Prenatal Yoga in the Third Trimester

Pregnant woman practicing yoga

Artem Varnitsin / EyeEm / Getty Images

As the third trimester progresses, prenatal yoga may become more difficult (just like walking up the stairs, tying your shoes, and turning over in bed). The size of your belly becomes a real factor, as do general tiredness and feeling cumbersome.

However, staying active during pregnancy can boost health outcomes for both mother and baby, reducing labor times and birth complications. Additional research shows that prenatal yoga can help reduce stress.

If you could practice yoga with some vigor in the second trimester, give yourself the leeway to ease up now and avoid poses that compress the belly. But keeping active during pregnancy is safe for most people.

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.

Speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. Be sure not to perform any movements or exercises that cause pain and discuss any discomforts that arise with your health care provider.

Experience Based Advice

Which type of yoga class or poses you do should be tailored to your experience and accessibility to proper quality instruction.

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 benefit from yoga stretches and gentle practice. Joining a certified instructor lead prenatal yoga class can help ensure you perform the optimal poses and flows for pregnancy while keeping you safe.

Getting instruction as a new yoga practitioner during pregnancy is a good idea since some poses can be tricky to master, especially with a growing belly. There are also several online prenatal yoga class options to try. It's wise to check the certifications first, but many online programs use world-class teachers.

If you wish to receive the benefits of prenatal yoga without risking improper form during poses, try a simple breathwork exercise:

  • Inhale, imagining your breath filling your vagina and rectum, and your sit bones spreading apart.
  • Exhale, notice your breath leaving your pelvis, stomach, and rib cage.
  • Focus on your vagina and perineum feeling a pull upward and inward, constricting while you exhale. 
  • Aim for one to two sets of 10 repetitions daily.

A hormone called relaxin may cause your joints to become more flexible, which is not necessarily a good thing as it can lead to overstretching and pain. Yoga can help prevent low back pain associated with relaxin, but be careful not to overstretch during your practice.

Experienced Yogis

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. Many of the poses and flows from restorative yoga are an excellent choice for the third trimester.

Prenatal sun salutations can be done as late as you feel able to do them.

Try this: Prenatal Sun Salutation Sequence

Third Trimester Poses for Common Complaints

Various yoga poses can assist with common complaints that arise during the third trimester such as back pain and tightness, and trouble sleeping.

Back Pain

When performed properly and safely, yoga can help with back and pelvic girdle pain, a common complaint during the third trimester. Try the following.

Sleep Issues

Yoga during the third trimester can help improve sleep.

Yoga to Prepare 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.

You may also wish to try poses, such as hip openers, that can strengthen and prepare you for the work of labor and delivery. The following poses can be very useful:

Third Trimester Adaptations

Making accommodations for yourself to feel comfortable can enable you to continue practicing yoga safely. Using a wider stance during poses can help increase stability and reduce the risk of falls. Similarly, keeping your toes on the floor during any pose that is typically performed single-leg is wise to reduce fall risk.

Aside from individualized accommodations, such as widening your feet and knees, keeping both feet on the ground, and avoiding anything that causes you pain, research shows that most poses are perfectly safe during the third trimester, including downward facing dog and savasana (corpse pose).

At around 36 weeks, you may be 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 negatively alter their position.

You may wish to 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 help turn a breech baby, but you should always consult 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. Permit yourself 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 compared to having a new baby.

All the flexibility (mentally more than physical) you can cultivate now will do you nothing but good when your baby arrives.

13 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ann Pizer
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.