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Antenatal Yoga: What Not to Do During Pregnancy

Sport & Activity

Beyond keeping you active, there are other perks to following a yoga practice during pregnancy.

Last updated: November 4, 2021
8 min read
Yoga During Pregnancy: Do's and Don'ts

When it comes to staying fit during pregnancy, yoga is one of the best workouts you can do.

It can be great for all fitness levels, body types and stages of pregnancy and can also help manage some of the discomforts that come with being pregnant, says Jennie Love, an antenatal yoga instructor based in Scottsdale, Arizona in the US.

"In prenatal yoga, we focus on creating strength and stability in the body, especially in the hips and legs", she says. "We don't work on flexibility as much as strength because that's what the body is going to need throughout pregnancy to birth".

Another reason you shouldn't focus too much on flexibility is that, during pregnancy, the hormone relaxin naturally loosens the joints to prepare for delivery, so you'll need strength to prevent injury from being too flexible, Love says.

Holding poses for an extended period of time can help you get stronger and build up the endurance you need for labour and childbirth, says Heidi Kristoffer, founder of CrossFlow Yoga.

"Most prenatal yoga classes are full of poses that aid in strengthening the parts of the body that are necessary for labour, such as the pelvic floor, hips and core", Kristoffer says. "Plus, the more you move while you're pregnant, the easier your body goes back to its shape after pregnancy".

But beyond keeping you active and building strength, there are other perks to following a yoga practice during pregnancy.

The Benefits of Yoga for Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body goes through a lot of big changes that impact your posture and create new aches and pains.

For example, lower back pain is common among pregnant people, especially as their bumps grow and their weight starts to shift forward. This can lead to overworking the lower back muscles, causing pain from arching, Love says. But doing yoga can help prevent these muscle imbalances by strengthening your core. Plus, certain poses massage the lower back to help ease discomfort.

Yoga can also help reduce swelling during pregnancy by promoting better circulation, Kristoffer says. Doing certain poses can encourage blood flow to your arms, hands, legs and feet—areas where swelling tends to occur.

"Stress is also bad for mum and baby, but yoga brings you into the present by connecting your mind to your breath, and your breath to your movement", Kristoffer says. "It also allows you to take time in a busy schedule to connect with your growing baby".

There are many different styles of yoga available to you during pregnancy, so antenatal yoga isn't your only option. And as you explore what works for you, you may want maternity yoga clothes that are supportive yet comfortable so you don't feel restricted as you move from one pose to the next. Here are some precautions to bear in mind before jumping into any yoga routine during pregnancy, even if you already practise regularly.

Dos and Don'ts of Antenatal Yoga

  1. 1.Do: Check With Your Doctor First

    Whether you're looking to practise antenatal, Vinyasa or Hatha yoga, it's important to get the green light from your doctor before starting any new workout routine. Even if you practised yoga regularly pre-pregnancy, it's not a bad idea to check in with your doctor, especially if you have complications.

    Hot yoga, which is taught in a room heated between 30 and 40°C, usually isn't recommended during pregnancy, as it can raise your core temperature and cause foetal distress. But new research suggests that it may be safe for those who don't have any pregnancy complications and have already practised hot yoga pre-pregnancy, according to the American Council on Exercise.

    "I always refer women to their healthcare provider", Love says. "For women who do practise hot yoga during pregnancy, I encourage them to drink more water and bear in mind that it's easier for you to cool down than the baby. It's about knowing your limits and when to ease off."

    Kristoffer recommends that pregnant people steer clear of hot yoga completely and stick to antenatal yoga. "A prenatal class is optimal as not every yoga instructor knows how to modify for pregnancy", she says. "If you're new to yoga, review the studio's class list. Each studio defines each style in their own way, but "gentle" and "slow moving" are words to look for in the description."

  2. 2.Do: Practise Some Backbends

    Some backbends, like camel pose, can be helpful for massaging the lower back and promoting blood flow. During pregnancy, you can modify it by placing your hands on your lower back (not on your feet) and lifting through the heart, Love says.

    But you should avoid deeper backbends like full wheel, unless you're in your first trimester and had incorporated them into your practice pre-pregnancy. And even then, you should tread carefully and be mindful of how it feels.

    "It's a massive stretch of the abdominal wall. You don't want the placenta to detach from the uterus", Love says. "If it starts to feel uncomfortable, that's a sign that you should stop".

