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Prenatal yoga squat

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Everything You Need to Know About Practicing Yoga During Pregnancy

Connect with your body and your baby—and get some pain relief in the process.

By Colleen TraversFebruary 16, 2024


Growing a human is hard work. Not only are you finding a new equilibrium (literally, as your body evolves to carrying around a watermelon), you’re also dealing with a shift of hormones that cause symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and nausea, and other side effects such as back and hip pain. Thankfully, prenatal yoga can help.

All exercise is beneficial for a healthy pregnancy, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And even though it’s safe to continue what you were doing before you became pregnant—such as running, rowing, or riding the Peloton Bike—you may be looking for a low-impact way to exercise and reduce the side effects of pregnancy. Enter: prenatal yoga, a type of yoga that helps you connect with yourself and your baby during pregnancy. Oh, and feel better in the process too. 

Whether you’re new to yoga or have perfected your Warrior I, there’s a prenatal yoga practice for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about prenatal yoga, including how to get started and how to practice safely.

What is Prenatal Yoga?

Prenatal yoga is a yoga practice designed to increase strength and flexibility in pregnant women, says Anna Greenberg, a Peloton yoga instructor. By focusing on gentle stretches and postures, you’ll not only work joints and muscles but will also learn how to focus on your breathing.

Prenatal yoga will differ from a traditional yoga practice as prenatal yoga poses are modified to be more comfortable for those expecting. There may also be more use of props in class, such as towels, a bolster, and yoga blocks for added comfort.

What Are the Benefits of Prenatal Yoga?

“There are so many benefits big and small to practicing prenatal yoga,” Anna says. “For me, the biggest gift is to feel empowered, connected, and embodied through however your journey unfolds.”

Anna says in addition to relieving physical discomfort during the changing phases of pregnancy, prenatal yoga is a tool for labor and delivery. “Prenatal yoga can help prepare your body to give birth and optimize the positioning of your baby,” she says. “Being in tune with and connected to your body and breath can be incredibly helpful during labor and delivery as well, however your baby comes.”

A 2022 review of research on pregnancy yoga in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth found that it reduced the duration of labor and increased the odds of normal vaginal birth and tolerance for pain.  

But the biggest benefits have to do with the sharpening of your mental health during the roller coaster ride of pregnancy. The same 2022 review also found that prenatal yoga reduced anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. “Practicing [prenatal] yoga helps to create a calm, steady mental state and teaches you tools you can draw on to bring you back to that place of calm, strength, and openness in challenging moments,” Anna says.

Safety Precautions to Take for Yoga During Pregnancy

Whether you have an established yoga practice or not, make sure to get the green light from your doctor first before doing any physical activity, including prenatal yoga.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces more relaxin, a hormone responsible for loosening muscles, joints, and ligaments. This, of course, is a good thing—you’ll need that elasticity later, after all—but you should be mindful of it when doing yoga during pregnancy. “While you do want to be supple and open during pregnancy, it’s not the time to go for maximum stretch. A little support is important,” says Anna. “A mantra I like to keep in mind during pregnancy is ‘optimum, not maximum.’”

Hot yoga or Bikram is generally not recommended for pregnant women, for the safety of both mom and baby. There are no published studies on the safety of hot yoga during pregnancy, and the concern centers around hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature. Being exposed to such high temperatures may have adverse effects for you and your baby as they develop. (If you frequently practice hot yoga and can handle the heat, your doctor may be comfortable with you sticking to your practice. Mention this to your doctor before you keep going, so they can provide you with the best recommendations for you.)

Yoga Poses to Avoid During Pregnancy

“A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you want to create enough space and support for yourself and your baby as you practice,” Anna says. Here are some poses you may want to skip as you move past your first trimester.

  • Poses where you lay on your stomach

  • Big backbends 

  • Closed twists

There isn’t a hard-set rule that you can’t do these poses during pregnancy. If you enjoy them, or crave the stretch, you’ll need to modify. “You can still stretch your chest and back using support [like a yoga block], and you can still twist, focusing the turn above the bra line, keeping your belly nice and neutral,” says Anna. “Balance becomes more and more challenging as pregnancy progresses, so taking as much support as needed [with balanced-based moves like tree pose] is key.”

Prenatal Yoga by Trimester

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to prenatal yoga, because every body and every pregnancy is different, Anna says. “In general, as your belly grows you will need to create more space and use more support,” she says.

Here’s what you can expect from your practice as you move through your pregnancy trimesters.

First Trimester Prenatal Yoga

No matter what level of yogi you are, you may not notice much of a difference in your yoga practice during the first trimester of pregnancy. Any differences you feel will primarily result from the side effects of pregnancy.  

