One of the best things about yoga is that it can essentially be practiced throughout your life in one form or another.
From baby yoga to fun, playful poses that resemble animals for toddlers, to more challenging styles of yoga like Vinyasa during adulthood to restorative yoga, chair yoga, or aqua yoga for the elderly, yoga as a movement practice is so diverse that there’s almost always a way to enjoy yoga no matter your age or physical limitations.
In most cases, it’s also safe to practice yoga during pregnancy, so long as the expectant mother doesn’t have certain risk factors and takes precautions with certain yoga poses.
Moreover, regularly practicing prenatal yoga may actually help improve maternal health, the health of the baby, and ease the labor and delivery process.
In this guide, we will discuss important considerations for prenatal yoga and yoga poses for pregnancy, including safe prenatal yoga poses as well as yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy.
We will look at:
- Can I Do Yoga If I’m Pregnant?
- Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
- Safe Yoga Poses for Pregnancy
- Practicing Prenatal Yoga
- 14 Yoga Poses to Avoid When You Are Pregnant
Let’s jump in!
Can I Do Yoga If I’m Pregnant?
Typically, you can safely perform many yoga poses while you are pregnant, provided you don’t have a complicated pregnancy, or conditions such as eclampsia, placenta previa, or pubic symphysis diastasis.
However, certain yoga poses are contraindicated during pregnancy, and some poses need to be modified to reduce stress, torque, or pressure on the pelvic floor, spine, and abdominal cavity.
It is always a good idea to consult your OBGYN, doctor, or physical therapist for any exercise restrictions or limitations you may have during your pregnancy before you start engaging in a yoga practice.
A prenatal yoga instructor can also work with you one-on-one to provide individualized guidance for safe yoga during pregnancy.
Benefits of Yoga During Pregnancy
Prenatal yoga has been shown to have many physical and mental health benefits for the expectant mother as well as for the baby. Yoga during pregnancy can reduce back pain, boost mood, strengthen the core, and augment the mind-body connection.
A retrospective study of 200 women found that regular participation in prenatal yoga improved numerous outcomes of pregnancy, labor, delivery, maternal, and fetal health.
Women who practiced yoga routinely during their pregnancy were significantly less likely to require a cesarean section delivery, experienced significantly less pregnancy weight gain, had less pain and overall discomfort during labor and delivery, had less back pain throughout pregnancy, and had faster postpartum recovery compared to women who did not exercise or only walked during pregnancy
Studies have shown that prenatal yoga can partially alleviate symptoms of depression in pregnant women.
Another large review of 29 studies involving prenatal yoga found that yoga during pregnancy reduced anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. Women who participated in prenatal yoga interventions had shorter labor and an increased chance of vaginal birth.
12 Safe Yoga Poses for Pregnancy
There are many yoga poses that can be performed during pregnancy to strengthen the body, improve range of motion, and decrease stiffness. Certain yoga poses may even help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with pregnancy.
The following are just a few of the best prenatal yoga poses to reduce low back pain, strengthen the core, engage the glutes, and mobilize and strengthen the hips, shoulders, and back.
- Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana): Stretches and extends the spine to reduce low back pain and neck stiffness.
- Plank Pose (Phalakasana): This is a great core-strengthening pose for the first trimester and second trimester of pregnancy. A strong core can reduce the risk of low back pain later on during pregnancy when your protruding belly starts to put extra stress on the spine.
- Gate Pose (Parighasana): A good stretch for your obliques and abdominal cavity to make room for the growing baby.
- Child’s Pose (Balasana): Opens the hips and stretches the low back and shoulders.
- Bird Dog (Parsva Balasana): This pose is great during the first and second trimester for strengthening the core and glutes.
- Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana): Good for stretching and strengthening the obliques.
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II): Strengthens your legs, core, and shoulders, and opens the hips.
- Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana): A great hip opener to prepare you for labor.
- Cobbler’s Pose (Baddha Konasana): This yoga pose is a gentle hip opener and it stretches the inner thighs. If you need additional support or have a tight groin, use props like pillows or yoga towels under each knee for support.
- Reclined Goddess Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana): This pose may help with some sleep issues that can crop up during the end of pregnancy.
- Legs-Up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani): Can help alleviate swelling in your ankles and feet.
- Side Corpse Pose (Parsva Savasana): A good prenatal yoga pose for relaxing.