    By the time you hit the second trimester, Kristoffer says you should avoid doing full wheel and other extreme backbends.

  3. 3.Do: Practise Inversions—With Caution

    Kristoffer says it's probably best to lay off inversions, such as handstands, forearm stands and headstands, during the first trimester or as soon as you become aware of your pregnancy (there's no need to worry if you didn't know). During this time, many are dealing with nausea and fatigue, as well as heartburn, so doing inversions may not feel great.

    The good news is that you can reintroduce them into your practice during the second trimester as long as you've been doing inversions in your practice prior to pregnancy, still feel comfortable doing them and don't have any pregnancy complications. Love recommends using a wall for support to prevent falls.

    Downward-facing dog is a safe inversion you can do during pregnancy. You just have to widen your stance to accommodate your growing bump—the same goes for forward folds. But once you're 38 weeks, Love suggests taking a break from all inversions.

    "At 38 weeks, I don't recommend downward-facing dog, because we don't want to change the flow of energy, which should be going to the pelvic floor", she says.

  4. 4.Do: Cat-Cow and Goddess Pose

    Both Kristoffer and Love like cat-cow for releasing tension in the spine, especially in the lower back.

    "Cat-cow can also help encourage the baby to move downwards for labour and delivery", Love says. Just remember to hug your belly up and in to protect your baby.

    Kristoffer calls goddess pose—which looks similar to a sumo squat with your legs in a wide-open stance—the ultimate labour prep, because it opens and strengthens all of the muscles required during labour.

    Other poses Love recommends for building strength and stability are the standing warrior poses (warrior I, II and III), as well as garland pose (you may need to use a low chair or yoga blocks under your sit bones if you aren't able to squat to the floor) and tree pose, using a wall for support.

  5. 5.Do: Be Patient With Yourself and Seek Professional Guidance

    Yoga is an excellent way to stay active and healthy throughout your pregnancy, but it's important to tune into your body, so if something doesn't feel right, you can gently exit the pose.

    "Listen to your body and respect its miracles", Kristoffer says. "You're growing another human, after all, and it's intense work. Rest when you need rest, hydrate before you feel thirsty, nourish yourself and make sure you are well-rested."

    And as always, keep your doctor in the loop with how you're feeling and contact them if you're experiencing any red flags, such as bleeding, chest pain, dizziness or muscle weakness, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

    Don't be afraid to seek out professional guidance if you need help, whether it's an antenatal yoga instructor at a local studio or an online instructor who offers virtual sessions.

  6. 6.Don't: Perform Poses on Your Belly

    Poses that involve lying on your belly, such as cobra, bow or locust, should be avoided throughout pregnancy, as they place direct pressure on your baby. However, you still want to work on strengthening your core in a safe way.

    If you've been doing high or forearm planks prior to pregnancy and are in your first trimester, you may be able to continue doing them. Then once you start growing a bump—usually in the second trimester—you want to think about hugging your belly up and in, creating a hammock for your baby, Love says.

    But if you start seeing signs of coning, aka bulging in the middle of your abdomen, you'll want to stop doing planks altogether to avoid diastasis recti (ab muscle separation).

    In the same vein, you'll want to avoid arm-balancing poses, like crow, because they increase abdominal pressure, Kristoffer says. For an alternative, Love suggests trying side planks and an elevated plank on the wall.

  7. 7.Don't: Perform Closed Twists and Binds

    With a baby bump, deep twists and binds aren't recommended, but doing gentle, open twists might actually help you feel better and keep your spine healthy, Kristoffer says. "Twist to the open side with the baby rather than against the baby", Love recommends.

    For example, do a low lunge with an open twist to your left side with your left leg forward and your right hand under your right shoulder. Reach your left arm up to open up the chest.

    Kristoffer also likes seated side bends for pregnancy. "A woman's sides and lower back get so tight in pregnancy. Creating space in the side waist and lower back feels amazing at every stage of pregnancy."

  8. 8.Don't: Lie on Your Back

    Avoid poses that involve lying flat on your back, especially during the third trimester, as doing so can compress the vena cava—the vein that delivers blood to your baby—Kristoffer says.

    "Instead, prop yourself up at an angle with blocks, bolsters or pillows. In Savasana (corpse pose), lie on your left side in a foetal position to encourage better circulation", she says.

Yoga During Pregnancy: Do's and Don'ts

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