Doing a Safe Yoga Practice During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman at yoga studio
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Prenatal yoga is a popular way for expectant moms to stretch and relax during pregnancy, plus learn techniques that they can use during delivery. If you go to a prenatal yoga class, the poses will be adapted for pregnancy when necessary, but if you want to practice on your own or are wondering why particular poses are to be avoided, this guide makes it all clear for you.

Make sure to consult with your prenatal healthcare provider before starting any exercise regime, especially if you have a high-risk pregnancy.

Safe Poses for Yoga During Pregnancy

These poses are safe for pregnant women when performed properly:

Hip Openers: Poses like pigeon, warrior II, triangle, Ardha Chandrasana, Baddha Konasana, and knee to ankle will help create the flexibility that can make giving birth easier.

Side Stretches: Gate pose and variations on side plank, among other side stretches, feel particularly good when your abdomen starts to feel overcrowded.

All Fours: Positions like cat-cow help get the baby into the optimal position for birth (head down, back to your belly). This pose can be used to try and turn a breech baby in later pregnancy if recommended by your prenatal care provider.

Standing Poses: As your belly grows, begin to widen your stance in standing poses. Take your feet at least hip-distance apart to make room for your bump, especially if you are bending forward. This prenatal sun salutation offers a nice alternative during pregnancy.

Poses That Pregnant Women Should Avoid

Pregnant women should avoid these movements and poses:

Over-stretch: The body produces a hormone throughout pregnancy called relaxin, which is intended to soften your inflexible parts (like bones and ligaments) to make room for the baby and prepare for birth. It's easy to over-stretch and injure yourself. Try to avoid going further into poses than you are accustomed because a pulled ligament is a serious injury that takes a long time to heal. Be especially aware of your knees.

Pregnant women are vulnerable to over-stretching because of the hormone relaxin. Make sure you adapt your poses to prevent injury.

Twists: Deep twists from the belly, such as Ardha Matsyendrasana, compress the internal organs, including the uterus. Instead, twist more gently from the shoulders, or take an open twist, which means twisting away from your forward leg so that your belly has a lot of room instead of getting squashed.

Jumps: Jumps pose a slight risk of dislodging the fertilized egg from the uterus and should be avoided early in pregnancy. Later on, you probably will not feel like jumping.

Fast Breathing: Any pranayama requiring breath retention or rapid inhales and exhales (such as kapalabhati) should be avoided. Begin to practice birthing breath (deep inhalations through the nose and exhalations through the mouth) instead. This technique has a direct application to the birthing process. Learning to focus on the breath and use it to keep you anchored in the present moment may be the most useful thing you learn from prenatal yoga.

Inversions: Turning yourself upside down doesn't pose any inherent risk to your baby, but you want to avoid falling. If you are not super comfortable with inversions, this is not the time to work on them. More experienced yogis with established inversion practices can make the call on which inversions to do but should be mindful that the expansion of the belly changes your balance. Use the wall or avoid inversions if you don’t feel like doing them. You can always substitute legs up the wall in a class setting.

Backbending: In general, avoid deep backbends, like full wheel pose. If you performed this pose easily before the pregnancy, you may continue to do it in the first trimester if it feels good to you.

Abdominal work: Poses that are abdominal strengtheners, such as boat pose, should be avoided. Softening the abs a bit allows them to stretch more readily, which may help you avoid conditions like diastasis recti.

Lying on the Belly: Poses in which you lie on the belly, such as cobra, can be practiced in the first trimester as the fetus is still very small. Later in pregnancy, these poses should be avoided and can be discontinued at any time if they cause any discomfort.

Lying on the Back: In your second trimester, your doctor may advise against lying on your back for long periods, even encouraging you to sleep on your side. You can start doing savasana lying on your left side as early in your pregnancy as you like. You may want to use blankets or bolsters for support to make yourself comfortable. If you eventually cannot get comfortable lying down, you can also sit up in a cross-legged position.

Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga: Raising your body’s core temperature is not recommended during pregnancy; therefore, hot yoga should not be practiced. Remember, yoga is about being flexible in the mind as well as the body, so hot yoga devotees should use this opportunity to explore other yoga options.

Vinyasa Yoga: If you practice a very vigorous form of vinyasa yoga, like Ashtanga or Power Yoga, be flexible and willing to adapt your pace as necessary or try gentler styles as your pregnancy progresses.

If you want to know more about each trimester, use these guides for the first trimester, second trimester, and third trimester.

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  1. Kawanishi Y, Hanley SJ, Tabata K, et al. [Effects of prenatal yoga: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials]. Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi. 2015;62(5):221-31. doi:10.11236/jph.62.5_221

  2. Lasater JH. Yoga for Pregnancy, What Every Mom-to-Be Needs to Know. Shambhala Publications; 2016.