Practicing Prenatal Yoga
Although yoga during pregnancy is generally considered to be safe and beneficial for the majority of expectant mothers and their babies, it’s important that you take certain precautions.
Moreover, if you have any medical conditions or your pregnancy is considered to be high risk, it’s imperative that you talk with your healthcare team before beginning your yoga practice.
One of the challenges of exercising during pregnancy is that the hormonal profile during pregnancy can potentially increase the risk of injury.
For example, during pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which increases flexibility in ligaments to allow the body to have ample room for the growing fetus and to prepare the hips for delivery. Relaxin can reduce the stability of joints because ligaments connect the bones in a joint.
Exercise such as yoga, which can involve holding stretches (poses) and moving joints to their end ranges of motion, can potentially lead to overstretching your muscles and joints beyond a healthy or normal range of motion, due to the increased laxity from relaxin.
It’s important to be careful to not overstretch or sink too deep into poses, particularly those involving the hips and pelvis.
Another risk of doing yoga during pregnancy is the risk of falling as you don’t want to injure yourself or the growing baby. Balance and proprioception can be compromised during pregnancy due to your changing body and the protruding belly, which alters your center of gravity.
To reduce the risk of falling while doing prenatal yoga, avoid any poses that involve balancing on one leg (such as Tree Pose), or modify the pose by holding onto something for stability.
Avoid risky poses like Headstand, and skip any pranayama (breathwork) that makes you feel lightheaded, faint, or dizzy.
It should be noted that Bikram or hot yoga during pregnancy is generally contraindicated due to the concern of increasing your core temperature. Speak with your healthcare team before doing any sort of hot yoga while you are pregnant.
Lastly, it’s important to bear in mind that pregnancy is a dynamic process of growing a new life. Your body will constantly be changing, so yoga poses that might feel good in one trimester may elicit discomfort later on in the pregnancy. It’s always important to listen to your body.
14 Yoga Poses to Avoid When You Are Pregnant
Many yoga poses are safe during pregnancy. For example, a research study found that all 26 yoga poses tested did not elicit any sort of fetal distress.
However, to be safe, certain yoga poses should be avoided during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Examples of yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy (or at least modified) include the following:
- Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana): Twisting poses, particularly those that twist the abdomen can compress the uterus and put stress on the fetus. Twisting poses should be avoided during the third trimester, and you should only twist very gently from the shoulders during the second trimester.
- Kapalabhati: Any pranayama (breathwork exercise) that involves breath retention or rapid and forceful inhalation or exhalation should be avoided during pregnancy because the position of the diaphragm is higher than normal, and pranayama may challenge the oxygen demands of your body and the fetus. Instead, focus on slow, diaphragmatic breathing.
- Full Wheel Pose (Chakrasana): Puts too much stress on the spine and stretches the abdominal cavity too much. During the third trimester, this pose is absolutely contraindicated.
- Headstand Pose (Sirsasana): This risky inversion increases the risk of falling.
- Handstand Pose (Adho Mukha Vrksasana): High risk of falling.
- Crow Pose (Kakasana): Balancing in this inversion pose is challenging and your pregnant belly can throw off your center of gravity, increasing the risk of falling.
- Revolved Side Angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana): Twists the spine and can compress the abdominal cavity.
- Shoulder Stand Pose (Sarvangasana): Can compress the abdominal cavity and uterus.
- Plow Pose (Halasana): Can compress the abdominal cavity and uterus.
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana): Avoid after the first trimester because it puts too much pressure on your belly.
- Feathered Peacock Pose (Pincha Mayurasana): Another inversion to avoid. Plus, it exaggerates the lumbar lordosis in the spine and can exacerbate low back pain during pregnancy.
- Forward Fold Pose (Paschimottanasana): After your belly gets too big, you won’t be able to do any sort of forward bending, unless you modify the pose by separating your legs nice and wide.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): Puts too much pressure on the belly after the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Tree Pose (Vrikshasana): Hold onto something to aid your balance.
- Any pose that involves overstretching should be avoided, especially overstretching the groin or hips, especially if you are prone to prolapse.
There are quite a few other yoga poses that either place too much stress on the belly, back, or hips during pregnancy, but the above list should serve as a good starting place for examples of such poses.
Above all, stop any yoga pose that causes discomfort and consult your doctor or physical therapist for guidance if you have concerns.
For more yoga poses for pregnancy, check out this yoga video for an entire prenatal yoga workout.