“You may still be able to do much of what you were doing previously to being pregnant, but you may also experience extreme fatigue and nausea,” says Anna. “It’s important to acknowledge how much your body is doing even when it’s not visible, and practice in a way that is supportive and compassionate.”

Give yourself grace as you mentally and physically adjust to pregnancy. Exercise like prenatal yoga can certainly help symptoms, but there may be days you can’t muster the strength to roll out the mat—and that’s OK too.

Second Trimester Prenatal Yoga

The second trimester is the sweet spot of pregnancy. Hopefully, those uncomfortable first trimester symptoms subside, leaving you with newfound energy, less nausea, and a cute little bump to boot!

“This can be a time to embrace movement to feel strong if you are feeling good,” says Anna. If you’re new to yoga and were looking to start a prenatal yoga routine, the second trimester is a good place to start, as you’ll likely be feeling better and have more energy to stick to a routine. Since your stomach is growing, this is also a good time to stop doing poses that have you lying on your stomach, such as Superman or Bow Pose.

“Starting at 20 weeks, you will want to avoid lying flat on your back for an extended period of time due to the pressure on the vena cava,” says Anna. “You can take Savasana on an incline with a bolster [a firm and supportive tube-shaped pillow] and two yoga blocks, or in Left-Side Lying Position.” 

If you’re using a bolster and yoga blocks, you’ll make an “L” with the yoga blocks—one yoga block will be horizontal and flat, the other vertical. Next, place the bolster on the mat going up the yoga blocks so that you’ve created a pillow for your head with bolster support going down your back too.

Prenatal yoga twist

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Third Trimester Prenatal Yoga

The finish line is in sight, and unfortunately so is the return of some of those unpleasant pregnancy symptoms you felt in the first trimester. “You may feel a little uncomfortable and you may be feeling more fatigue,” Anna notes. 

But good news: A yoga practice can help with that. “Yoga can still feel great, and often help relieve symptoms,” Anna says. “You may be feeling your baby much more at this point. It can be a wonderful time to really connect with your little one and move as a team as you practice. [As you practice yoga, do so] with support, listen to your body, and go at your own pace.”

Remember that your balance will be off in your third trimester, so you may have to modify poses more during this stage of pregnancy. “This is a time where we want what’s happening inside to take hold and grow, so hopping and jumping around or practicing arm balances and inversions where falls may happen is something many practitioners will want to avoid,” says Anna. 

If you feel comfortable enough to do yoga, even for just 10 minutes a day, it’s worth it. Yoga can help decrease feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety, in addition to relieving pain or discomfort that comes in those last weeks of pregnancy.

“During the thirds trimester, Left-Side Lying Savasana is best,” says Anna. “Being in a somewhat reclined position can bring baby into a suboptimal position."

How to Start a Prenatal Yoga Practice

One of the best things about yoga is that you don’t need much to get started. In your first trimester, all you’ll need is a mat and some comfortable yoga clothing. As you move past your first trimester, it’s a good idea to invest in a set of yoga blocks and bolster for support. A yoga strap can also help with stretching if you have limited flexibility. 

You don’t even need a lot of room—a 4.5’ x 4.5’ space is plenty. Now that you’ve got a dedicated yoga area and the accessories and props to help, you’re ready to practice.

“[Practicing prenatal yoga] a couple times a week is a great place to start, but if you felt like doing more, or just once a week, that would be fine too,” says Anna. “Start with beginner prenatal yoga classes. After getting familiar with some of the basic shapes and modifications, my trimester-focused Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga & Meditation Collection is tailor-made to this time and [all levels] are welcome.”

What to Expect from a Pregnancy Yoga Class

Whether you’re taking a prenatal yoga class in-person or online, all prenatal yoga practices follow a similar format. 

Depending on the length of the class, you’ll do a warm up that’s between two to five minutes. This will include stretches and moves like hip circles, Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, arm stretches, and other exercises to make it easier to hold poses. Your instructor will tell you what (if any) props you need, as well as helpful pointers for the class ahead. 

Then, you’ll move into the meat of the class. Prenatal yoga is heavily based in holding specific stretches, versus poses or flows for a long period of time. Some classes focus on specific body parts, such as hips and lower body, while others are more of a full-body flow. The class will end with a final resting pose known as Savasana. This is a meditative pose to still the mind and body. Physically, Savasana is easy (and welcomed!) but mentally it can be difficult to quiet the mind, especially in the last trimester. Remember, you’ll want to use your bolster and yoga blocks to support your lower body during Savasana in the second trimester and switch to lying on your left side in the third trimester.

“Practicing prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to connect to yourself and your baby during pregnancy,” says Anna. Listen to your body to experience a safe and well-rounded prenatal yoga routine that will help prepare you for the journey ahead.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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