Doing a Safe Yoga Practice During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman at yoga studio
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Prenatal yoga is a popular way for pregnant people to stretch and relax, 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, this guide makes it all clear for you. Just make sure to consult with a prenatal healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen, especially if you have a high-risk pregnancy.

Prenatal Yoga Classes

Many people who want to practice yoga during pregnancy decide to take a prenatal yoga class. These are offered at yoga studios and gyms, as well as online programs. These classes should be taught by an instructor with special training in prenatal yoga.

Prenatal yoga classes are excellent for new yogis who may be unaccustomed to the poses and pillars of yoga practice. Classes are also excellent for people who need to modify poses to account for their changing body in pregnancy. In-person classes also should have props available, like yoga blocks and straps, which can be helpful for modifying poses to get the support your body needs.

Taking an actual class may require a membership to a gym or studio, or cost a set amount per class. This can be an economic barrier to inclusion. Some online classes may be more cost-accessible and even free, but you don't have the advantage of a live teacher customizing modifications just for you or helping ensure proper form.

You also don't have access to yoga props at home unless you buy them. But modifications for pregnancy are common, and online yoga classes can often show practitioners the most commonly beneficial modifications for pregnancy.

Safe Poses for Yoga During Pregnancy

Many yoga poses are safe during pregnancy or can be modified to be safe and help promote optimal positioning of baby before birth. Here are some poses that correspond well to different points in pregnancy.

First Trimester

The yoga poses that work in the first trimester are often not too different from regular yoga poses. You typically don't have a baby bump quite yet, and your center of balance has yet to significantly change.

At this stage, do the yoga poses that you are accustomed to and that feel good. If something doesn't feel right at any point in pregnancy, modify or swap out something you know feels good.

Plank pose is a core-stabilizing pose. Having a strong core can help prevent back pain later in pregnancy as you begin carrying more weight in front. If your hips feel tight, try cobbler's pose (Baddha Konasana) to begin to open them up. The key with any yoga practice now is to listen to your body and slow down if things feel too intense.

Second Trimester

As you begin to show, your center of balance starts to shift, which can make it a good time to start incorporating some modifications. Gate pose (Parighasana) and variations on side plank, among other side stretches, feel particularly good when your abdomen starts to feel overcrowded.

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.

Third Trimester

Cat-cow (Chakravakasana) can help get the baby into the optimal position for birth (head down, back to your belly). This pose can be used to try to turn a breech baby during later pregnancy if recommended by a prenatal care provider.

Reclined goddess (Supta Baddha Konasana) can help with sleep issues common in the third trimester. Child's pose (Balasana) and happy baby pose (Ananda Balasana) are both hip openers, which can help prepare your body for birth.

Poses to Avoid

There are some poses that are not safe during pregnancy. For this reason, you need to be aware of what is recommended and not recommended. In general, pregnant people should avoid the following movements and poses.

Over-Stretching

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. Avoid going further into poses than you are accustomed to because a pulled ligament is a serious injury that takes a long time to heal.

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 may create 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. Your diaphragm is elevated during pregnancy due to changes in anatomy, and oxygen demands are increased during a normal pregnancy.

Instead, begin to practice birthing breath (deep inhalations through the nose and exhalations through the mouth). 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 upside down doesn't pose any inherent risk to your baby, but it is important to avoid falling, which can cause injury. 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 be mindful that the expansion of the belly changes your balance. Use the wall or another means of support for safety. Substitute legs up the wall in a class setting.

Falling, or any trauma, can cause a fetal-maternal hemorrhage, a dangerous complication where fetal blood gets into the mother's bloodstream. Avoid any situation in your yoga practice that can lead to falling. If you experience a fall, contact a healthcare provider immediately.

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. Modifications like bridges are a way to avoid deep backbends later in pregnancy, when it is difficult to comfortably maneuver those poses.

Compressing the Abs

Poses that compress the abdomen, such as boat pose, should be avoided. Core-strengtheners that don't involve compressing the belly, like bridge pose and tabletop, are OK as long as they feel good. Ask a healthcare provider what exercises are good if you develop diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate.

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 to prevent pressure on a growing belly. They can be discontinued at any time if they cause any discomfort.

Lying on the Back

In your second trimester, your healthcare provider 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.

Safety Tips

In addition to avoiding specific poses or twisting movements, and foregoing hot yoga and power yoga, there are a few safety tips that pregnant people can follow to ensure a beneficial yoga practice.

Regulate Your Temperature

Practice yoga in a cool, well-ventilated room. If you start to get warm or feel lightheaded or dizzy, stop and take a break. Avoid hot yoga, bikram yoga, or even just stuffy yoga studios.

Take it Slow

Don't overdo it. Pregnancy is not the time to push yourself to extremes. Even if you used to push yourself very hard during yoga, take a gentler approach during pregnancy so you don't injure yourself.

Stay Hydrated

Adequate hydration is vital in pregnancy. Increased fluid needs, greater blood volume, water needed for amniotic fluid, and other causes all contribute to an increased need for hydration in pregnant people. Aim to drink eight to 10 glasses of water every day. Try flavored options like lime water to shake up your hydration routine.

Talk to a Healthcare Provider

If you are unsure about starting a prenatal yoga practice, or any new exercise regimen, talk to a healthcare provider first. A healthcare provider may have specific tips based on your unique circumstances and details about your pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

Prenatal yoga can be a wonderful way to keep your body active and engaged during pregnancy. It is also a great way to practice birthing breath and mindfulness, which can help during labor and birth. If you have questions about the safety of specific poses or yoga practice generally, speak to a healthcare provider. After delivery, you might consider attending mom and baby yoga classes!

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4 Sources
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