Prenatal Yoga in the Third Trimester

Pregnant woman carrying a yoga mat
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As the third trimester progresses, prenatal yoga may become more difficult (just like walking up the stairs, tying your own shoes, and turning over in bed). The size of your belly becomes a real factor, as do general tiredness and feeling cumbersome. If you were able to practice yoga with some vigor in the second trimester, give yourself the leeway to ease up now. All poses that compress the belly should now be avoided.

Take an increasingly cautious approach as your due date nears, but there is no reason to stop practicing prenatal yoga as long as you feel up to it. As always, you should review prenatal yoga dos and don'ts.

New Yogis

Some women find they only have time to start doing prenatal yoga when they take their maternity leave. If this is the case, you can still get some benefit from doing yoga stretches and gentle practice. Just make sure your teacher knows your situation and makes sure you take it easy; this is no time to overdo it.

Experienced Yogis and Home Practitioners

By now you are used to listening to your body and respecting what it tells you to do. Continue to do this and you will reap the benefits of a safe yoga practice until the end of your pregnancy. Prenatal sun salutations can be done as late as you feel able to do them.

Preparing for Birth

Even more than physically preparing you, yoga will help you prepare mentally for the birth of your baby by teaching you to listen to your body and be in the moment without anticipation. The best way to do this is to focus on the breath, using long inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth. This pranayama is called birthing breath and it may just be the thing that gets you through your labor.

Third Trimester Adaptations

At around 36 weeks, you are usually advised to decrease the number of inversions you do. The baby is settling into the birth position at this time, so you don’t want to do any poses that could alter their position in a negative way.

You should also stop doing Legs Up the Wall and Bridge Pose unless your baby is breech, in which case these poses can help them to turn. However, there is not enough scientific research to confirm this is a safe tactic to correct the baby's position. Poses done on all fours like Cat-Cow stretch may also be helpful for turning a breech baby, but you should always consult with your doctor first.

You should also decrease the number of Downward Facing Dogs you do since this pose is also a mild inversion. You can modify on your hands and knees in a tabletop pose instead. Squats continue to be appropriate to the end of pregnancy unless you are at risk for preterm labor.

Talk to Your Doctor or Midwife

Inversion poses like Legs Up the Wall, Bridge Pose, Downward Facing Dog, or Cat-Cow stretch may help a breech baby to turn, but should be minimized if your baby is settling into the birth canal head-first. Ask your doctor or midwife about whether you should try (or avoid) certain inversion yoga poses.

In addition, stop doing any pose that becomes uncomfortable. Give yourself permission to accept that you may not be able to do things that you've always done. Pregnancy has probably been a big adjustment to your life, but it pales in comparison to having a new baby. All the flexibility (mental more than physical) you can cultivate now will do you nothing but good when your baby arrives.

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