can lead to or exacerbate diastis recti, the partial or complete separation of the abdominal muscles.

"Any complication such a spotting, premature labor, placenta previa, and fetal growth restriction would be contraindications [or conditions that would make prenatal yoga risky]," Dr. Langdon says.

Poses to Avoid in Pregnancy

Some yoga poses to avoid or modify while pregnant include:

  • Bicycles
  • Crow pose
  • Crunches
  • Handstands
  • Planks
  • Deep twists
  • Shavasana (corpse pose)

Should I Switch to Prenatal Yoga?

If you are perfectly happy with your regular yoga class, you don't have to stop going (unless it is a hot yoga class, in which case it is not safe during pregnancy and especially not in the first trimester). But, if you would like to take a class tailored to your needs throughout pregnancy, you may prefer prenatal yoga.

"Whether someone wants to continue with their regular yoga practice or switch to prenatal really depends on the person," Abowitt says. "Many [pregnant people] will begin to shift toward a prenatal practice because they become tired of modifying within a regular class or they'd like a more focused class. Prenatal classes are also more likely to address typical discomforts during pregnancy and help support the changes of the pregnant body."

Another reason you may want to select prenatal yoga over regular yoga is the fact that the poses are selected specifically to support pregnancy and childbirth. What's more, prenatal yoga is designed to strengthen core muscles, which are crucial during pregnancy and throughout labor and pushing.

Kimberly Langdon, MD

"Prenatal yoga is an exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering, and focused breathing that can improve sleep, reduce anxiety and stress," Dr. Langdon says.

— Kimberly Langdon, MD

What is a Prenatal Yoga Class Like?

Prenatal yoga classes are gentle and slow-paced. The exact structure of the class may vary depending on the instructors, but there are some common elements you are likely to see in a prenatal yoga class.

Often, the class will begin with a meditation sequence to ground you and bring clarity to your mind, followed by some gentle stretches like hip openers and shoulder openers to ease stiffness. Next, you might see standing poses like Warrior II to work on strength, balance, and stability as well as squats to support the pelvic floor and prepare your body for childbirth.

Modified planks to protect and strengthen the abdominal muscles and the open-knee child pose to ease lower back pain and allow for deep relaxation will probably be offered. And, just like any yoga class, the last pose will be a modified version of Shavasana (corpse pose). This pose will be done with a bolster to keep you on your side instead of flat on your back.

Benefits Based on Trimester

Prenatal yoga benefits each trimester in a unique way. For instance, some more strenuous moves are best in the first and second trimester, but "stretching and relaxation moves can be [beneficial] at any time," Dr. Langdon says. Throughout pregnancy, both a guided meditation and poses that strengthen and stretch can help prepare your body for childbirth.

Dr. Langdon notes that during the first trimester, restorative poses that rejuvenate can help with exhaustion and nausea. But once you're in the second trimester, you may find that poses that strengthen and stretch can help with common pregnancy discomforts like an achy back or tight muscles. Then, when the third trimester rolls around, you may find that poses that work on support and release or the pelvic floor and deep abdominals are best.

Poses With the Most Benefit

Prenatal yoga poses are gentle enough to practice during pregnancy but also allow you to build strength. Some of the best poses to try during pregnancy include:

Ankle-to-Knee Pose

To get into the ankle-to-knee pose, sit down and stack one shin on top of the other, allowing them to be parallel to a wall. Hold for several breaths before repeating on the other side. This gentle hip opener helps to reduce lower back pain and tight hips associated with pregnancy.

Malasana (Squat)

Begin standing with your feet slightly wider than hip's width apart. Slowly bend down into a squat. If you need more of a stretch, bring your hands into prayer in front of you and push out on your inner thighs with your elbows. This pose helps to loosen tight hips and prepares your body for labor by strengthening the muscles used in the pushing stage.

Low Lunge

From down dog, stepping one foot forward between your hands. Your front knee should form a right angle and your back leg should be outstretched behind you. You may bring the back knee down if this pose is too strenuous. Low lunge improves mental focus and strengthens your lower body.

Pigeon Pose

Beginning in down dog, bring one foot forward between your hands so that your shin is parallel to the wall. Slowly lower your back leg and if you can, drop your head and torso down in front of you. Stay here as long as you want and then switch sides. Pigeon pose opens the hips and releases lower back tension, both of which can be bothersome during pregnancy.

Standing Forward Bend

For this pose, stand with your feet a hip's width apart and slowly fold to hang down over your toes. It's OK if you can't reach your toes. As your baby bump continues to grow, its weight pulls on your lower lower back, causing discomfort, so this pose counters that tension, bringing relief.

Wide-Knee Child's Pose

Child's pose is a relaxing position that reduces lower back pain, but it can be difficult to get into with a pregnant belly. By keeping your heels together, but separating your knees, you can give your bump a comfortable space to fill. This position is also restorative for your whole body and mind.

A Word From Verywell

When you're pregnant, your body goes through a number of changes, which can create stress on you emotionally and physically. But prenatal yoga can help you address these changes by keeping you fit, flexible, and mentally strong.

Prenatal yoga also can help you improve your breathing and relaxation skills that will be needed during labor and delivery. Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a prenatal yoga program.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.